Tuesday, January 29

Review: Downwell [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Games that start out in the mobile space tend to have a negative stigma attached to them when they come to the Switch, and sometimes I’ll agree that the skepticism is warranted. I think the distinction that needs to be made, though, is that there are games that are inherently geared towards being mobile and those that happened to start their lives that way. Particularly when it comes to control some titles work fine with the touchscreen and may even feel more optimum that way. However, when it comes to a title like Downwell, while I enjoyed it in mobile form using the touchscreen always seemed to be holding it back. Finally, given dedicated controls, this visually simply but very challenging title feels like it has found a great home on Switch.


In principle Downwell is a pretty simple game. As the name implies the entire game is spent moving further and further down into a well as you try to stomp or shoot a variety of creatures or sometimes simply try to avoid everything you can to get to the next level. What makes it interesting is that firing your weapons will shoot at things below you but will also give you a short boost, either slowing your momentum or letting you boost around a bit (keep in mind, your ammo is limited and only resets when you touch the ground). Varying weapons you may encounter along the way can be a blessing or a curse so you’ll need to get accustomed to each choice to know which may be and upgrade and which to avoid.


Since, in general, no matter how much you play it there’s always a degree of unpredictable challenge where things can quickly go south on you perks and permanent unlocks you get that allow you to change up your style a bit play a bit role in things. Added health, being just a little more floaty, and more are great options for you to choose at the start of each game as you unlock them but they also tend to take something away to maintain balance. In true roguelike fashion your options for perks at the close of each level are random and provide all sorts of different options, some of which you’ll likely find more helpful than others. Just keep in mind once you die you’ll be right back at square one, making Downwell very much a classic arcade experience in many regards.


Aside from the potential for people being turned off by its visual simplicity you’ll want to keep in mind it was originally released in the mobile space and has a vertical display style. If you happen to have a FlipGrip handy that’s no problem, the game can be played in vertical TATE mode and then it truly shines. However, in docked or (worse) handheld mode it unfortunately leaves a lot of empty space on the screen. About my only other concern, though you do get a feel for the control and have the floaty variant option pretty quickly, is that the side to side movement can feel a bit abrupt and like it’s hard to stop precisely. This is usually only a problem in specific situations but in particular for enemies you need to stomp on to kill it can be maddening when you just miss killing them and manage to touch them to the side and take damage instead. Again, something you adapt to but as you get used to it there can be some aggravation.


If you’re looking for something that’s quick to pick up and put down (you know, a great mobile experience) Downwell is a great and challenging option. You’ll continue to push further and further in as you get more used to the nature of the challenges at each level but don’t be surprised if you still manage to bite it in the first zone, there are spots where things simply will snowball on you and you’ll end up dead in a hurry. Getting comfortable on which perks and weapons work best for you is key, and you’ll need to find the balance between taking it slow and knowing when to just try to fall to avoid a nasty situation. As an old-school arcade fan its classic sensibilities make me very happy.

Score: 8

Pros:
  • A great pick up and play game if you’re up to the challenge
  • New unlockable play styles provide some options to make things more manageable, though often at a cost
  • Though generally simple in concept it has a very smart design in many regards

Cons:
  • If you’re unable to play in vertical mode (if you can, it does have TATE support) there’ll be quite a bit of empty space on your screen
  • The side to side controls can take some getting used to as they feel a little lacking in precision for tough jumps and landings