Review – Downwell

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Review – Downwell
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Downwell
Action, Adventure
Developer: Moppin
Publisher Devolver Digital
October 15th, 2015

When it comes to games from Devolver Digital, it’s almost a no-brainer that what lies in wait for the gamer is something good. Unlike much of the cheaper, or even high-ticket titles flooding PCs today that either look and/or play bad, are asset flips, or are just carbon copies of largely successful titles, this publisher is known for putting out one memorable title after another on the digital gaming platform that is Steam. This time around we have Downwell, a small title from new independent development team Moppin. But does this debut venture/nod to the glory days of the eight bit gaming era stand as one worth checking out, or is it nothing more than a waste of your money?

Downwell is as straight forward an entry into the rogue-like style as it’s name suggests. You play as a young boy who jumps down a well in search of treasure. Armed with your trusty gunboots, you must journey deeper down this well, destroy the many enemy creatures, as well as collect all the gems you can as you inch closer to the final boss. Along your path are random time safety bubbles that hold more treasures, alterations to your gunboots, as well as various stores you can spend your found treasure at for things like extra health.

The basic game play may seem like it gets old pretty quick, but the glory of Downwell‘s design is the additional boosters you can pick up, not to mention the tight, frantic combat that occurs as you plummet uncontrollably down the well itself. After each section you are given a choice between three power-ups (more if you happen to get the power-up that allows for more power-ups to choose from) that alter your game play. These include random safety time bubbles upon being hit, a drone to deal extra damage, even just health refills or simple things like dead bodies firing a random bullet, or even the ability to eat said dead bodies to slowly regain health. There’s also the option of a balloon, but it’s more just a random cosmetic accessory that easily pops than anything all that beneficial.

What’s more, the combat punishes you for moving fast. There are a lot of times where enemies will begin to swarm you all at once, forcing you to descend a lot slower than you might want. This actually works in your favor, causing you to have to think out a plan to avoid being hit, or how to reach certain enemies since you might not be able to jump above them and fire with your boots, or have enough room to not get hit while attacking them. This title also does run on Super Mario Bros. rules as far as that fighting system goes, allowing for a number of foes to be defeated by jump/landing on top of them. However, there are a few that cause damage if you do this, such as the spike shelled snails on the wall, the random Space Invaders looking bat, or the floating glowing orbs, so you still have to be somewhat vigilant in how you dispatch these creatures.

There’s also the unlockable elements the gems provide, such as the various palettes you can earn that crawl the span of early gaming graphics. Much of them revolve around the days of the Nintendo Entertainment System or the Sega Master System, but you can unlock others like “GBOY”, a black and green Nintendo Gameboy style, as well as “VBOY” which, as you would guess, is the all red line against black background look of the failed Nintendo Virtual Boy sans the three-dimensional aspect. Even the screen is heavily condensed to represent an early arcade machine look without going overboard and including a fake glass layer with reflecting flourescent lights from the background.

Sadly, there is only one difficulty available upon purchasing. There is no easy or hard mode available right out the gate, nor do I think an easy mode even exists, really. Downwell seems to move along at a standard medium difficulty setting, but you can unlock a hard mode [which I have yet to do] for a grander challenger. But, even at medium difficulty, Downwell is still a pretty tense game, one that will have you struggling in the first set of stages alone despite the many side rooms that offer a bonus health and gunboot upgrade, or downgrade based on your weapon preference. Thankfully gems also unlock new character designs that come with additional boosts or restrictions to add more tension or to make things a little easier.

Downwell is a very well constructed title with tight controls, battles, and even visuals. At launch, you can pick this one up for three dollars (US currency), and, honestly, it’s well worth the investment. While the unlocks are often minimal and visual alterations, the difficulty and learning curve really leaves more to discover about the game than just what you happen to see. The only major problem to be had is that the music for each set of stages seems fairly short, having to repeat itself more than you would like, not to mention also sounds like many other memorable scores like the flying ship stages of Super Mario Bros. 3 and the opening notes of the Final Fantasy VII victory battle theme. But, if you can look past those minor things, you will find a great deal of fun in this small package, making Downwell an addicting reverse Ice Climber style title that is well worth diving head first into.

Overall Score: 8.5/10

Digital review copy of this release provided by personal funds.