Review: Downwell (PS4/PSV/PSTV)

downwell-review-banner-yr10

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • PlayStation Vita

Extras:

  • PlayStation TV Compatible Yes
  • Cross-Buy Yes
  • Cross-Save No
  • Cross-Play No
  • Cross-Chat No
Title:
Format: PlayStation Network Download (PS4 58.73 MB) (PSV 42 MB)
Release Date: May 24, 2016
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Moppin
Original MSRP: $4.99
ESRB Rating: T
Downwell is also available on PC, iOS, and Android.
The PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita download versions were used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
Sometimes it’s the simple things in life that give us the most joy, and sometimes that joy can be a frustrating addiction. Downwell is a roguelike that is equal amounts of joy and frustration wrapped in a minimalist art style.

Players control a tiny creature with guns for feet that jumps down a well. That’s it. As the little creature falls it comes across various procedurally generated platforms and creatures that can be disposed of with the weapons attached to its feet.

The game is basically a vertical action platformer and it is quite an enjoyable experience. There is no story from what I can tell so everything comes down to the tight controls and challenge of making it further down the well.

2016-05-24-040747 2016-05-24-040454

The game is a roguelike which means once you die you have no choice but to start at the very beginning without any of the upgrades you may have gained previously. This makes for a challenging experience, especially as the game’s difficulty increases as progress is made.

Throughout each level there will be side areas that contain gems and gun upgrades which can be easily missed if you are rushing through a level. These upgrades mostly alter the fire of your gunfeet(?) from a standard peashooter to a type of shotgun or laser.

… slower play leads to less surprises …
If you do miss these in-level modifications, the real upgrades and abilities come at the end of each level. These unlocks are random and are items or abilities like extra health, jetpacks, or drones. I looked forward to whatever rewards awaited me at the end of each level since they can dramatically swing the direction of success.

The gameplay speed is the player’s choice as both strategically platforming and speedrunning have their positives and negatives. Taking your time jumping from platform to platform and taking out foes strategically can be more time consuming, but slower play leads to less surprises.

2016-05-26-012312 2016-05-26-012347

Rushing through a level can be invigorating as you dodge enemies and you can even complete a level without ever touching a platform or enemy. The pacing can be quick or slow but regardless, it will be harder the further down the well you get with more hazards and enemies being present.

The game is difficult and can be frustrating, but the amount of satisfaction gained when finally completely a level or area is an amazing high.

… a nice variety of palettes to choose from …
Visuals:
Did I mention the game is rather simple? This can be extended to the art style which uses only three colors at a time and a minimalist drawing style. A nice touch to keep things fresh for players is the various color palettes that are unlocked over time. These swap out the black, white and red colors for stuff like the original Game Boy shades of green to Virtual Boy red.

There’s a nice variety of palettes to choose from and switching them up can be a slight refresher for longer play sessions.

2016-05-25-011700 2016-05-25-011617

One thing I do wish the game did is something more with the dead space around the screen. As you can see in the screenshots, the actual playfield only takes up a small amount of real estate.

You can put some background art to fill that up, but in case of the Vita I would have loved if it allowed you to hold the Vita vertically allowing you to see more of the level and doing away with the blank space or wallpapered sides.

… a gem that should not be overlooked …
Audio:
The music in Downwell is well paced and often catchy. It blends well with the mechanics and art style and avoids overshadowing the game. If anything the music assists in keeping players engaged in the action with oldschool chiptune sounds.

Online/Multiplayer:
The game features global online leaderboards to compare scores and times with others.

2016-05-25-013333 2016-05-25-013313

Conclusion:
Downwell is a perfect game for the PlayStation Vita with easy pick-up and play mechanics that are great for the mobile platform. It runs fine on the PlayStation 4 and is worth checking out on that platform, but due to its nature I prefer it on the Vita.

I lost track of time during my many sessions with the game trying to unlock the next palette or progressing to the next area. Despite that fact that I am terrible at the game I never felt angered by it and trusted that it was my skill preventing me from progressing and not the game’s fault.

When I finally did pass a hurdle I felt a great rush of ecstasy flow through my brain even if I regularly failed immediately after. Downwell is a gem that should not be overlooked.

Score:
8.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Vita’s built in screen capture feature and the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Michael Cwick

Michael Cwick

Just a nerd from the Windy City. I’m actually really bad at describing myself because I get all self-critical and self-conscious. Follow me on Twitter, @The1stMJC, to see my borderline insane rants on tv shows and other non important subjects. If I’m not tweeting I’m probably just watching Buffy or Firefly for the millionth time.

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook