As a little pixel person, you’re about to jump down a well. You’re going to fall, you’re going to shoot bullets from your feet, you’re going to lose time and time again, but you’re going to try again. And again. AND AGAIN! Because this experience is too addictive to miss. For more thoughts, read our full Downwell review right here.
Look and Feel
At first glance, Downwell looks like a retro arcade game with its pixel art and minimalist colour palette. Then you look again. You were right the first time. That’s not a bad thing in this game’s case though. It’s clearly an artistic choice (and perhaps the limitations of the development circumstances, who knows?) and it works for it.
Falling down the well, it’s easy to adapt to the visual cues of enemies in the standard palette. Enemies glow red when they’re dangerous to touch and they’re white when you can safely jump on them to kill them.
The most engaging aspect of Downwell’s presentation is its semi-serious chiptune theme running through the first world (correct me if chiptune isn’t the correct terminology here). The music makes a transition between stages, but that theme in particular kept me focused on the fall more than anything.
So with its intentionally low-res graphics that perform incredibly smoothly, Downwell may not be as endearing as other games in a similar visual style – such as Shovel Knight – but it’s captivating in its own way with the ability to swap colour palettes as you level up. Nevertheless, I think the first “Downwell” palette is the best to use for the sake of the more obvious indicators of danger. All in all, I love how Downwell is presented.
Here’s the gist: you’re pixel person. Pixel person must continuously fall down this well for reasons currently unknown to me. As you fall, you’ll shoot bullets from your gun boots at the enemies beneath you or simply land on their heads to take them out. Your aim is to make it to the next level, with enemies and blocks standing in your way, as you seek the very bottom of the well.
To begin with, you’ll pick a “Style”. The styles can give you more health or slower falling amongst a few other things. It’s a very simple approach to a class-type system, but I found myself gravitating to the floaty style for easier combinations against enemies.
Speaking of combinations against enemies, destroying consecutive enemies without landing builds a combination meter. Doing so gives you bonus gems once you finally do land, so it benefits you to link as many enemy kills as possible.
Gems you say David? Yes. Gems. This game’s currency comes in the form of red gems. You can acquire these from enemy kills or from bonus rooms found behind bubble walls as you fall on the right or left of the area. These gems allow you to purchase bonuses from the shop, including health recovery items or energy increasing items.
Energy David!? Yes. Energy. Your gunboots – which you’ll use to slow your fall and to defeat enemies you can’t land on (glowing red) – require energy, shown on the right side of the screen. Energy replenishes whenever you land on the ground, stomp on an enemy or in other ways if you’ve accessed certain upgrades via level completions.
UPGRADES FROM LEVEL COMPLETIONS!? Yes. Upgrades from level completions. Every level you make it through will result in a “stage complete” screen wherein – barring one style that negates upgrades – you’ll choose one of around 10 upgrade options (you’re shown three that are randomly generated) to assist you. This can be a Drone that fires a bullet whenever you do, an explosive stomp, bullets that emerge from blocks you shoot and many more.
My favourite gameplay feature, however, is the gun modules. Your basic gunboots are fine, but by acquiring gun modules via the secret bubble rooms (again, to the left and right of the level in each stage) you can modify your gunboots to produce a different style of shot. This also alters how much energy it costs, for instance the Puncher creates a much wider release of energy at the cost of not being able to shoot as much before recharging. Finding the mod that works for you is important. I personally sought out the Nobbly, with the ability to shoot more, lighter bullets that seems to facilitate staying in the air longer. The bullets also curve somewhat. That style just suited me.
All of the gems you’ve acquired (even if you’ve spent them at the store) will count towards your level progression at the end of your run. By leveling up, you gain access to new styles and new palettes. The palettes initially felt like a light unlock to me, but I soon found myself obsessed with trying out the next colour swap with my next level increase. I’d like to see more styles included if any future updates are planned, but the game’s great as it is, so I’m perfectly content for now.
I will say that the game gets pretty rough around the third world. It’s a punishing experience, with many of the features I’ve detailed unknown to a new player as the game refuses to explain itself to you. The game just throws you in the deep end, and I like that, but I can understand that it may be daunting for some. It took me a long time to realise that the bubbles were hiding rooms behind them as I was hell-bent on getting through the game in general.
As if everything I’ve stated isn’t enough, Downwell is also one of the cheapest games available at this time. I’d have easily paid more for such a fun experience, but its current price is a bargain if there ever were one. If you like arcade-like retro platformers with a modern twist of scrolling down instead of left to right, Downwell might be right up your chimney. The game is entirely skill based and all gameplay, so bare that in mind if those aren’t your personal tastes, but even now, as I returned to the game strictly for screenshots, I found myself completely immersed and literally played for an hour for content I could have retrieved in 2 minutes. Final verdict? It’s falling…. with style.
About this Downwell Review.