Downwell Review

Falling down a well is more fun than you'd think

A.J. Maciejewski

Reviewed by playing a PlayStation 4 on

Downwell is Cross-Buy with PlayStation Vita

ESRB Teen rating

Retro-inspired indie games are being made faster than comic book movies. Downwell's unique concept and tight gameplay set it apart from the competition but is that enough to make it a must-have title?

Downwell screenshot 1
I'm high on gems and ready to squash some well dwellers

Downwell is played by controlling a little fellow who wears some pretty snazzy shoes. He decides to jump down a seemingly endless well one day and the adventure ahead is unexpectedly epic. You play by just moving left and right and tapping a button to jump and shoot projectiles from your shoes. You gain gems as you play that you can redeem at the odd shop for upgrades. These will come in handy when dealing with the wide assortment of enemies that occupy the many layers of the well. There are two main varieties to keep in mind: colourful ones that hurt you when you land on them and white ones that you can stomp on. You'll come across many foes such as bats, frogs, turtles, and ghosts. Whenever you slay multiple adversaries in a row without landing on a solid surface, you increase your combo amount. Aiming for high combos while avoiding hazards makes for quite an exciting gameplay dynamic. Keep in mind; you have to begin the entire game again whenever you run out of health points so being able to get to the bottom of the well is a task that only the most skilled gamers will be able to accomplish. Overall, the simple and tight controls make the fast-paced challenging gameplay very enjoyable to master.

Most retro indie games aim to look like they're from a certain era while Downwell takes a unique approach. There are only ever three colours onscreen at once which allows every feature to stand out prominently. What makes the visuals even more pleasing to the eye is the smooth animation. Your character as well as your enemies all come to life with their fluid movements. The music and effects sound like they're lifted straight from an 8-bit game. However, the soundtrack isn't very catchy. In fact, I found the songs to get repetitive after a short while. Now that I mention it, the bare-bones visuals get quite boring, too.

Downwell screenshot 2
That's a lot of bullets to come from one man's shoes

As you play, you'll unlock many gameplay styles and colour palettes. The styles have distinct advantages and disadvantages such as one where you're granted more health but you don't get offered as many upgrades between stages. Swapping the colour palettes obviously doesn't affect the gameplay but doing so at least makes Downwell look a bit different. You'll also equip many different weapons such as shotguns, lasers, and pistols but the only real differences are minor compared to arsenals in most other games. In the end, these additions help keep things somewhat fresh and unlocking more treasures always feels rewarding.

Although Downwell is an undeniably fun adventure, I found that the simplistic gameplay started to get tiresome after a couple dozen or so attempts. I understand that many gamers will delight in the challenging rogue-like setup but it only stays exciting for so long. On top of this, the lack of modes severely limits replay value. All you do is jump down the well, perish after a certain amount of time, and then start it all again. If they implemented a list of challenges, multiplayer, an adventure mode for more casual gamers, or played around with the core gameplay in some mini-games then I'd probably find myself playing Downwell for much longer than the few hours that I have already. In short, extra content really goes a long way so it's a missed opportunity that the developers didn't pursue it more.

Downwell screenshot 3
Curry sounds delicious! Good thing I can afford it this time...

Downwell is a very fun action-packed experience that's definitely a worthwhile download for any old-school gamer. However, the lack of variety in its incredibly basic world holds it back from being an instant classic.

  • + Tight controls and simple fast-paced gameplay that's a ton of fun to master
  • + Unique retro style with cool animations
  • + Unlockables offer much-needed variety
  • - Some gamers will find that the basic gameplay gets stale rather quickly
  • - Music and visuals become repetitive
  • - Lack of modes limits replay value
7.0 out of 10
Gameplay video for Downwell 5:12

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