Devolver Digital has made their name with graphically-simplistic titles that try new things. Originally released for iOS, Downwell found its way to Android and then finally PC. Downwell sends you…down a well-wearing gunboots destroying enemies and making progress is a top-to-bottom action-runner. Downwell is an action-filled adventure and one that challenges you at all times.
Jumping and shooting are nothing new – but they’ve never been combined quite like this. One button press jumps so you can avoid enemies while a second press activates the gunboots. Beautiful and straightforward, right? Well, if you use the gunboots, they’ll kill enemies and also destroy the ground you’re on. You’ll want to do that selectively so that you don’t wind up destroying a block at the wrong time.
If you do so and wind up landing on an enemy that will kill you, you’ll deplete your minimal HP count. Health pickups are rare, and without using shops or end-of-level pickups, you’ll have to rely on a perk that allows you to harvest dead enemies to get a bit of health.
The playing area is relatively small and claustrophobic, and while you can shoot down, that’s the only direction you can shoot. It means that playing it like any other kind of platformer simply doesn’t work – even with small bits of other platformer types thrown in. Playing it like a hop ‘n bop game akin to Super Mario Bros. only works when it comes to breaking blocks in hidden areas.
These areas are a goldmine for finding gems – and you’ll want to do a lot of that. While this may seem like a game with a small scope, it is one that allows you to do many things – including explore. Exploration allows you to go into hidden areas full of gems and even find storefonts.
You’ll want to make use of stores whenever you can access them because you can obtain some obscenely powerful perks in doing so. You might be able to buy a more powerful gun type, like a shotgun or a spreadshot akin to Contra – just vertical instead of horizontal.
A meter on the right-hand side of the screen shows you how much ammo you have – with lower-powered guns only using one slot of ammo while more powerful ones can take up half of your ammo in one go. It means that your gunboots will be out of charge, so you’ll need to land on something to recharge them.
Gaining gems are relatively easy to do, and you can gain a small amount from minor enemies and far more from enemies with a color scheme akin to the palette was chosen for the game. If you use the default black, red, and white colors, then you’ll want to make sure to kill heavily-red enemies because they will result in a ton of loot when killed.
You’ll want to be mindful of which enemies you land on and which ones you shoot, though. Wasting ammo on enemies you could just stomp on isn’t smart since you might want to use that ammo to break open a palette-matching block instead and perhaps gain a health or weapon boost from a shop.
You have to think with a long-term mind in this because it has some Rogue-like elements through in. Dying will send you back to the start of the game – so gaining health refills and especially items that increase your health bar are a must.
Every bit of damage you take is something you can learn from since you will rarely be stuck in an area where a hit bounces you into another enemy – or off of the platform you’re on and them into one. It’s a very fair game, but a fast-paced one – so play carefully.
Each weapon also has its pros and cons you need to consider. Going with a powerful weapon won’t just reduce the number of shots you can land before having to recharge, but also feature a shorter range. You’ll do more damage if you’re accurate but also stand to fill the screen with explosions that can limit how well you can see.
The PC is easily the best overall platform to play the game on because of how it controls. You move left or right and both jump and shoot with one button – so in theory, it’s perfect for mobile devices. The problem is that because it requires pixel-perfect attacks, the iffy nature on-screen controls doesn’t work in its favor.
Visually-speaking, it’s a beautiful game that would be right at home in the 8-bit era. The heavily black and white look stands out today, and very few games even in that time had a massive black and white look. It makes the splashes of color in the palettes stand out even more.
Your character’s animation is quite smooth, and while it’s not something you’ll notice in a regular playthrough when you apply different buffs after unlocking them, you’ll see your character’s movement cycle change.
There are many color filters you can apply to the game too, and these can change the whole feel of the adventure. Going with black, white, and red feels slightly spooky – since red is the color of blood while blue is oddly calming.
Other filters give you a Virtual Boy-style look while the Game Boy-style look adds a lot of challenge too. You can no longer see the palette-influence enemies and items stand out – so you have to memorize the enemy designs, and just hope that you hit all the bonus loot boxes along the way.
Chiptunes have become overdone over the past few years, but Downwell’s soundtrack is outstanding and one of the best examples of that instrumentation style out there. Erik Suhrke composed the music and did a stellar job. Otherwise, the sound design is top-notch as well.
Every weapon sound is different, and you’ll hear a different level of a blast from your shotgun as you would the laser-guided shots or the gigantic fist power-up that also causes mini-explosions. Great care was put into the sound design, and it compliments the game design perfectly.
Downwell is an outstanding game and one of the better action-heavy platformers you can play. While the PC version is the best and most comfortable experience for it, going with a mobile version isn’t a bad idea either.
No matter which version you buy, you’ll be treated to a fantastic game and one that keeps you coming back for more since its gameplay is so addictive. Anyone who grew up loving 8-bit gems should give it a shot, and it’s a fantastic gateway game for those looking to get into shooters who otherwise wouldn’t since it blends so many other genres into that one.