Disclaimer: Unlike most of the games on this website, Writhe is not a game from Southeast Asia. Now and then, we take a look at how game developers from all over the world incorporate the region of Southeast Asia into their works, for example, in Sumatra - Fate of Yandi. This time Writhe is a game made by a UK-based studio.
When two game developers get engaged on vacation and then develop a game together, you certainly expect a lot, but most likely not a game like Writhe, a challenging shooter featuring disgusting worms and fast-paced action. What stands out, in particular, is the unusual scenario in which Writhe takes us to a retro-futuristic Thailand of the 70s.
In its core mechanics and visually, Writhe is an old-school shooter in the spirit of classics such as Quake 2. The pretty but coarse-pixeled 3D graphics with their bright colors are reminiscent of the early days of 3D shooters, and the gameplay also dispenses with any modern frippery. With two weapons at the ready (automatic laser rifle and shotgun), we shoot our way straight through masses of worms that are crawling towards us in increasing numbers. Our goal is to survive as long as possible and bring as many monsters as possible to their death. Nevertheless, each of the short rounds eventually ends with our death, and we start all over again on the hunt for the next highscore.
Even if there aren’t any fashionable progressing elements in the game, the developers have implemented a few extras. For example, we collect pink drops that will give us a boost at some point and with which we can unlock lore snippets. If we destroy cocoons, we will find urgently needed healing items in them. There are also three different types of worms for variety; there are the standard worms, an exploding variant, and a very strong “bullworm,” which is particularly dangerous. It’s fun, and, thanks to the three varying levels, it’s hugely entertaining.
Of course, we are particularly interested in how Writhe implemented the Thailand scenario. So let’s start with the story, which, at least in its lore, is astonishingly detailed for such a game. On Bangkok’s outskirts, an evil company produces a drink called “grubjuice” that is extremely popular. The secret ingredient: sago worms, a type of maggot found across Southeast Asia. Out of the company’s greed, the harmless worms are overbred and break out of the factory as mutated killer beasts, devour everything on their way through the ruins of the Khao Yai National Park, and finally can only be stopped in downtown Chatuchak by the heroes of the game, so-called exterminators.
The three scenarios Factory, Khao Yai Park, and Chatuchak form the three levels of the game, which serve as relatively small but winding arenas. Far from their real role models, these levels resemble only fantasy images of a Thailand tourists’ best of, but they have been implemented at least recognizably. We find even more Thailand references in the accessible museum of the game and the newspaper articles in Thai language presented there, which retrospectively tells the events of the game and at the same time provides information about opponents and weapons. Such a museum/tutorial really is a great idea!
Even if Vich Magic and Julia Bui’s music consists mostly of driving techno beats, the regional inspiration can also be recognized here in places, or as the developer says: “20% Thai, 80% industrial trance “. That fits both the setting and the retro feel of the game.
We didn’t miss the opportunity to ask the developers at Mission Ctrl Studios about their motivation and why they wanted to make a game in Thailand of all places. The answer is as simple as sweet: Jodi and Thomas are a couple who got engaged in Thailand. The trip there inspired them so much that they wanted to make a game including their impressions. You can tell, even if Writhe, through his retro-sci fi costume, may unknowingly fall into the stereotypical representation of Asia in science fiction, also known as techno-orientalism. The western view of Asia as an exotic continent spiced with corrupt and technically avant-garde mega-corporations is a trope that we have unfortunately seen all too often. Nonetheless, the two developers make an effort to treat the Thai setting with respect and – one cannot praise that enough – at least audio-visually take the players into entirely new realms.
In the end, one can say that Writhe has become a convincing and challenging (Prepare to die. A lot.), albeit quite short retro shooter that does not implement its Thailand scenario completely cliché-free but also dares to try something new. The auto-biographical touch also gives Writhe a romantic charm that one would certainly not have expected in a game like this.
For the future, the developers have already announced additional free content, including fixes and quality-of-life improvements, two new maps, and a co-op mode.
Writhe is available as a download for Nintendo Switch (currently only in Hong Kong, Europe, Australia, and the US).