Review: Downwell

The downwell logo

This week we have another indie rouge-like game from Devolver Digital, created by Japanese game developer Ojiro “Moppin” Fumoto. It’s Downwell, let’s go!

 

Downwell is another rouge-like game published by Devolver, who also made Enter the Gungeon. What sets Downwell apart from many other games is that it is a vertical scrolling platformer, with an interesting definition of ‘platform’. The game starts by you jumping down a giant well, pretty straight forward. The key mechanic of the game are the gun-boots you wear, which allow you to shoot at enemies below you as you fall. These boots have a limited ammo supply that refills when you land. Thanks to the loose definition of platform, you can jump off of most enemies to kill them, refilling your gun-boots. Fall into the well with feet firmly armed, and see how far you can go in the search for treasures untold.

A clip of the falling action of the game.

Downwell is another game that excels at using simple graphics to its advantage. Its basic color scheme is black, white, and red, the red used most for details like highlights on enemies and the gems that you pick up. The 8-bit style graphics use this limited palette to great effect, creating a distinct style that flows well with the speed of the game. As you progress, you can unlock various other palettes as well, in case another color scheme is to your liking.

In terms of music, the game is somewhat limited. Each area that you travel to has its own theme, and there are themes for side areas and events, but considering there’s only four major areas in the game, that’s not a lot of music. Not to say that the music is not good, it is still a nice soundtrack if a small one, similar to Princess Remedy’s soundtrack. There is one thing to say though. When you don’t hit enemies for a while, the music will die down, and will only kick back up when you kill an enemy again. It makes for some interesting reactive background music, and is a nice bit of polish.

 

On to the gameplay. As mentioned, Downwell is a vertical platformer, as you are falling down into the titular well. As you fall you encounter various denizens of the well, including, but not limited to, snakes, bats, turtles, floating slimes, frogs, ghosts, snails, void entities, squids, skeletons, and one shop keeper. Everything but the shop keeper is active in the well and will try to hurt you as you descend. To protect yourself, you have your gun-boots, which act as a combination weapon/movement utility. As you fire, you slow down your falling momentum, giving you time to judge jumps and shots. Your gun-boots start off as a machinegun of sorts, with rapid fire capabilities. In the well you can find gun modules for your gun-boots, which can alter your firing mode to shotgun, scatter-shot, burst-mode, or even a laser. These can be found in little side caves of the well, which act as pause bubbles, stopping everything while you’re in there. Another neat detail and cool bit of polish to the game.

An example of the "pause bubble" and the upgrade Timeout, which makes a bubble when you are hit

An example of the “pause bubble” and the upgrade Timeout, which makes a bubble when you are hit

When you defeat enemies in the well, they drop gems, which are the main progression point of the game. These gems can be found all over, inside rocks, inside torches, in little side paths in huge chunks, they’re everywhere and are very important for winning. After collecting enough gems in a short period, you activate what’s called a ‘gem high,’ in which your gun-boots deal extra damage, and the gem high can be extended by collecting more gems. These gems can also be spent at the in-game shop for health and ammo, if you’re lucky enough to find the shop while in the well. But you shouldn’t worry is you don’t get to spend your gems. When you eventually get a game over, the game tallies the total amount of you gems collected and adds that to your lifetime total. When you hit various milestones, this unlocks different color palettes and different styles of play. These different styles do have significant impact on the game, like finding only gun modules but no shops, or extra health at the cost of possible upgrades.

An example of the shop in downwell.

The shop!

Yes, upgrades. Whenever you finish a level, you normally have the option of three different upgrades that help you on your fall. This is where the rogue-like elements of the game come in. Every time you progress through the game, you have the opportunity for different upgrades to affect your playthrough. Being as there is 20 different upgrades altogether, there’s a good bit of variety. When you take into account the various weapons, the four unlockable styles, and 20 possible upgrades, there’s a good bit of playtime before you’ve seen everything.

 

Like most rogue-like games, Downwell is pretty hard, even as simple as it is. Besides different styles of play, there are no permanent options to make the game easier. For a game this short, it may not be necessary, but it does mean that like a lot of rogue-like games, you’re going to have to get good at the game to beat it. If you like fast-paced platformers or are looking for a different kind of game to sink time into, give Downwell a look. You can find it on Steam, Android, and iOS.

The main character from downwell, falling,

-Dr. Glovegood

 

 

P.S.- There’s an item in Enter the Gungeon that references the Gun Boots. A nice tie-in item for Devolver’s other titles.

 

 

Dr. Glovegood

I like gloves. I like games. I'd like to see more of these in the world.

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