February 02, 2019

Downwell - Review

So many people are demanding that every game must be ported to Switch, that some games have come across and don’t really need to be there, Downwell is the latest game to make the jump, but does it offer up anything to entice players to check it out.

The idea of Downwell is quite simple, make it as far down a well as you can, whilst avoiding a host of enemies that range from silly but fun, to annoying and dangerous. Each time you start over, the levels will be created at random, meaning no two runs should be the same, there are zones to explore, caverns to begin and then catacombs and so on, but the layout for each within that theme is what changes. Due to the constant randomness, there is no direct story, in fact there is very little explaining anything, who your character is, why he is jumping down a well, or even why he has a pair of boots on his feet that shoot bullets.

The bullet boots are both awesome and annoying, as they are your way of taking out some enemies, clearing a path and slowing your decent, but they run out of ammo a lot, which makes you stop to reload. Reloading is simple, you just land on any surface, including bouncing off the top of any enemy or creature and you are good to go again, the issue I have with this is that some of the upgrades, make their use kind of pointless. Located throughout the stages are domes of displaced time, for lack of a better term, that if you enter, freezes everything outside of them, inside the rooms they lead too, you might find a stack of gems waiting to be collected, but more often than not, you will discover a gun upgrade.

Some of the upgrades are handy, the machine gun one for example gives you more shots, but they are less powerful on some enemies than others, there is the burst option, which limits your currently equipped gun to a few shots per press, which has some value, if you learn how to use it properly. But it’s the upgrades like ths shotgun or laser that offer the least amount of anything, they have severally reduced shot counts, both staying at two, but while the laser has a long range, the shotgun does not, meaning you need to be close to the target, if you are aiming to take them out. The problem is, there is no way to discard any pick up, if you find the one you collected is not for you, you can only replace it, fi you find another one.

You can also unlock perks once you complete a stage, these range from very handy, to cool and ok then, with most offering up some value in their use, the best part is that these perks stay with you, until you die. Some of the upgrades make you more powerful, the drone for example gives you a drone that follows you and shoots when you do, it always follows just above, giving you extra support. There is a perk that will turn the blocks you can destroy into projectiles, taking out enemies above you, should they get to close, as you can only shoot down. You can also select from items that will refill your hp, letting you venture on with a little less stress, there is one that will let you consumer, at random, the corpse of your enemies, to refill your health and even a shop discount. Should you choose to waste a perk on something fun, but without value, you can always pick up a balloon.

It is the combination of perks and combining them with your play style, that will impact how easy or challenging you find the descent. Modifying your playstyle are Styles, which take your normal movements and add in the ability to float a little longer, or slam down a bit faster and more. While the overall change is not massive, with the perk combinations and currently equipped weapon, it can really change things up, one example is with the floaty option selected and the machine gun, I found myself able to dodge enemies in the air a lot easier than without. As each time you take a hit, you lose some HP, lose it all and its game over, but as mentioned before, with stage being random, there is nothing stopping you from jumping back in and seeing what changes you can make to try again.

The game sports a very simple look, as in 4 colours at most, almost all of the time, the basic look is black, with white for the world and red for gems, but as you collect more gems, you will unlock new looks, that will replace black with pastel blue, white for pink and so on, there are themes as well, like original game boy green, or eye watering virtual boy red and should you find the one you have selected is not playable, you can swap at anytime. The sounds are as basic as the visuals, each of the guns have a distinct sound, which make what you might expect, the creatures only make sounds that you might notice, when you kill them, most of the time, you will not likely pay attention to them. IF you desire as well, you can also play the game in tate mode, meaning you hold the Switch with a joycon at the bottom, the game fills the screen this way and it is a nice addition.

Downwell, is a game that is very easy to get into, with minimal instruction and the result should be a good time. While the weapons are fun, not being able to discard a pick up is annoying, it does not detract too much from the games overall value.

Review copy provided by Devolver Digital

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