Downwell drops on to the Nintendo Switch, but will you fall in love with it all over again?
Ojiro Fumoto’s Downwell won instant acclaim from players and critics when it first came to PC and iOS in late 2015. Like the best arcade games, its concept was clear, clever, and immediate. A perfect example of ‘why hasn’t this been done before?’ game design.
Its success let to outings on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita in 2016, and earned Fumoto a stint working at Nintendo. Downwell now comes to Switch – ported by Red Phantom Games – where it gets to showcase its charms all over again.
Downwell on Nintendo Switch is just as compulsive and propulsive as it’s always been. Each game begins with a ‘curious man’ standing above a deep void. Safe and unscathed, but oh so curious… The only way is down. And so down you go, descending and blasting your way through a series of procedurally generated wells, with only the recoil from your gun boots to slow your descent. As you fall, a variety of enemies – each with delightfully different behaviours – endeavour to slow your progress, pursue, or kill you.
As Fumoto said in his 2016 GDC talk, the intention is for the player to always be on the move. Platforms and ledges only offer only brief a respite from the action, and sometimes hide traps. Safety can only be found in occasional time voids – small, welcome bubbles of immunity – that lead to antechambers containing health, or gems that can be traded for power-ups and weapon upgrades.
The desire to descend further and further is compelling, as is the moment-to-moment thrill of destroying enemies, and weaving your way through the tightest of gaps. The 8-bit visuals provide clarity in what is an intense and fast-moving moving game, and the carefully crafted audio cues – a satisfying concoction of crunches, ricochets and explosions – helps to communicate the chaotic state of play in microseconds.
Downwell is not a long game, but it’s tough one. But every failure – and there will be many – just provides a welcome opportunity to take another leap into the unknown.
The Nintendo Switch version of Downwell also makes full use of the console’s display capabilities. The game looks great on a TV, and although the action is naturally small in Handheld and Table Top modes, it’s perfectly playable due to its effective visual design.
Downwell also supports vertical display via one of the Switch’s best features, Tate Mode. Assuming you can find a way to hold your Switch comfortably, it works well. The only minor disappointment is that unlike the mobile versions, the Switch edition doesn’t include touchscreen controls.
If you’ve played the game before, the Switch version offers some fun new ways to play. If you are new to Downwell, you’ll find it the perfect palate cleanser to enjoy between long bouts of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
It’s a timeless, wonderful game that is all the easier to recommend because of its budget price. So take a deep breath, step forward, and fall for Downwell…
Platform: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PlayStation 4, PS Vita, iOS, Android
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release Date: Out now
Ojiro Fumoto’s smartly designed arcade game loses none of its appeal on Nintendo Switch, where a variety of display options and a budget price make it an essential purchase.