Downwell Review

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Downwell is a vertically scrolling, roguelike, platforming shooter released for PC/IOS/Android on October 15th, 2015. It was developed by @moppppin@strotchy@KissaKolme and published by @devolverdigital. For more info check out their site. Gifs courtesy of mopppin’s blog and screenshots taken by myself.

Downwell is gem. It’s small, it’s of very high quality and most of all shines bright with very tight gameplay. Saying it’s a small is in no way a bad thing. Quite the contrary, Downwell is the perfect size for what it is trying to achieve. There is very little clutter on the screen at any given time. The main focus is on the strip down the center of your screen where all the action takes place. Downwell is a part of the recent deluge of wonderful and thoughtful pixel art games that are coming out lately like Shovel Knight and Axiom Verge. These are games that are more like love letters to the 8bit and 16bit era of video games.

blamblamblamDownwell stars a character who reminds me a great deal of Batamax from Big Hero 6. This pseudo Batamax jumps down a well in search of gems and other treasures. Little else is known or explained throughout the game. But that’s alright, exposition isn’t this game’s focus and nor should it be. Downwell is all about gameplay, and as the ever right Colin Moriarty says, “Gameplay is king.” The player controls their decent down the well using shots fired from the pseudo Batamax’s feet. These weapons slows down the speed at which the player falls and also are the primary way of dealing damage to enemies.

The other way to take enemies out is with a good old bop on the head like how we’ve all bopped goombas many times before. I actually found myself using this method a little more than the weapons on my feet. There are various weapons the player can acquire and use besides the one they pseudo Batamax starts with. This keeps the game from getting stale as new weapons means new strategies for both combat and navigation.

As you descend the well defeatisomanyshitng enemies and destroying parts of the environment you get gems. How quickly you gather gems fills a bar at the top of your screen. Once you fill the bar you reach gem fever and get a bonus. But if you don’t continue getting gems at a constant rate you will eventually lose it. I found myself pushing forward when I should’ve exerted caution just to keep that meter full and flashing. It’s an interesting mechanism and one that makes what could’ve been a slow and methodical game a fast past paced and chaotic one.

Upgrades are earned through completing each level and do not carry over to each attempt. Once you die you start back at the top of the well and will have to pick a new upgrade after each section. I quite enjoyed this system and chose different upgrades each time to see what worked best for me. As you travel down the well and inevitably lose health you have the option of visiting the shop to spend some of your hard earned gems on health or ammo slots. The catch is that if you spend gems at the shops you won’t have them at the end of your run to level up and get new unlockables.

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Downwell has a very unique style. It almost feels like a black and white horror flick but as the ridiculousness of what pseudo-Betamax does and the other quirks like the stay-puff-marshmallow-man-looking shopkeeper and the upbeat music make it feel like an arcade game more than anything else. Downwell is great and at a such a low price it is well worth your time to experience this incredibly fun and wonderful game.

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