Too Long; Didn't Play: Downwell

Sponsored By: Danopian

Time Falling: 36 minutes

Short Drop review

Racing to the bottom isn't just for entertainers and politicians anymore!

Terminal Velocity review

Devolver is rapidly becoming one of my favorite publishers. In my mind, they’ve come to be associated with games that have simple mechanics and bite-sized gameplay, which is something I can definitely get behind. Somehow, they've captured everything that was great about the Atari 2600 era of gaming and applied it, with modern design sensibilities. They make what I like to think of as Pure Games, or games that are so stripped down that if you removed anything else they would cease to exist at all. For example, Downwell's controls use three buttons: left, right and shoot. That's more complicated than most wristwatches.

Hey, I know I'm dating myself. Somebody has to.

Like other Devolver games, such as OlliOlli and Lüftrausers, Downwell features a clean pixel-art aesthetic. The color palette has all of three colors in it, and they're used to maximum effectiveness.

Also like other Devolver games, Downwell has off-the-charts replayability due to a punishing difficulty deftly balanced with near-zero reload times.

The basic premise is an inverted vertical scrolling shooter, which is to say you're falling downward and must shoot, stomp on, or evade enemies and obstacles as you collect red gems on your way down to a bottom that may not exist.

Like all the games these days, Downwell has some roguelike elements to it. The levels, which are little more than vertical tubes with enemies and obstacles in them, are randomly generated. They may also be procedurally generated. As a programmer, I understand there's a difference, but as a player I only care that the levels are different every time I play.

Not all roguelikes feature character progression, but Downwell does. After each level you get to pick one of three perks that may or may not be useful to you. My favorite is the one that lets you regain health by eating the corpses of your slain enemies, mainly because it doesn't actually seem to work. I've picked that perk every time it's come up and I have yet to get any health from dead enemies. Well played, Devolver.

(The internet tells me that I have to eat ten enemies to gain one health, but this is Too Long; Didn't Play. I don't have time to try each mechanic until it works.)

Is this pit bottomless, or what?

This is one of those games that I’ll probably have installed on my hard drive until my computer dies. Ever since I hit the skill-ceilings in Lüftrausers and OlliOlli – that hoary point where you want to keep playing but none of the achievements are achievable without major organ transplants or a youth serum – I’ve been looking for something new to throw on the screen when I have five minutes to spare.

Because heaven forbid I spend that time in quiet contemplation.

Downwell is one of those games that I’ll probably keep coming back to even longer than those other Devolver titles, because there doesn’t seem to be a noticeable skill ceiling. There are no achievements to collect. In this regard it’s even more of a throwback than most of Devolver’s other games, because it relies solely on the gameplay to carry it forward, rather than drenching some already stellar gameplay in a flood of Skinner box.

That metaphor may not make sense, but Downwell does. And it’s cheap, even when it’s not on sale, so I’d advise in favor of picking it up and seeing for yourself.

Are we falling into the Pit of Despair? Or should I ask a question about Devil Daggers?

The game is hard, but it’s Atari 2600 hard, not arcade hard and certainly not Devil Daggers hard. There’s something about the ever-changing levels and simple score-chasing mechanism that encourages you to strive for excellence, like any good arcade game should, but at the same time the rapid-fire, die-reload-die-reload cycle keeps it from being painful. You never feel like you’re starting from zero after your skills give out, because unlike Devil Daggers, Downwell is never the same game twice.

Six out of ten daggers.


I tried hard to like Downwell. I bought it for both iOS and PC, even going to the trouble of getting Downwell to run full-screen on my PC monitor that's rotated to portrait orientation, which (at the time) took some mild hacking.

In the end, Downwell always felt like it was just moving too fast for me. I couldn't react quickly enough as I was falling to the new obstacles and enemies appearing on-screen from below to consistently avoid getting hurt.

It's entirely possible that that's how the game is supposed to work, but I just didn't find it super fun.

Yeah, I was a bit disappointed in it myself, but largely because I felt like I was doing the same thing over and over with the same few perks to choose. I liked the different styles for your dude falling but the perks were still from the same limited pool. A roguelike like this, for me, needs more variety a la Binding of Isaac though certainly not to the actual extent of BoI, which has an encyclopedia of things to collect at this point.

Man I love this game. It's a truly elegant design that hits me right in the fun tendons. I think that along with Hoplite and Race the Sun It's an endearing indie game that does one thing really, really, really well.