If I had to describe Downwell with as few words as possible, I’d have to say the following: The Binding of Isaac but as a platformer. Those words don’t come lightly, as I absolutely adore The Binding of isaac; a game that has easily taken hundreds of hours of my productive life away. So what about Downwell makes me sing its praises so loudly? Mainly everything about this addictive little shooter/platformer/rogue-like/endless runner has something to be fascinated by.
As may have been ascertained from my last paragraph, it’s hard to clump Downwell into one genre. It’s an endless runner with levels, it’s also a shooter, as well as a rogue like, and finally, it’s also a platformer. All these elements fit strangely well together, mainly due to the simplicity of the game, and the fact you only need to know 3 button presses.
Left, right and A. That’s everything you’ll need to traverse the bottomless pit that is Downwell. The A button isn’t only for jumping from platform to platform, but also for shooting your weapon whilst falling or in the air. It’s stunningly simplistic, but hard to master, and makes for every jump in the pit just as exciting as the last time. what also helps is the controls’ accuracy; we’re talking Super Meat Boy levels of twitching-ness here, which certainly helps to bring the blame of deaths and hits onto yourself. Not once in my time with Downwell did I ever feel like the game was ripping me off; if I take a hit of damage or die, that’s my own fault, not the games.
The rogue-like nature of the game also works in its favour, ensuring that everytime you die you’re bound to come back. The short, repetitive levels never feel overused, and with each new stage and new enemy that is spawned the difficulty increases, helping you to truly always feel challenged, but never outgunned.
To help with the rogue-like feel of the game are power-ups given between each stage. These power-ups can range from the trivial (like extra gems from enemy deaths), to the extreme (every rock exploded produces shrapnel that’s fired upwards at enemies). Along with the power-ups between levels, you have the chance to purchase new ones at a shop which randomly generates throughout stages. Using gems collected by killing enemies, you’re able to buy ammo upgrades, or health, ensuring you’re constantly well stocked and ready to face the well again. Regardless of how lucky you are on a run, you never feel cheated. Each power-up, no matter how trivial, at least serves some purpose, and helps to make the game feel more engaging as a consequence.
Enemies throughout the stages are also varied enough to make sure you’re always kept on your feet whilst progressing downwards. Skeletons and jellyfish may not seem threatening whilst alone, but should you avoid some and let them accumulate with others on the screen, you’re bound to get into trouble. It means that not only are you trying to manage your risk throughout every section of the map, you’re also trying to get to the bottom of the screen as fast as possible should you miss an enemy, as you may be able to deal with threats below you, but you can never deal with something above (not unless you’re a mentalist that’s able to trick enemies into somehow going below you).
The platforming if anything is a hindrance to playing Downwell: landing on a platform breaks the flow of immersion you get by scaling the games levels. The only time they’re somewhat useful would be when they lead to timefree zones; areas that have hidden power-ups within and allow you to pause the world outside the timeframe bubble temporarily, which is a good chance to get back to your senses and progress again.
Whilst the game may not be much to look at, it’s certainly stylized fantastically, and really gives the vibe of an old/retro game. If it wasn’t for the smooth and consistently fascinating animations anyone would genuinely think the game was released 30 years ago. The music too isn’t too great, but when you’re concentrating so hard on the gameplay at hand, it’s good to have no distractions.
Given Downwells cheap asking price (£1.99 full price, £0.99 at time of writing) you can hardly go wrong with this absolutely mechanically smooth game. I had friends telling me how good the game was, and I should have listened to them sooner: Downwell is an absolute joy, and completely deserving of your hard earned cash. Upon playing the game for a few hours I went and purchased two more copies for a couple of my brothers, just so I had someone to talk to about my experiences and theirs. If you loved The Binding of Isaac, and are looking for a quick fix, you can’t go wrong with Dwonwell.