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Game Review #119: Downwell (Nintendo Switch)

Reviewer: Chad M.

Developer: Moppin

Publisher: Devolver Digital

Category: Arcade, Action, Adventure

Release Date: 01.31.2019

Price (at time of review): $2.99

Buy Downwell from the Nintendo eShop here.

If It Moves, Just Shoot It

On the Switch eShop roguelikes are around every corner, so navigating the water to find just the right one or to build up that collection isn’t always the easiest thing to do. This is especially true now that developers have such a strong medium to push their games with the eShop, as they keep flooding in month after month. So, when I came across Downwell I was skeptical, since it came out in 2015 and I hadn’t played it or heard too much about it until now. Downwell was developed by Ojiro "Moppin" Fumoto, brought to us by Devolver, and ported to Switch by Red Phantom Games. So, it’s time to jump into this roguelike and see how it stacks up next to the competition. 

There’s A Boy Stuck In Well

Playing Downwell, though a new experience for me, felt like sliding on a pair of old jeans I’ve worn a thousand times before. As soon as I started, I was getting major old school Super Mario Bros. vibes—amongst other classics—but it also stands on its own. Downwell is an 8-bit roguelike vertically-scrolling shooter/platformer that begs to be played over and over; and by the level geometry and enemy placement being procedurally generated each playthrough, this keeps Downwell from becoming stale. 

Downwell centers around a "curious man" named Welltaro, who is at the local park one night when he decides to explore the depths of the well nearby. Knowing that monsters are waiting for him inside, he straps on his gun-boots and starts his trip downwards, killing his enemies to proceed and collect treasure, which is as amazing as it sounds. There are four main worlds and then a final boss you must fight to win the game. Each time you pass through a stage you get to choose a permanent upgrade (reminded me of The Binding of Isaac) that will stay with you through your entire run-through—or until you perish. 

As I said before, I was getting some Super Mario Bros. vibes, and funny enough, the developer himself went to work for Nintendo back at the start of 2018, but ended up leaving at the end of the year to head back to the indie scene to explore new projects of his own design. 

Gameplay & Fun Factor

The controls for Downwell couldn’t be any more simple than they are, with moving left to right, and any button is jump, which activates your gun-boots. You can run and jump from ledge to ledge, blasting anything in your way, including rock ledges. Most enemies can be shot or stomped on, but some can only be stomped like evil turtles and some can only be blasted away like spikey monsters. As you’re free falling and platforming down, you will see two or three caves per level. Inside those caves you can bust through red rocks that contain gems, or you’ll find power ups for your gun-boots to turn them into shotguns, triple-spread shot, or laser boots to name a few. You will also find a shop where you can use those gems you’ve collected to buy items to refill your HP or batteries. Also, if you collect 100 gems in a short time, you’ll hit what they call “Gem High”, which gives you increased weapon range and damage. 

As you go along, you’ll encounter a plethora of enemies over the stages. Also, the level design changes and becomes ever more dangerous with spikes popping out and of course, as more enemies are introduced, it will become harder; and man, does it get pretty tough! This is part of Downwell’s appeal. This game isn’t easy if you intend on beating it, but when you do, it only makes you want to jump back in and go again. There are also multiple styles you can choose from, like levitation rather than just running. Overall, Downwell is one hell of a great time and can be played over and over, never losing its replay ability.

Audio & Visuals

The soundtrack is well-paced and works perfectly with the fast-paced game. Also, the game sounds are done very well, and sound well-fleshed-out. The visuals are 8-bit greatness done superbly well, with options to change things up. At the start the game, it is only three colors: black, white and red. As you progress, not only do you unlock styles with which to play, but also you unlock color palettes, like blue and green, and even a Game Boy palette. When playing in handheld mode, you can turn your Switch vertically and play it like a shmup in reverse. 

Extra Tidbit: there is an accessory I’d recommend checking out called the Flip Grip, as I used it to play Downwell in handheld mode, and it worked like a charm.

Final Thoughts

Downwell was a breath of fresh air in the roguelike genre. I was skeptical at first, since I had never played it, and now I’m wondering how that happened, as this was such a great game. I loved my time spent with Downwell, and recommend you picking this up. As it’s priced at only $2.99, it’s really a no-brainer. So, strap on your gun-boots and get to blasting down this well. 

Extra Tidbit: for collectors, Special Reserve Games is set to release Downwell physically sometime in 2019. 

Score: 9.5/10

Buy Downwell from the Nintendo eShop here.

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*Review Code Provided by Tinsley PR

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