We’re Going Down
The game starts with a boy sleeping in the park. You move around just to find a mysterious well as the game’s logo pop up. All you have to do is jump in and the adventure begins. Downwell is the latest of Devolver Digital’s games to make it to the Nintendo Switch. It originally released over three years ago, though. Does this port still have what it takes to sink the competition, or is it too little too late?
Stop, Drop, and Roll
Downwell is a wild ride of a game. You start each round at the top of the well, which is filled with platforms, monsters and obstacles. Your goal is to make it to the bottom of each level by bouncing on monsters, avoiding hazards, and making the most of your resources. The game never tells you how it works, so it’s thankfully simple enough that it starts to click about the third or fourth attempt.
As is true of many indie games, Downwell is difficult, but it can be mastered. The way the game is structured, you’ll most likely make a bit more progress each time you play, which it makes it much more enticing to keep trying. You’ll say to yourself, “I’ll just try one more time,” then a full hour goes by. The game can be extremely addictive.
Part of the reason the game is so addictive is that it is a joy to control. Jumping, bouncing, and moving all respond well. The game is littered with particle effects and explosive moments when you time your jumps correctly. It’s a very momentum-based system that rewards players who can chain jumps together and keep themselves falling at all times. It’s a fun system.
You’re also given items called gun boots. With the press of a button, you can fire powerful bullets beneath you that can destroy blocks and enemies as well as giving you a bit of extra time in the air to process your jumps. The gun boots work extremely well as a sort of error correction if you don’t angle your jumps quite right.
What strikes me about Downwell is how the developer seemingly thought of everything regarding its design. Sure it feels great to control and you make more progress with each run, but without any more immediate payoff, it wouldn’t work quite as well. However, the game has that too. There are various rooms in each level that can reward players with new weapons. The catch is that those new weapons come with an extra heart or an extra charge that allows them to fire their gun boots longer. With every bit of help making a difference in the game, it encourages people to make do with all sorts of different weapons. Gems also pop out when destroying enemies and blocks that can be used in randomly placed shops for more hearts and charges.
Going along with more immediate progression, Downwell rewards players who keep moving forward. At the end of each level, they’re given the option of an upgrade. It can increase gun boot accuracy, give them a drone to help shoot, or just give them a few extra hearts. The increased difficulty doesn’t feel so overwhelming because the game is constantly making the player stronger. Make no mistake, though, the game can be brutal.
Change Your Style
With how short yet difficult Downwell is, it’s smart to constantly reward players in each attempt at beating it. However, the game also gives players lasting rewards that carry over with each attempt. These come in the form of palette swaps and different styles. The palettes, which can be changed at any point in the game, change the color of everything. With palettes referencing the Game Boy and Virtual Boy while giving a bit of different color to the game, it’s quite nice to see which new palettes you can unlock. However, some of them are awfully bright on a big screen TV, so I definitely recommend playing this is handheld mode (it’s a pixel art game with minimal colors, so it looks identical between TV and handheld mode anyway).
Styles are a bit different. At the start of each attempt, you can select one which slightly changes how the game is played. The Levitate Style makes you a bit more floaty and gives the character a different animation. Some styles make the game a bit easier, some of them make it more difficult. Those different styles can be the difference between those who make it through a few more levels and those who don’t, though. It’s nice to find which format works best for you.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: A review code for Downwell was provided by Tinsley-PR.