[Review] Writhe – Nintendo Switch

  • Developer: Mission Ctrl Studios
  • Publisher: Mission Ctrl Studios
  • Release date: 15/01/2021
  • Price:  £7.99/$9.99
  • Review code provided by Mission Ctrl Studios

Introducing: Writhe Nintendo Switch Review

It’s not often that you get to hear the detail of the inspiration behind a game. Writhe, the brainchild of three-person developer Mission Ctrl Studios was apparently inspired by two of the developers’ trip to Thailand in December 2019, where they subsequently got engaged. I’m intrigued to know how a romantic trip to Thailand inspired a game about a horrific outbreak of mutant worms!

Ahh Phuket!

As I mentioned, Writhe is centred around an unfortunate outbreak in the far East. A corrupt company hell bent on profit at any cost has taken to developing giant genetically modified Sago worms (they’re a real thing, don’t look them up). The company sells these as an innovative new protein source. Inevitably things go a badly wrong and the worms get out of control, break out of the facility and unleash merry hell on the unsuspecting world. Who would ever think that the world could end up in deep trouble as a result of someone in a far-off land’s penchant for eating exotic foods?

The outbreak results in you being called in as exterminator to blast the worms and forms the basis for a whole lot of rootin’ tootin’. One word of warning, if you’re in any way perturbed by the thought of giant zits exploding, this might not be the game for you!

Bang-kok

Writhe is an old-school first-person shooter with a twist. It plays more like traditional arcade high-score chasers, with an endless stream of giant worms coming at you in one of three arenas. You are dropped into an arena dual wielding an automatic rifle and a shotgun. The right trigger shoots your assault rifle and the left shoots your shotgun. Other than the ability to jump, the game is basically a non-stop assault with no need to even worry about reloading. The aim is simply to survive for as long as possible, with a focus on competing using the online leaderboards. 

It’s refreshing to play something so simple and focused in the age of grinding for XP or unlocks. It seems every game feels the need to tack on something to add some sense of perceived value. Indeed, this was something I initially commented on to my colleagues at Nintendad. I found the simplicity jarring at first, but over time I’ve come to appreciate the laser focus Writhe has on doing one thing well.

The game is simple but satisfying. You face off against three different types of worms, starting with your basic white grub type worm (with giant teeth and a gaping maw). Like maggots in real life, these will eventually turn into casters if you let them survive long enough. This is essentially a state of hibernation within a chrysalis. The key to the game is hunting down the worms in this state, as popping them gets you a small health refill. Worms left in the chrysalis too long eventually burst out in a powered-up state, taking multiple hits to kill and putting you at real risk.

Outbreak Control

The game is essentially a balancing act between survival, fighting off the waves of basic worms and identifying the casters before they burst and cause you a world of pain. To mix things up there are also blue worms which explode upon death and when they attack you, doing massive damage and taking out surrounding enemies. Identifying these in the mix can help clear a load of enemies and save you a sudden unceremonious death.

Killed enemies drop small pink gems which can increase your fire rate after collecting a certain amount in a level, but the challenge is so punishing that I found it was a rare occurrence that I managed to collect enough to get the benefit (but maybe I’m just rubbish!).

The gameplay is extremely simple but very satisfying. The guns have a nice heft to them, looking like something from the original Half Life or Quake. Enemies explode in a shower of sickly beige goo, covering the map and your visor. 

I found my runs were over within two minutes on most occasions which definitely suits the nature of handheld play (even if we can’t quite be out and about these days).

A Blast From The Past

When I first saw the trailer for Writhe I was instantly drawn in by the look and sound of the game. It uses a very simple chunky polygonal style that reminds me of the N64 era and of some of the PC games I played around that time such as Half Life and Quake. The soundtrack is great, with some driving techno that fits the 90s vibe of the game and suits the quick and intense style of gameplay.

The devs have included various graphics options in the form of a CRT style filter as well as a “retro” filter which gives the game a really low-res look. I found myself instantly reminded of my time playing Half Life on a dodgy old PC with an integrated graphics card and having to lower the resolution massively to get it to run. I found myself sticking to the retro filter mostly as I really liked the chunky pixelated look and I think it fits the vibe the devs are aiming for perfectly. They make no bones about their inspirations and they have done a great job of giving that 90s shooter nostalgia hit.

FPS

Writhe has two options included within the graphics settings, performance or quality. Performance removes some graphical effects such as motion blur, with the benefit of providing 60FPS gameplay. A lower frame rate can sometimes be a gamebreaker in an FPS, but here the quality setting, which runs at 30FPS is more than adequate, as enemies are pleasingly chunky and the game still feels responsive and smooth. Ultimately it’ll be down to players to find their own preference, but the range of graphical options are a nice addition and the game manages to perform nicely with whatever settings you decide on. The game performs just as well in docked or handheld which is a bit of a rarity these days.

Final Thoughts

Writhe is a simple concept but is executed really well. The online leaderboards give longevity for those that are interested in competing to become the best, but there’s very little beyond that. The game includes some interesting written lore entries which are unlocked based on your cumulative total of gems collected. It also includes a really well-done museum area which lets you walk around and see models of the enemies, weapons and areas within the game.

The game includes three stages at present, but the developers have stated their intentions to release more as free DLC in the future. The existing levels don’t have a great deal of variety, with two feeling very similar, so it would be good to see a bit more variety. Despite this negativity the game is a lot of fun and launches at a budget price point, which is worth keeping in mind when considering the shortcomings.

Pros

  • Lovely chunky retro look
  • Satisfyingly simple gameplay loop
  • Free DLC incoming

Cons

  • Not a lot for those disinterested in chasing high scores

Verdict

Writhe provides simple and satisfying retro FPS goodness. If you’re a fan of 90s shooters and enjoy chasing high scores, you’ll have a lot of fun here.

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