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Downwell (PC) artwork

Downwell (PC) review

"A little game with a surprising amount of depth, challenge and fun. Also super affordable!"

I wasn't sure what to expect when I picked up Downwell for $3.49; it looked fine enough for a cheap game, and it appeared to be an arcade-like fling that would make for some quick fun in the same vein as Luftrausers. I certainly wasn't expecting a fast, challenging twitch shooter that has a surprising amount of depth for a game about falling down a hole while firing off gunboots. If gunboots doesn't have you sold right away, I'm not sure anything else will.

Downwell is a platforming shooter where you'll spend most of your time descending deep down into said well, encountering enemies that you either have to stomp on or shoot while collecting gems to buy power-ups. As you descend through the procedurally generated levels you'll come across throngs of enemies that can be shot, stomped or have an invulnerability to one or the other. Your gunboots start off as a basic little pea shooter with a small magazine, but stomping something, like an enemy or torch, or landing on solid ground will reload your magazine, though reloading can also be achieved through upgrades awarded to you upon level completion (which I'll get to shortly). The graphics lend themselves quite nicely to the fast paced nature of the game, their chunky Commodore 64 style allows you to see incoming obstacles clearly and react accordingly, since enemies are easily discernible between one another, and the color scheme only further helps differentiate what's bad and what's safe. For example, the default color palette has your character and stomp-able enemies colored solid white, while gems and hazardous things to touch are colored a stark red in contrast. This means that even when you reach new level sets with new hazards, it's quite easy to deduce what can or cannot be stomped, like sharp coral or fiery ghosts. You can unlock more palettes upon death or game completion when your collected gems are tallied up towards a milestone goal, but many of the color schemes are horrifically garish, some of them downright painful to look at.

Your character's movement is borderline perfect with enough loose floatiness to your jumps, while firing your gunboots provides sharp, sudden control when needing to redirect yourself in a hurry. You'll come across side rooms during your descent which will contain either a shop to spend your gems for health and extra gunboot magazine charges, a room with a pile of gems for the taking, or a room that contains gun modules that will give you a point of health or some charges in addition to changing your gun type. There are a handful of gun types that you can obtain but you can only use one at a time, ranging from a beefy machine gun to a vicious laser which can grow stronger if you collect enough gems to reach a 'gem high', a multiplier/enhanced character state where your gunboots are super charged, doing more damage and having larger bullets depending on the weapon currently equipped. Each gun type also has different attributes for the kickback received, jolting you up which can often mean the difference between stomping an enemy and taking damage. You can also go for combos, where you're rewarded with bonus gems, health and charges for killing multiple enemies in a row without landing on solid ground - excluding ground connected to a side room. Then there are upgrades you can choose from at the end of each level, which include your stomps becoming explosive, your character being put into a time stopping bubble upon taking damage, becoming able to consume corpses for extra health and more.

While the number of gun types and end of level upgrades aren't very numerous, this means it doesn't take long until you know exactly what you're doing and what upgrades to immediately shoot for to tackle the challenges each level brings. Your play style probably won't vary with each new run since death is very likely, and you generally are stuck playing in the same ways; you may play cautiously, focus on avoiding ground as much as possible in order to rack up combos, go completely Rambo and brute force your way, or a hybrid of tactics depending on what the situation is. While other rogue-lites suffer from the issue of getting 'lucky' and having a superb run due to a lone item that makes your character overpowered, Downwell manages to avoid this folly by having character upgrades be incredibly useful in their own ways, not just flatout game breakers - Not to mention the game relies on quick, twitchy reactions and raw playing skill, which is a breath of fresh air. The jetpack is great for when you unload a full magazine and need to save yourself, but it can run out of fuel until you land on something again. The drone may be a great buddy to have for fire support, but it can kill the very enemy you were hoping to stomp on to reload your gunboots. The amount of player skill that Downwell demands while also supplying a surprising amount of depth is astounding for such a little game, and it's all punctuated by being able to restart a failed run in no time at all.

What's frustrating is that my only real complaint about Downwell is that sometimes hit detection between the player character and enemies can sometimes be a bit unreliable, especially when coming at them from an angle. Besides that, the game's brevity lends itself miles, not padding itself out with any filler or needless content that keeps you from getting right to the next level and making the big plays. Downwell is cheap, fast, fun and challenging, and at the time of writing this there is talk of the game also getting free updates. Such a little game offering so much enjoyment makes Downwell an absolute treat to romp through and I cannot recommend it enough to those wanting a new rogue-lite fix.

Dinoracha's avatar
Community review by Dinoracha (March 03, 2016)

Dinoracha is a world-renowned internet famous Let's Player, voice actor, writer, reviewer, e-sports competitor, masterful stream host and man of the people. These may or may not all be gross exaggerations.

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