Those of you familiar with independent games like Spelunky and Cave Story will find a lot to like about Devolver Digital’s Downwell. It’s definitely got the appearance and sound of a classic NES game, but is built with contemporary themes, based around its roguelike set-up of level design and frenetic shooting. It’s a challenge, but certainly a welcome one for those that are used to conquering the likes of Mega Man and its ilk.
You can only shoot down in Downwell with your stylish, if not slightly dangerous gun boots. Levels change every time to take another trip down the well as you shoot your way through or simply fall on the enemies down below. The team at Moppin (headed up by designer Ojiro Fumoto) have managed to put some thought behind this kinetic dungeon crawler (dungeon faller?) where you’ll need to quick on your toes and even quicker on the trigger.
First off, you can’t continuously fire as you’re falling. You only have a few select shots from your weapon in hand (on foot?) before you run dry. When you land, however, you automatically reload, and can leap once again as you make your way further down the stage. In addition, you can bop on the heads of certain enemies, like turtles that need to be popped out of their shells, and huge floating blobs that resemble rejects from the world of Metroid. Be careful, though – some enemies are lethal to jump on, like red-shelled crabs crawling up the walls.
As you defeat enemies in Downwell, you’ll collect gems, which serve a dual purpose. First and most importantly, if you pick up enough in a stage (like around 100), you’ll double your gun power, increasing its range and firing capability. Get hit or fall on something you shouldn’t have and your little rampage comes to a close until you pick up enough gems again.
These little bouncing nuggets can also net you bonuses when you find shops, which are located in little caves spread throughout each stage. Here, you can buy additional health (you can only get hit four times initially, and once you’re out, it’s game over) amongst other goodies. Some caves hide additional weaponry free of charge, including lasers, shotguns and machine guns, which automatically equip to your gunboots.
Downwell is quite difficult, and you shouldn’t be shocked if you end up dying the third stage in after a few times of trying. That said, there’s plenty of things to unlock, including varying play styles which can give you more health or more ammo, but you’ll be handicapped in some other way to make sure all the power doesn’t all go to your head — um, feet. Additional gems unlock more color pallets in case you were getting tired of falling through a black and white world.
Finish a stage and you’ll get to pick from one of three power-ups like being able to explode the dead bodies of enemies (and catching their living allies in a chain reaction), or firing bullets upward when hitting blocks. They vary, and you have no control over which ones will appear, but they often help more than they hinder. Each one manages to change the gameplay ever so slightly to give you a new experience each time you make that leap into the well.
With its abundance of unlockable content, challenging gameplay, and vintage old-school presentation; Downwell is definitely a charmer, and will keep you dropping down the well again and again as you open up later levels of the game and cool palettes to swap out. It’s available now for PC and mobile platforms.
Feature Image Credit: Downwell/Devolver Digital