Review: Text Wormhole

Where do your expectations lead you when you hear the term bullet hell in relation to a video game? Likely that it will involve piloting a spaceship or some other flying craft through horizontally or vertically scrolling stages, dipping and diving through a constant bombardment of projectiles while returning fire against swarms of enemies and insane boss battles, am I right? Well forget every preconceived notion you have about bullet hell, because Text Wormhole is something altogether unique.

Text Wormhole is a purgatorial survival dodge-em-up with a simple, ingenious hook. Using a keyboard or gamepad, you move a red alphabetical letter through successive waves of letters that explode and spray across the screen in a variety of patterns and speeds. The goal being to guide the currently highlighted letter into a direct hit with the same exact letter–yes, case matters!–buried somewhere inside the alphanumeric asteroid field. Touching any other letter results in immediate failure. Trying to identify the correct letter amidst such chaos is like trying to spot a needle in a haystack, and then navigating the cursor through the letter frenzy to hit the specific target is like threading the eye of that needle with the finest thread imaginable. Imagine going to see some bizarro ophthalmologist whose eye exam consists of chopping the chart up into individual letters, tossing them around like confetti, and asking you to identify one specific character. That’s essentially what you’re asked to do here.

A gamepad provides the best method of control. Keyboard controls are supported, but, at least to my tastes, aren’t particularly well suited for a game requiring pinpoint precision and a smooth 360-degree range of motion such as this. Mouse control would be ideal, but currently is not an option. Thankfully it sounds like the developer is planning to add mouse support in a future update.

The standard 1-player mode is a timed, sequential progression through each letter of the alphabet. From A to Z, each letter constitutes a new round with a different spray pattern and procedural letter generation. Once you match A, a new round begins with B as the cursor. So on and so forth from there. Leaderboard position is determined based on how far you make it into the alphabet and the speed at which you reach that point. Survival Mode uses the same core mechanic in an endless loop of rounds with no particular letter order to follow. You simply survive as many rounds as you can in a single life. There’s a 2-player, split-keyboard (one player on arrow keys, the other on WASD) mode as well, which is a competitive variant on the solo progression through the alphabet.

Simple though it may be, the game puts forth an extreme challenge. I’ve made well over 50 attempts so far, and my best survival run has been to round eight, and my best 1-player run has reached the letter P in one minute and three seconds. As of press time, that puts me at 5th and 4th place on the respective leaderboards. It doesn’t look like anyone has cleared all the way through letter Z yet. Given the high difficulty curve, expect to make incremental advances amidst failure after failure after failure. But don’t get too down. The developers appear to have been aware of the game’s possible damage to a gamer’s confidence and mental health, interspersing every failed attempt with quotes of wisdom and inspiration. Choice gems like “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” from Walt Disney, “Winners never quit and quitters never win.” from Vince Lombardi, “Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.” from Maya Angelou, and “Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” from Theodore Roosevelt, among one-liners from other famous figures like Michael Jordan, Mark Twain, Bruce Lee, John Wooden, Ben Franklin, and Pablo Picasso.

An element of luck does exist in scoring a good run. Sometimes you’ll catch a beneficial streak where the letter needed happens to be on the front line of a wave’s opening volley. Other times the needed letter will be buried deeper into the text swarm, making life a whole heck of a lot more difficult by forcing you to dodge and weave through the typographic minefield. Of course, this also brings in the element of risk/reward by daring you to push your reflexes and cognitive function, or wait it out for a safer opening to move in on a target. The balance between skill and luck ultimately evens out to make it a fair playing field.

Visually, the rounds alternate back and forth between black letters on a white background and white letters on a black background. The minimalism is simple yet striking, and always provides a clear contrast with the lone red letter under your control. There’s a beautiful, subtle artistry to the many different ways the letters fly across the screen. The techno music is an appropriate complement to the speed and chaos of the gameplay, though the same looping track over and over does grow old after a while. Some additional music options would be nice, just to break up any potential monotony.

As is typically the case with arcade and high score style games like this, quantifying replay value is entirely subjective. Some players will find the draw to come back to try and complete the full alphabet or improve a completion time inherently addictive, while the one-dimensional gameplay hook may become tiresome more quickly for others once the initial novelty wears off. I do wish the achievements had more thought put into them, as there’s no real effort or skill required to 100% the game within an hour, and without ever completing a full run or having to last longer than five rounds in survival. For such a challenging game, I expected some more demanding, and in turn more rewarding, achievement targets that felt like an accomplishment to earn.

Welcome to letter hell, folks! Text Wormhole‘s alphabetic twist on bullet hell chaos is a novel test of hand-eye coordination, pattern memorization, and visual recognition. This isn’t a game you’ll necessarily want to play for stretches longer than, say, 10 to 15 minutes at a time, but in short bursts the game proves to be hellacious fun. Overall this is a gaming dollar very well spent.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Clever new twist on bullet hell
+ Striking black-and-white minimalism
+ Nice selection of modes and features for such a compact game

Cons:
– Currently no mouse support; keyboard controls not ideal
– Little thought or challenge put into achievement objectives

Game Info:
Platform: PC (also planned for Nintendo Switch in 2018)
Publisher: Elknight
Developer: Elknight
Release Date: 11/2/2017
Genre: Action
Players: 1-2

Source: A Steam code for Text Wormhole was provided to VGBlogger.com for review purposes by Elknight.

Buy From: Text Wormhole is out on Steam for $0.99 (plus a 33% discount until November 9th).

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!