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Downwell (PC) artwork

Downwell (PC) review

"An addictive indie game with more depth than you might think."

Downwell is a game that offers much more than meets the eye. On its face, this game looks pretty simple. You control a nameless character, swiftly and unflinchingly traversing down a well, killing anything in your way with the help of your trusty gunboots and bouncing off of enemies.

That’s basically all the game gives you at the outset. But the game’s simpler, retro aesthetic belies a level of depth and intelligence to Downwell’s design. The game has no tutorials to ease you into the game’s feature set; it lets you figure the game out at your own pace. And it is imperative that learn the game’s rules pretty quickly because the game is hard as hell. Your character has a limited number of hit points, and getting through the increasingly hectic deluge of monsters out to get you unscathed while navigating the randomly generated levels is a rare luxury. The ordeal is made all the more strenuous by the limitations on your gunboots. You have very little charge (the game's speak for ammo) at the start of each run in Downwell, so you have to have some reservations about what you shoot. You can refill your ammo in two ways: bouncing off of enemies or landing on solid ground. While landing on platforms and cliffs at every opportunity is tempting, Downwell incentivizes playing with speed through its combo system, which only lasts as long as you stay off the ground. The longer the combo, the more gems and health you will receive when the combo eventually ends. This encourages the player to play Downwell at breakneck speed, which is good since this is where the game shines at its absolute brightest.

Downwell’s difficulty is clear, but it never feels unfair. The game gives you the tools to succeed, and rewards persistence and good play at all times. The controls are tight and responsive, especially on the Vita (shout-out to the four people who bought a Vita). The propulsive jolt of your gunboots gives your character a slight boost into the air, giving you a quick moment to avoid, or attack, whatever is in your path. The gems you acquire as you descend down the well act as currency in shops, where you can buy health packs or increases to your charge capacity. There are also small caves where you can find additional gems as well as one of the game’s different weapon types. These helpful enclaves are covered by a time-stopping bubble that gives you a reprieve from the various dangers surrounding you, as well as an opportunity to plan the next few seconds of your descent. At the end of each level, you can augment your character with a variety of upgrades such as increasing the range and accuracy of your gunboots, creating explosions every time you stomp on an enemy, or getting discounts in the shops.

Even in death, Downwell provides a form of progress. All of your gems contribute to a leveling system that unlocks dozens of color palettes to change the color scheme of the game, and five different play styles. These styles all involve a trade-off of some kind, besides the standard character you start with. You can start with more hit points, but you have fewer upgrade options at the end of levels. You can find gun modules more regularly, but shops will become a rarer occurrence. These different play styles mostly adhere to the game’s standard formula, but the changes they do make add variety and a level of personal customization over how you play the game.

Downwell is a game that continually keeps you on your toes. The pace of the game combined with a lack of any sort of tutorial can, initially, make the game a slightly jarring experience. But the game is still really fun from the outset is hardly obfuscatory about how to get better. This game has made late nights later, and lunch breaks seem shorter than they used to be. Just one more game. Just one more game. If that’s not a mark of quality, I don’t know what is.


sam1193's avatar
Community review by sam1193 (July 01, 2016)

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