Downwell – Review

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Downwell is a game developed by Moppin and published by Devolver Digital, in it you control of a character armed with a pair of gunboots as he descends down a well (shocking plot twist). It was released in October 2015 for iOS and Windows, and it was recently released on Android as well. I have only played the Android version of this game, although I can imagine my points will mostly translate to the other versions as well.

There are only three buttons in this game, two which move your character left/right and one which either jumps or shoots depending on whether or not you are already in the air. The controls are simple enough to work well on a touch screen, particularly on my talbet where I find only having these three controls minimizing the chances of accidentally pressing the wrong button. The control scheme tends to be a big problem for a lot of mobile games, while they have their uses, touchscreens just don’t cut it for many games that requires precise control and timing. (Which is why I tend to play slower paced games primarily)

The structure of the game is very typical modern roguelike, each area is split into 3 levels and the enemies/terrain get more dangerous as you get deeper. After each level you are given the choice of 3 upgrades, there is quite a lot of variety between the upgrades although they do tend to get repetitive after playing the game for a while. It’s similar to a game like Nuclear Throne, where you tend to figure out which upgrades are more useful after some trial and error, although certain runs can force me into choosing a specific upgrade based on my current circumstances.

Random upgrades make each run feel slightly different

Random upgrades make each run feel slightly different

Downwell is designed to look and sound like a retro gameboy colour game. As you gain experience you unlock different palettes which change the colour scheme of the terrain and the enemies (I’ve tended to stick with the original red palette, but having the option there is a neat idea).

There is something that Downwell does that not many mobile games have accomplished. It’s a hard feeling to describe, something about the combination of the sound effects, the screen shake and the pixelated explosions really draw me in.

A combination of the sound effects and animations make explosions feel awesome

A combination of the sound effects and animations make explosions feel awesome

As you drop down the well, you will run across small side rooms protected by time voids. These rooms contain a gun pickup and occasionally a health pickup. Each gun has a unique feel, firing the shotgun feels completely different from firing the machine gun or the laser, a particuarly impressive accomplishment when you consider that the game is being played on a touch screen phone or tablet with no tactile controls.

Gun pickups can dramatically change the way you play the game

Gun pickups can dramatically change the way you play the game

As you kill enemies (either through jumping on them or shooting them) your combo run starts to increase, touching the ground at any point will end the combo. Although the game is very fun while just playing through normally and trying to get as deep as possible, the real challenge comes when you start to rack up combos of kills. Combos give you huge bonuses in Downwell, these range from extra gems to recharging your gunboots or giving you extra health.
Since jumping on an enemies head recharges your gunboots, it’s possible to rack up huge combos over the course of multiple levels. It’s definitely the “meta game” of getting combos which will keep me coming back to this game when the main goal of getting deeper starts to wear thin.

I haven’t gotten very far into this game, at the time of writing this review my best run ended on level 2-2. But I definitely intend to continue to play Downwell on and off for the forseeable future, especially since my gaming time over the next few months will be limited to mobile games.

Pythagean

Pythagean

Head Designer at The Video Game Forum

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Summary
  • Gameplay
  • Graphics
  • Audio
  • Story

Summary

Downwell is an addicting and well designed mobile game which draws inspiration from several other games. The controls are impressive for a mobile game and the difficulty ramps up quickly as you get deeper into the well. The combo system is simple to understand and definitely adds to the reply-ability of the game.

4.5