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Game Info:

Downwell
Developed By: Moppin
Published By: Devolver Digital
Released: October 15, 2015
Avaiable On: Windows, iOS, Android, Switch, PS4, PSVita
Genre: Arcade Action, Platormer
ESRB Rating: E10+ for Everyone 10+ (Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood)
Number of Players: Single player, online leaderboard
Price: $2.99
(Humble Store Link)

Downwell is a clever little arcade-action game from 2015 about diving down a well. Why are you diving down a well? No explanation is given at the outset, but the reason is also a bit of surreal humor if you manage to make it to the end. It’s a title that cuts to the chase and explains exactly what’s going to happen without trying to sound pretentious or pad to a required word count like some poorly underpaid video game reviewer.

As you dive downwell, you’ll encounter a procedurally generated pit full of platforms and enemies. The objective is simple and intuitive: get to the bottom of this well. And to help with this, you are equipped with Gunboots, a weapon as stylistically edgy to arcade gaming as the Gunblade is to anime. Movement is simple: left, right, and jump. Hitting the jump button again while airborne will fire your Gunboots downward. You have a limited amount of weapon energy, but it reloads whenever you touch the ground. Two actions in one jump button, but with zero confusion since only one action is relevant at any time. It’s a clever way to simplify the input, given that you’ll have little time to fumble over the controls as you dive at breakneck pace down the well.

Enemies come in a few varieties, but what matters for the most part is whether they can be killed by shooting at them, or by jumping on their heads in your best Italian plumber impression. Kill an enemy and it will drop some gems. Bounce on an enemy and you’ll also reload your gunboots. Clever! Chain kill enough enemies without touching the ground, and you’ll score some bonus gems, extra weapon charge, and maybe even a health boost. Movement is fast, fluid, and responsive to match the pace needed to achieve these combos, but if you need a bit of extra airtime, you can jump off walls once, and the recoil of firing the gunboots will also stop your downward trajectory momentarily. What a clever little mechanic!

Downwell
Highlights:

Strong Points: Tight and compact design where everything cleverly fits together; fast paced action
Weak Points: Very high difficulty in later stages
Moral Warnings: Killing monsters; ghosts and skeletons; one upgrade icon is a fetus

On occasion you’ll see little gaps in the side walls with a bubble. Step in the Time Bubble and time stops while you explore a small side room for a gem cache, or a shop to purchase health and weapon charge, or change weapons. The weapons are a varied lot, from your standard machine guns to spread guns to powerful lasers and the momentum-inheriting Noppy, and they use up different amounts of weapon energy per shot. Weapon pickups will also increase your weapon energy charge or restore lost health, and it’s a clever way to get players to engage with all the weapons rather than sitting on a single good weapon. Finish a level and you’ll be able to choose from one of three upgrades. These are mostly utility options though, which means progress is a matter of your skill level rather than your ability to stack damage.

Collected gems also go toward unlocking new palettes and new “styles.” Palettes are straightforward, and they change the game from black and white and red to a different set of three colors. Styles offer modifications to player abilities. Arm-Spin changes most side-rooms to weapon drops, Boulder offers more starting health for reduced end-of-level options, Levitate has floatier jump physics, and Handstand discards upgrades for cheaper shop prices. None of these options are particularly gamebreaking however, and few players can expect to make it to the fourth stage, let alone defeat the end boss.

Downwell
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 86%
Gameplay – 17/20
Graphics – 8/10
Sound – 8/10
Stability – 5/5
Controls – 5/5

Morality Score - 84%
Violence – 7/10
Language – 10/10
Sexual Content – 10/10
Occult/Supernatural – 7/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical – 8/10

The aesthetics of the game are simple and to the point. The incredibly sparse palette of black, white and red makes everything incredibly easy to read – if something is red, then it’s dangerous and should be shot rather than jumped on. Just by looking at an enemy, you have a sense of what it will do, and how you should approach it. The sound design is also simple and to the point. Gems ping as you collect them, the gunboots fire with an appropriate 8-bit crunch, and the background music evokes the bouncy echo of the well’s stony walls. Have I mentioned how clever this game’s design is yet?

Besides defeated enemies exploding in little piles of bones and disappearing, various enemies in later levels are ghosts or spirits. One of the upgrades, “Youth,” also has questionable imagery, as it is a fetus - abortion is of course an inhumane practice that stands in opposition to God’s commandments against murder. The game is otherwise quite light on moral concerns.

Downwell is a game that manages to pack mechanics into mechanics. It’s an overflowing well of ideas packed into the span of a coffee break that will have you bouncing on heads and maximizing your air time for some amazing combos. And that’s clever.

About the Author

Elvin Ong

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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