Developer: Ojiro Fumoto (@moppin_)
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platform: Nintendo Switch eShop
Release Date: 31/01/2019
Downwell is a simple game with simple visuals and a simple premise. In it you play a young man called ‘Welltaro’ falling down a well (by choice, it’s worth pointing out). With guns strapped to his boots.
It’s a good thing you have those gun boots too, because there are plenty of monsters to shoot, obstacles to clear, gems to collect and shops to visit. It’s a big and very busy well.
As you’d probably expect for a game that originated on mobile when it first launched in 2015, Downwell isn’t encumbered with complicated controls. All the buttons do the same thing: shoot. The quirk, of course, is that you can only shoot down. In one sense, it’s a good thing – that’s the direction you’re permanently headed in anyway, but it also adds the first layer of challenge to the game. If you’ve missed any enemies on your way down, you’re now ultimately defenseless against them coming at you from above.
This kind of ‘hidden’ complexity in the game’s low-key presentation plays out in many ways throughout the game. Whether that’s the variety in enemy types, meaning some enemies can be stomped/fallen on safely, while others can only be killed with bullets. Or the variations of weapon types that totally change the amount of ammo you have on hand between each landing, as well as the type of attack. Even the game’s gameboy-style black and white visuals can be tweaked with unlockable colour palettes.
The game is a ‘roguelike’ – meaning that each time you play the levels are procedurally generated and no two playthroughs are ever the same. Each time you complete a level of the well, you get the option to select an upgrade from a random set – such as additional health; cool and handy effects like bullets firing back out of blocks after you shoot them to take out enemies above; or even just a pretty balloon that floats with you until the bad monsters pop it and explode for their sins.
There are also unlockable gameplay styles that adjust certain variables of the game such as falling speed, the types of items available in shops and the power ups available for that playthrough.
It all means that even though there are only 4 worlds in the game – plus a Boss level – there’s plenty to do and plenty of novel experiences each time you play. As each playthrough can be quite quick – leaderboards for beating the game fastest see the top times clocking in around 12 minutes – it could quite easily be a go-to pick-up-and-play game when you’re out and about, making it a perfect fit for the Switch.
Another neat feature the Switch is uniquely capable of as a games console is the ability to play the game vertically – as originally played on mobile. If you’re playing in handheld mode this increase in resolution (as you go from a vertical height of 720 pixels to 1280) can be a total game changer and transforms the otherwise small and fiddly visuals into something a lot easier to visually parse. You might need to get a third party peripheral designed for playing the Switch vertically to make the absolute most out of this feature, but if you happened to have already picked one up for the increasing amount of arcade-style games that support it, this will go a long way to helping justify that purchase.
If you’re a fan of games like Binding of Isaac, or even just that one bit in every Metroid game where Samus has to jump up a big tunnel before the planet explodes (only, y’know, backwards), there’s plenty enough to enjoy from this cute little title. Honestly, even if none of that means anything to you it’s still definitely worth a pop, particularly at the pittance it’s going for on the eShop (less than £3).
Alex is the founding editor of GameCrash, as well as the founder and owner of one of the UK’s most popular and most creative Pokémon fansites, Pokecharms.com.
When not playing or writing about video games he works full time as a Senior Digital Developer making websites not unlike this very one!
Alex’s favourite game franchises are Pokémon and Sonic the Hedgehog.