It’s been out for a while now and proven mighty popular on other platforms, but Devolver Digital’s brilliantly addictive… um… ‘Well-dropping’ title Downwell feels like it has found its perfect home on the Nintendo Switch. Not only is it great for quick bursts on the go, but it’s complimented by the verticality that the Switch’s portable mode offers – it gives the game a whole new lease of life that makes it just as enjoyable now as it was when it originally launched back in 2015.
Downwell’s concept is fairly simple in design: you take on the role of a guy who decided it’d be a good idea to jump down a random Well they stumbled upon to see how deep down they can go. It’s got to be done, right? However, this Well has a bit of a twist to it, given that it’s randomly generated, full of hazards and enemies, and that you’ve got boots equipped with guns to help you blast your way around it.
It might sound like a kooky combination of gameplay elements, but it all comes together to make for a thoroughly enjoyable experience. You can bounce of the heads of enemies as you fall in order to string together a combo or just shoot them with your gun-boots if you just want them out of your path – not only are the gun-boots effective for taking out enemies but they also stop your momentum as you’re falling so you can quickly boost out of the way of any hazards in your path. It’s worth noting that some enemies can only be killed by a bullet, so you’ll want to make sure you keep a spare one loaded in your booths anytime you can.
You only have limited ammo as you fall but this resets whenever you land on one of the many platforms scattered across each area of the Well. This will actually reset any hit-combo you’ve got going though, so a more effective way to maintain ammo is to have it recharge by bouncing off the head of an enemy instead. It can be trickier to pull off, but it’s a case of risk versus reward as you look to rack up those combos whilst keeping your gun-boots loaded.
It all makes for very addictive experience, with Downwell also featuring multiple environments to traverse across that are full of different kinds of enemies. It’s definitely not an easy game, though – each new area you come into features more punishing hazards than the last, so there’s a learning curve there as you figure out how best to tackle them. At least there are shops to visit along the way where you can buy power-ups with the gems you collect through the Well as well as random rooms which offer additional power-ups, so there’s plenty on offer to give you more of a fighting chance as you work your way down. It could be an improved gun (got to love the laser), a balloon to that drops your fall-rate (and hurts enemies when popped), or just a whole new ability to use – either way, they’ll be vital to your progress.
You’ll also get given a choice of a new ability to use every time you clear an area, so you can improve your chances without having to spend those hard-earned gems. The selection you get to choose from is randomised so you might not always find what you’re after, but you’ll still come across something useful for the next area of the Well that you tackle. They carry over between areas too, so you’ll at least have additional tricks up your sleeve as you tackle the game’s more difficult sections.
Everything about Downwell comes together superbly to make for an experience that is simple in design, but utterly addictive and thoroughly enjoyable. It never tries to over-complicate thing despite the different abilities on offer, whilst the randomised levels and variety of hazards ensures you’re always kept on your toes. Believe me, it can be frustrating to die as you find yourself getting closer to the bottom of the Well, but you’ll always want that ‘one more go’ (even if it never quite seems to be just the one). It’s just a whole LOT of fun.
What adds to the fun are the different colour palettes and character styles that you can enable at the start of each run. Downwell adopts a very simple visual style that’s made up of just a few colours, but you’ll unlock new varieties as you work through the game. It’s mostly just a case of having different colours here and there, but some feel cleverly implemented to add a whole new aesthetic to the game. It’s a fun way to make it feel a bit more varied, especially since the gameplay itself can be a bit simple
The character styles on the other hand apply different abilities to your character from the get-go, though they come with consequences too. The ‘arm spin style’ sees you finding more gun modules for example but makes shops rarer to find, whilst the ‘boulder style’ increases your health but gives you less power-ups to choose from when you complete an area. It’s up to you to decide what works best for you, but with more styles unlocking as you progress through the game it’s often just a case of experimenting.
Of course, since this is the Nintendo Switch version of Downwell there are some additional things to mention in regards to the console’s portable nature. For one, Downwell is perfect for quick plays here and there when on the go – most runs through won’t last more than five to ten minutes (unless you’re VERY good at the game) so it’s easy to pick up and play on commutes (or on the toilet). Secondly, the fact you can hold the console vertically means you can take advantage of the changing screen-orientation in-game, with players able to get a bigger view of the almost never-ending Well by flipping their console on its side. It’s a neat touch that I loved taking advantage of in-game, whilst the fact it’ll also flip the Joy-Con controls to work perfectly with it was just the cherry on top.
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, PC