I’m not a big fan of platform games. There has to be a hard-to-find balance between controls, action and difficulty. Games like Mega Man hit my sweet spot for platformers. Mario, not so much.
And on mobile platforms, platforming games always seem to fail…and that failure point almost always lies in game control. Platforming requires responsiveness as to allow for good timing. On-screen D-pads and buttons just don’t get the job done…usually. And that’s exactly where Downwell had me hooked.
Downwell is a pretty basic game. You’re a guy falling down a well. You’re trying to get to the bottom as fast as you can but need to shoot (or stomp) some bad guys along the way. You shoot using your patented gun boots, which is pretty awesome. You collect different gun boots along the way, as well as gems and other power-ups. Again, pretty simple formula.
Downwell also has a quaint retro style which is all the rage. Usually I’d roll my eyes at yet another pixel-loving title but Downwell manages to go back even further into retroness, taking more of a CGA/Commodore style than a 8-bit style…and this makes up for a lot and adds to the simplicity.
So on the surface, Downwell is my kind of game…fast, difficult, arcade-y…so while I loved the premise, I was expecting yet another game that loses to poor controls. But that’s not the case with Downwell.
There are only 3 controls…left/right and a jump/shoot button. You can’t customize where the buttons go on the screen but that’s okay because they’re really in the right spot from the get go. Rarely did my fingers drift away from where they needed to be and thanks to this honest effort in design, I have continued to play Downwell a lot longer than platformers of the past.
And while the controls feel right, they do stumble a bit in one environment – the phone. Playing Downwell on the iPhone is fun but the buttons overlay on the action, which means your fingers do as well. The game does give you the option to hide the button icons but that doesn’t really solve the problem of you not being able to see the bottom of your screen. And in a game where the action is coming at you from the bottom, this can lead to a lot of frustration.
But playing Downwell on the iPad is freaking awesome. I even went so much as to buy Downwell on Steam for PC play as well, and I can safely say that playing this game with a proper control pad is the best experience…although I know it’s not fair to really compare gaming on a touchscreen versus a physical controller, but there you go.
I guess it’s saying something about the game if I chose to buy it for two different platforms, meaning I spent a grand total of $6 on this game and I can’t say it was a waste at all. The game isn’t easy…after a week of play I have yet to beat it, yet there’s enough reward unlocks to keep me going, even if they’re mostly cosmetic in the form of different color palettes.
On the surface, I would have skipped Downwell because I would have assumed it would not pass the platformer test on the phone, but it does, and I give credit to the developers for focusing on making that a good experience. All to often games suffer from poor controls and lose my play time and my money. Downwell manages to gain both.
Oh…one more thing…the music is awesome! It’s all chiptunes and by the same guy that scored Spelunky, Gunbrick, Super Crate Box and other games.