One of the best aspects of the rise of indie game development is that we’re getting to see games come from studios all over the world, including countries one might not expect like Saudi Arabia. Curiously, there haven’t been many indie games coming out of Japan, despite the country’s considerable impact in the industry. That’s why it was a great surprise last year when Ojiro Fumoto, also known as Moppin, released Downwell on PC and later, iOS.
The fast-paced platformer, which is appropriately named since it has players falling down a well, immediately found an audience on both platforms. That success has led to it being ported to both PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita, and thankfully the game hasn’t lost any of its magic in making the transition. Both of these ports are flawlessly done, and they’ll introduce even more gamers to just how much fun it is to jump into a well (just don’t try it at home, kids).
What’s special about Downwell can be found in its pure simplicity. While other roguelikes like Enter the Gungeon and Spelunky are filled with mysterious items, and mechanics that are only learned after putting hours into the game, everything about Downwell is known upfront. Players simply press the ‘X’ button on the controller to jump, and press it again to shoot bullets out of the protagonist’s gunboots (which might be the best weapon ever, just saying). Those are all the skills you have, and it’s all you’ll need to venture to the bottom of the mysterious well. Sure, there’s plenty of depth to be found here, but Downwell never gets away from the easy to learn gameplay that is fun from the very beginning.
My first few trips into the well didn’t last very long as I constantly ran into bats and frogs. Eventually I got the hang of Downwell and from perseverance, I started to learn more advanced techniques. I would shoot bullets while falling so the recoil slowed my momentum, that way I could better plan my fall. This was key to keeping combos alive, as the game constantly rewards players for earning loot from fallen enemies. These are just a few of the techniques I learned along the way, and it was genuinely surprising to see how many different strategies one could employ to a run.
While most (if not all) your runs will end in failure, you never feel like your time was wasted. This is due to the game letting players keep any treasure they get during a run, and rewarding you with unlocks once you’ve horded enough gems. Some of these are simple cosmetic palette swaps (I think the game’s minimalist aesthetic really shines when being highlighted with aqua), but there are also different styles that can be unlocked that completely change how the game plays.
What’s great is that not one style is inherently superior to the other ones, since each has their own set of bonuses and drawbacks. For example, the boulder style both increases the player’s maximum health, but also decreases the upgrades they can choose from after a level completes. There are a total of 5 styles in the game, and I truly enjoyed trying out every single one since they all have their own merit.
One of the unique features of the PlayStation Vita version is that it allows you to play the game vertically. Since Downwell was designed with vertical screens in mind (it came out on iOS, after all), this is a perfect fit. While I initially thought it would be awkward to hold my Vita upright, it quickly became the only way I played. All of the game’s enemies and sprites are much larger this way, and the action really pops off of the screen.
If there’s one disappointment with doing this, it’s that you can only map a single button for jumping/shooting. It would’ve been nice to be able to use multiple buttons for it, as I sometimes wanted to reposition my hands mid-game. That small issue aside though, it’s definitely the best way to play.
I don’t often continue spending time with games after I review them, but I know I’ll keep on coming back to Downwell for quite a while. It’s a perfect fit for the PlayStation Vita, and it’s a great way to kill a few minutes (or 30 since you’ll probably lose track of time). There are also online leaderboards included and I’ll definitely be trying to stay atop my friends list on PSN for the foreseeable future.
Downwell was great on PC and mobile, so it’s no surprise that it works well on both PlayStation consoles. The core gameplay is downright addictive, and thanks to its simplicity, it’s also immediately appealing. An affordable price point is simply the cherry on top and makes this a must buy for any PlayStation owner.
This review is based on the Vita version, which we were provided with.
Downwell is a brilliant and downright addictive addition to the PlayStation Vita's library. It's one of the best fits for the handheld, and is a pure joy to play in short bursts.