17th Apr2019

‘Downwell’ Review (Nintendo Switch)

by Phil Wheat

Downwell-screen-1

Downwell is a game about a young man with guns for boots venturing down a well. Simple right? Well… (pardon the pun) read on to find out.

Another mobile port – originally released in 2015 – now making its way to the Nintendo Switch, Downwell sees you plummet through a well comprised mainly of old-school ZX Spectrum style graphics (right down to the monochrome colour schemes), making your way further and further down into the darkness filled with nasty creatures and mysterious secrets and collect the spectacular red gems scattered about the rocks.

Which in layman’s terms means you’re falling down the screen, with enemies coming UP from underneath you – with only a pair of gun boots to help you blast your way through the crumbling stone and cranky creatures as you fall further and further down the well. Your boots can be upgraded as players unlock new weapons and upgrades for your footwear including lasers, a fun yet annoying triple-shot (which uses much-needed bullets too fast IMHO) and powerful shotgun bursts.

To combat the aforementioned lack of bullets you can, thankfully, release shiny gems locked within the rocky terrain or tucked inside the creepy inhabitants of the well to purchase special items or forge on to special checkpoints to unlock weapon upgrades – the first of which I’d recommend is expanding the size of your bullet clip! Though Downwell isn’t JUST about shooting enemies and terrain with your gun boots. Nope. You can also stomp on the enemies heads… Yes stomp on their heads. Besides being kinda fun, stomping on your enemies also reloads your clip AND you can chain stomps into a huge combo that will last as long as you stay off the ground. Then there’s the “gem high” mechanic, which sees you collect 100 gems in a short space of time to automatically boost your boots’ fire power.

Downwell-screen-2

Made for mobile, the game has a vertical playing area – which is perfect for mobile phones and tablets but also PERFECT for the Nintendo Switch! You can turn you Switch on its end in handheld mode (think of Tate mode for shmups) and the game will automatically adjust the controls to work with the single joycon at the “bottom” of the screen. It’s a fantastic use of the Switch format, showing just how well games can be adapted to work on the system; and there’s plenty of other games that could and SHOULD adopt the same gameplay mechanic. In fact COSEN’s Switch title Rotating Brave (review coming soon) takes this to a even more extreme level!

The big selling point for Downwell however is the well itself. Totally unpredictable, the titular well changes with each new trip down its formidable walls in a stages that are procedurally generated, meaning no two playthroughs are exactly alike – meaning that there’s a LOT of replayability with this Switch title, meaning plenty of value for money. Oh, and did I mention this game is hard? Like old-school 8-bit era hard. Which means some out there may never even get to the end of the well. Ever.

Thanks god then for the other play modes available in Downwell, such as Levitate, which adds floating physics to the mix; and Boulder, which gives you more HP straight away. Though both “easier” modes do come with a price – a lack of upgrades in particular. But then it’s quid pro quo isn’t it? Sacrifice an easier experience for less chances to play with cool weapons? I know which I chose ;)

Downwell is available on the Nintendo eShop now.

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