Downwell, developed by Ojiro Fumoto, is literally about falling down a seemingly endless well.
Outside of the novel naming convention, Downwell is a game that relishes in simplistic premise but boasts an almost addictive appeal.
In Downwell, players have limited controls. Once you start down the well, players are able to jump and move laterally. Jumping and then hitting the jump button again allows players to fire their gun boots, shooting enemies and breakable elements of the environment, creating a path ever downward.
Fumoto said that the core concept of the game came from his desire to create something along the lines of ‘Spelunky-clone for mobile devices’. Downwell has since grown and evolved into its own title, combining the downward-centric movement of games like Spelunky with the endless replayability of the most adored mobile games.
After spending time with Fumoto and trying Downwell for myself, I can say the Japanese developer is on to something. Downwell is something special.
Downwell presents players with a lo-fi, retro aesthetic that hearkens back to the visuals of the original Game Boy. The screen is largely a mix of black and white, adding a strong contrast between the player’s character, enemies and elements of the environment. Treasure, which can be collected by shooting enemies, and a handful of other environmental details are awash in a tone of red, further setting them apart from the rest of the assets in the game.
Jumping into the well, players begin rushing downward. Downwell, due to the player constantly descending, creates a natural sense of speed. Moving the character laterally during his freefall and learning to dodge the various hazards is a rush.
Jumping and shooting the gun boots is a whole new experience. Mastering the mechanic is no small task, but it is one that is a blast. Numerous times during my hands-on demo at PAX East, I remarked to Fumoto that my brain was having trouble keeping up with the action. As much as I would like to blame it on the early morning appointment time and the single cup of coffee in my system, Downwell beat my brain by combining simple to understand mechanics with quick gameplay that called for tight reaction times.
The challenge of the gameplay was welcome and enjoyable.
Timing shots to hit enemies or to clear a path down the well began to feel natural with some experience. Your gun boots do not have an infinite ammo supply, so players must learn to land every once in a while in order to reload the boots and continue their downward assault.
Mixed throughout the game are shops, always located to either the left or right of the action, that are encased in a protective red bubble. Entering the shops will freeze game time, ensuring that players will miss none of the action during their brief shopping respite. Fumoto said that he chose to make sure the game world pauses when the player enters the shop simply because so much of Downwell revolves around positioning and attention to the environment. By pausing the game, he elaborated, players will be able to keep a mental note of where to go or what to attack, finish at the shop, and then get right back into the action.
The red treasures that players collect throughout the game function as Downwell’s currency when buying items. Of course, players can also attempt to steal from the shop in a manner similar to Link’s Awakening, as Fumoto gleefully showed me.
Downwell is broken up into stages, which allows for players to always feel as though they are making some semblance of progress through the game. Fumoto’s desire to build a game around mobile platforms means that he is aware that those who wind up playing Downwell may be interacting with it during shorter session than console or PC gamers, and so he opted to incorporate different stages so mobile gamers did not have to restart the game from the beginning every time they booted the title up.
Opting to have different stages also allows for Downwell to have different powerups that can be unlocked. Similar to the leveling up mechanic of Nuclear Throne (a game that Fumoto said has been a big influence on him), Downwell presents players with three upgrade choices upon completing a level. The various powers range from increased ammunition supply, to triple shots and a laser sight. All of the powers feature funny flavor text to accompany them, giving players a chance to smile in between levels.
Downwell is a simple game that has tons going on for it. With enjoyable mechanics that are difficult to master, randomly generated stages, awesome upgrades and gun boots, all signs point to Fumoto’s first game being a sleeper hit. Downwell is set to release for mobile devices and PC this July.
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