A smooth cocktail of frantic arcade action & retro aesthetics that always goes down well…
I dare you to play a single game of Downwell and walk away.
It’s been a while since a title sunk it’s claws so deeply into my brain and didn’t let go. After deciding to give it a quick whirl of maybe five minutes, two hours later I was planning power up strategies, looking up enemies and deciding what play style was best for me. Plunging you into an endless procedurally generated abyss armed with your trusty rocket boots, Downwell has you constantly falling down towards enemies, and using this momentum to build combos my shooting them with your gun boots or by stamping on their heads. Vanquished enemies explode in a shower of gems which can be swapped at shops on your descent for health items and gun modifications, but crucially, once you have died your leftover gems add up to unlock you different colour palettes and play styles for your next run.
This fact alone had me hurtling down that well repeatedly to try and unlock the next cool colour swap for the game, and while I was going through I got marginally better at the game until my score was creeping high enough for me to consider myself actually good. Before long I was racking up kill combos and the combat clicked to such a satisfying degree it’s all I could think of to keep playing until I got just a little bit further and saw the next area available if I pushed beyond what I knew.The combat does a fantastic job of slowing building up, with each power up offered in secret caverns or at the end of each segment offering you a different way to attack enemies and something new to learn. This drip feed of weapons and abilities as well as the gem collection aspect is part of the satisfying loop that makes this game the arcade throwback delight it is. The game feels endless in depth (I’ve put hours in but have only got to the end of the cave so far), I can’t wait to see what I find further down but even if I don’t get very far into what is available, I’m having so much fun on the way I don’t have an issue.
Anyone who has played Downwell will find this a perfect version of the previously released title, and newcomers have a fantastic game to try out. However we must mention just how wonderful playing Downwell in TATE mode on Switch feels, this feels like exactly how this game should be played. While I don’t own a FlipGrip, I can imagine that feeling like handheld gaming perfection as the bright screen helps illuminate the games gorgeous different palettes and the Joy Con controls feeling responsive with enough rumble to satisfy as well. Playing in TATE with a stand was enough for me to fall completely in love with this title, and I highly recommend others try out this mode if they can as well.
Docked and handheld play moves the vertical action to the middle of the screen, with a changeable border either side of the action. Depending on your television this shouldn’t be a massive problem at all when docked, and as much as I preferred TATE, playing horizontally in handheld didn’t stop my enjoyment or make the title anymore difficult either.
Essentially Downwell is one of the most perfect ‘pick up and play’ titles I’ve ever enjoyed. Diving immediately into the action, every run offers something different but crucially every single run, even just a few seconds, will offer you gems that work towards your next reward. Downwell respects your time, and is there to offer you as much or as little as you want. Nintendo Switch with it’s portable nature and the option of TATE mode easily becomes the best way to enjoy this game as well, the idea of sneaking just a couple of quick runs on a bus journey is exactly what portable gaming can and should be. Meanwhile it’s thrilling combat, interesting enemies alongside the lush retro aesthetic ensure that this game is captivating on each and every single run. It’s a blast to play in any mode on Switch, with each run feeling fantastic and rewarding you for the effort put in, making this is an essential Switch title that you will struggle to put down. Now if you excuse me, I have to get back to that well…