Game Reviews

Downwell - A brilliantly balanced vertical roguelike

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| Downwell
Downwell - A brilliantly balanced vertical roguelike
| Downwell
Oh, look, another game that thinks it's from the past

You know the saying never judge a book by its cover? Well never judge a Downwell by its graphical style. It might look like it'd run on a Spectrum, but this is actually a thoroughly modern roguelike experience that plays like liquid gold.

Roguelike? Liquid gold? Please continue

Okay. So the game sees you falling down a well. I suspect that's where the name comes from. It's basically a downwards platformer. And you have guns in your shoes. And it's very, very difficult. But like the best challenges, it's worth it in the end.

Gun shoes? Where can I get me some of them

No idea. And believe me I've looked. They act in two ways. First they let you sort of hover a bit. Second they smash blocks and kill enemies. You're going to be smashing blocks and killing enemies a lot in Downwell.

Those are my two favourite hobbies

Excellent. And weird. The controls are wonderfully simple. You've got two buttons on the left of the screen that move you left and right, then one on the right of the screen that lets you jump. Tap it while you're in the air and your gun boots fire.

Intriguing. But where does the depth come from?

Was that a joke about falling down a well? Shame on you. The depth comes from the variety of extra bits and bobs you can collect as you're tumbling down the well. There are little rooms surrounded by bubbles to the left and right of the shaft, and popping in here will get you random new weapon modules.

Like what?

Lasers, shotguns, machine guns, all sorts of things. Each of them has a different number of charges, which limits how many times it can be fired before you need to wait a couple of seconds. Then there are shops, and loot drops at the end of each level.

What can I expect in my loot drops?

It varies. There are laser sights, extra chunks of health, buffs that let you gain HP from eating dead bodies, and all manner of other useful equipment. My favourite is the drone because it fires when you fire and says "Beep boop."

That is the sound I imagine a drone would make

Me too. Now, none of this is a walk in the park. Downwell will make you hate bats and red-spiky urchin things with a passion. In fact it'll make you hate most of the creatures you come across. And the ghosts. And the floors that stab you if you stand on them for too long.

Is it the sort of game that might make me punch strangers?

What? No. That's bad. But it is the kind of game that will make you scream out obscenities and frighten anyone who happens to be listening. The flip side of that coin is that your successes feel even more hard-earned and worthwhile.

And you receive glory and accolades for these successes?

Well no, you usually receive death. You're going to die a lot in Downwell. But you'll never feel cheated. You'll just have your resolve to push on and see what the next stage of the vertical dungeon looks like.

And this is a premium game?

Absolutely. There are no IAPs, no ads, just a brilliant adventure with sharp edges and a perfectly designed mobile control scheme. It's a game that you're going to lose hours in, and you'll lose them with a smile on one half of your face and a scowl on the other.

I think there might be a hearty recommendation coming up

I think you might be right. We've had a bit of a barren few weeks in the mobile gaming world, but Downwell is an essential purchase. It's slick, it's smart, it's actually pretty funny, and while it might trade on its retro swagger, it's full of fresh ideas that buzz in the best possible way.

Downwell - A brilliantly balanced vertical roguelike

Downwell is a brilliantly balanced vertical roguelike. Do yourself a favour and buy it right now
Harry Slater
Harry Slater
Harry used to be really good at Snake on the Nokia 5110. Apparently though, digital snake wrangling isn't a proper job, so now he writes words about games instead.