Monday, November 2, 2015

Downwell


Developer: Moppin
Release Date: October 15, 2015
Genre: Action, Adventure, Indie

One Sentence Review:
It's cheap, simple, and addictive!



My first experience with this game was watching Jim Sterling play it on his YouTube channel in one of his first impressions style videos. After taking a look at it I thought: "Hey this seems pretty cool and it's cheap! Could be an easy way to kill a few hours". After playing it for a few minutes, dying, and going to sleep I found myself waking up and playing a solid 45 more minutes. It's an addictive game but in a very specific way.

Gameplay

If you're playing this game with a keyboard I highly recommend you pick up a controller for it as it provides a much smoother experience. That being said the gameplay is about as simple as you'd expect. You control a tiny little man as he falls down a tunnel and tries to reach the end or collect gems. Now let's get weird!

When you jump in mid-air you don't perform a double jump. Instead you fire your gun downwards and only downwards. This is the key to gameplay in Downwell and really one of the few mechanics that exist. Firing your gun both allows you to boost up, with a boost power that varies depending on the push strength of the gun, and kill certain enemies below you. The trick is that some enemies can only be killed by jumping on them while others require the use of a game. If you've played Dark Souls before this game will feel oddly at home in your library.

On the way down you collect gems which act as a sort of currency. You can use this currency to buy power-ups and restore your life at shops, but as you go further down the well the prices increase considerably. Luckily you also have the ability to pick up free power-ups in boxes along the way. These power-ups, however, will not only restore and increase your health but also alter how your gun works. So if you have a gun type and upgrade that you really like you have to make an executive decision whether or not to pick up that box.

Level Design

Each level is procedurally generated making it a unique experience each time. That's the upside to procedural generation. The downside is that most of the balancing, planning, and careful placement of upgrades and health goes out the window. That means that you can easily get trapped in very unfair situations with a difficulty curve that goes all over the place.

I'm actually a big fan of procedural generation in a lot of situations and a big detractor of it in others. In this situation I'm fairly neutral. I admit that I'd have gotten bored with the game within 10 minutes if they just created one set of levels and expected you to fall through it. However, I don't like the fact that you're so dependent on the random number generator to allow you to make it through the next 5 minutes!

Graphics

Well, take a look at the screenshot above. That's basically it. Graphics in this game are very simplistic but oddly well animated. Most importantly the style is kept consistent throughout the game even as the areas and palettes change. This is something that shouldn't be a big point for me but so many indie games ignore this that I feel it's worth bringing up.

Summary

If you find my review a little sparse this time it's because there really isn't much to talk about regarding Downwell. It's a fun experience and a fun game but it's not something I could sit down and play for 12 hours. It's a game that you get on, play for a bit, get off, and do something else. It requires too much of your attention and reflexes to be a YouTube game where I could have a podcast going on in the background but with all its additional features it can easily generate thousands of hours of playtime.

After debating everything my final price on this game is $10 USD. It's worth well above its asking price and it can hold your attention for as long as you need it to. If you're bored for 11 minutes or 2 hours this game can keep you occupied for a lot less than most other games I've seen. It probably would be a superior title for the mobile or handheld gaming platform though considering its nature.