Downwell has had a decent run of it since its initial release way back in 2015 on iOS and Windows. Following the Android release a year later alongside the PS4/Vita versions and a mighty 10/10 from Destructoid, its enormous success ensured a fanbase, and a Nintendo Switch port seemed inevitable. Thankfully, it’s finally here and, like I’ve reiterated in a hundred Switch reviews, it’s found a rightful home.
The objective of Downwell is straightforward, make it to the end of the level without dying. The levels? Straight vertical drops downward, challenging you to defeating and avoiding enemies, not missing ‘safe’ areas where you can collect health or new weaponry and also move at such a pace that nothing that can potentially harm you can catch up with you and knock some bars off your health. Almost immediately it’s painfully clear this is not going to be easy, and it can be punishingly difficult. It’s almost too easy to lose where you are and your split second reactions are paramount.
You’ll find yourself moving to a particular rhythm. Eventually you’ll get used to quickly looking at what’s ahead and then quickly adjusting. It’s easy to say ‘focus’, but Downwell will punish you without even a second thought if you take your eyes off what’s happening for even a second. Making it to the levels exit is as much of a relief as it is a milestone. It’s brutal and brilliant.
Fortunately, the game does offer a variety of power-ups and alternative weapons in order for you to take it a little bit easier when it all gets a tad overwhelming. Running out of ammo happens much quicker than you’d like but a quick land on something solid is your reload. As you move down the levels you’ll find yourself landing a fair bit so you’re never without ammunition for long. A variety of weapons such as lasers, shotgun boots (love em) and power-ups which range from being able to shoot bullets out of the rubble you’ve just destroyed, attacking those above that are chasing you, a heart ‘bubble’ which can save you from deadness – much like the aforementioned areas that ‘freeze’ time such as caverns and shops – drones, gem attractors, rocket jumps, knife and fork (my personal favourite, allowing you to eat the remains of your enemies to boost your health) and a smattering of helpful alternatives that you can choose from at the end of each level or in the shops. Throughout you’ll be collecting gems that you can use to spend in the shops or trigger ‘Gem High’, making your weapon a little more powerful once you’ve hit 100 Gems.
Visually, Downwell is rather iconic. The black/white/red colour scheme looks brilliant on the Switch screen, and with a variety of options to mix it up a tad (featuring retro palettes from old consoles) there’s no real complains in this department. Playing the game in handheld or docked mode obviously means there are huge borders on either side of the game playing area but these can be edited also, allowing for brighter backgrounds that fit Downwell’s overall theme.
But of course, you’re going to want to be playing this game vertically as often as you can. The TATE mode, something that’s allowing a bunch of mobile games to be ported over in their original states, is a blessing for Downwell. Flipping the screen 90 degrees eliminates the borders and has the action fully vertical, suiting the gameplay down to as perfect as you can imagine. It’s a damn good reason to pick up Fangamers’ Flip Grip, that’s for sure. To play Downwell vertically is to do it correctly, and you’ll be super glad you did. Flipping a Joy-Con on its side and enabling a far more retro feel – like you’re playing the game on a tiny arcade machine – is a genuine delight.
There’s so damn much to love about Downwell. From the wonderful music to the painfully difficult level design, making you feel like a king when you finally pull it off without getting hurt. My only goal once I got my head around it all was to beat levels without being hurt. I pulled it off exactly once during my playthroughs. It’s difficulty could possibly be a reason to not stick with the game, as there’s not a particularly ‘easy’ segment which allows you to get your bearings. If you’re willing to stick it out though, you’re going to be hugely rewarded. I’m in no rush to put this game down anytime soon.
Downwell finally made it to Switch and it’s found the best place to play. The Switch has done it again.
Downwell is available now on PC, iOS, Android, Switch (reviewed), PS4 and PSVita
Developer: Moppin / Red Phantom Games
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy please go here.
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