Downwell ($2.99) by Devolver Digital is a retro arcade game about venturing deep into a dangerous well. If you have been yearning for an old-school experience that combines infinite falling with roguelikes, then you will need to check out Downwell. It’s similar in nature to other titles like Pocket Mine 2 and Doug Dug.
When I was younger, some of my favorite possessions were my Game Boy handheld systems. I had several of them over the years, such as the Pocket, Color, and Advance versions, and I spent hours of my day on these things — they are great time wasters for kids, after all. Some of the first games I’ve ever played were nothing more than pixels, so I have a soft spot for the vintage look that has been made popular again lately. When I saw Downwell on the App Store, I was instantly reminded of my childhood, and I knew I had to get my hands on this game. Let me just say that I am definitely not disappointed with this one.
Downwell has a classic 8-bit look and feel to it, which I am in love with. To add to the retro appearance, Downwell only features shades of black, gray, white, and red. However, don’t be fooled by the minimalism with the graphics and colors — the game is still highly detailed and packed with action. The character models and animations in the game are rendered well and are super smooth and fluid, even during the more hectic moments. And for fans of chiptunes, the soundtrack to Downwell is a joy to listen to, and there are fun sound effects.
In Downwell, players are given the choice to use five different styles, though only the Standard style is available from the get-go — the rest have to be unlocked as you make progress in the game. Once you pick the style, the game starts. Downwell has worlds and levels, similar to the classic Mario games, and you will always start with the 1–1 level. If you can reach the bottom, which looks like a bubble that you break through, then you move on to 1–2, and so on. But just because the game has a level structure doesn’t mean that each run will always be the same — Downwell has roguelike elements, so each run is procedurally generated and the upgrades you can pick from are randomized. If you die, you start over from 1–1 again.
The controls in the game are simple and responsive, though it does take a bit of getting used to if you want to master it. In the bottom left are two buttons for moving your character left and right. The button in the bottom right corner allows you to jump, and if you long-press the button, you will fire bullets and hover thanks to your Gunboots. However, your Gunboots can only hold so much ammo, so you’ll have to be careful with how you use them up, but you can get more bullets (and shiny red gems) by defeating enemies and breaking certain objects. But shooting foes isn’t the only way to defeat them since you can also jump on top of them, as you would in the Mario and Sonic games of yesteryear. Keep an eye on the bars at the top of the screen, though, as they indicate how many hits you can take and how much ammo you have remaining.
Whenever you break through the wall to move to the next sector, you’ll be given three upgrade options to choose from. These choices will always be random, and you get a brief description of each one before you make up your mind. But don’t get too attached to these power-ups, since you lose them if you die, which will happen a lot.
Games like Downwell are already high in replay value due to the difficulty, various styles of combat that can be unlocked, the randomization on each run, and the incredible amount of fun involved. To top things off, there is Game Center integration for four different leaderboards, though there aren’t any achievements.
I’ve only played Downwell briefly so far, but I’m loving every second of it already. The old-school graphics look great and take me back to my childhood, the music is awesome, and the controls are intuitive and responsive. Overall, the game is fast-paced, challenging, and there is enough action to keep you entertained for a long time.
I recommend checking out Downwell if you enjoy vintage roguelike arcade games. Downwell is available on the App Store as a universal download and is a must-have this week.