Okay, let’s get to the elephant in the room. I’m late to the party with Downwell. But here’s the way I see it - maybe there’s someone out there like me who has a huge backlog of games. And maybe that someone might appreciate an opinion on this game before they play it? That person out there - I’m writing for you!
Downwell was a definite surprise for me. I picked it up this past weekend during a PlayStation sale. I’ve done some thought collecting about what makes it a thoroughly enjoyable game. It’s got a solid core. It has relevant juiciness. But it also has a couple things I would have done differently.
Downwell is a definite Indie title. When I say that, I mean it does a pretty good job at getting straight to mechanics without any fancy extras getting in the way. Those mechanics are what make it so addicting! There are a few verbs in this one: fall, jump, shoot, reload, move (side to side). At least those are the main mechanics.I noticed Downwell because it does things differently. It’s a roguelike. It’s a shooter. But you’re always falling. That nuance makes it different enough to give it a whirl. The gameplay is chaotic enough, but it also has refreshing opportunities to pause. Platforms abound, but players are subtly encouraged to move quickly and spend little time on them. You shoot enemies by doing a sort of double jump, but you can also jump on their heads, a la Super Mario Bros. You have a life bar. You have to reload. Some enemies are only shootable. Some are only jumpable. Don’t lose all your life, don’t spend too long between action instances, and successfully reach the bottom of the level so you can move on. That’s really it! And it’s damn near perfect at its core.
If you gamers/devs out there haven’t yet watched this talk, I highly recommend it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fy0aCDmgnxg. The basic idea is that “juice” can make a video game great. But, we should always remember that the core needs to be there first (don’t start a game with the juice). Enough of that, though! How does Downwell “juice it?” Very well, I’d say. Powerups are cliche, yes. But they feel so right in Downwell. Players have a few ways to obtain perks, or powerups. After passing a level, and through little side rooms along the way to the finish. Among the perks are gun types, extra life points, and other augmentations to your combat success. These add so much meat to the game. And they’re done in an unintrusive way so none of the core mechanics are polluted. I found myself playing the game for the powerups, knowing that I could accomplish cooler feats with them. Other examples of juice are aesthetic/cosmetic. Since the overall aesthetic is a 8-bit/retro one, these fit nicely! Players are rewarded with “palettes” and “styles.” Palettes simply change the filter of the game (gameboy, aqua, etc.). Styles are silly, but still fun. They’re basically different ways your little character can move around. Neither of these affect gameplay, and are simply rewards for consistent successes and time spent playing the game.
What I would change:
I wouldn’t change much, to be honest. I actually think the world needs more games as simple and catchy as this one. That being said, there are a few issues of clarity. Some of the palettes make it difficult to see enemy/platform types. I know I said earlier that those rewards don’t change gameplay, but if players have a hard time identifying key components on the screen, they might affect it after all. Secondly, certain powerups refer to things in the play space that aren’t necessarily clear. For example, one powerup said I would gain health from corpses. I figured that meant enemy corpses, but there are also what look like dead things throughout the level. I’m still not sure which the developer is referring to. These things are minor, but can be annoying if they break the flow in any way.
Play this game. It’s good. Real good. And it’s on multiple platforms. And it’s super affordable. This game caught me off guard, and I haven’t been able to put it down. Bravo, I say! And more, please!!