Downwell is a game about a boy who jumps down a well in search of treasure. Oh, and he has gun boots. That's Downwell in a nutshell, a retro arcade throwback to the days when games were simple but challenging and had a way of pulling gamers back for just one more game. It's so retro, in fact, that it features dual-color pixilated graphics that make it look like it came from an early home computer or a GameBoy. Yeah, I know that GameBoy had a monochromatic display and that PC graphics went from one color to sixteen, just go with it. Anyway, back to that well. You start every game with a hop into the well, and the well is different every time that you hop into it. Gravity will pull you down until you hit a platform, bounce off of an enemy (you didn't think that this well would be free of bats, spiders, and frogs, did you?), or fire a shot from your gun boots, which will give you a little lift from the recoil.
Your goal here is two-fold, to build-up big combo chains and to collect gems. Combos are built by jumping from the head of one creature to the next without touching down or taking damage. Gems are dropped by creatures you've shot or jumped on, and are found on the platforms or in caves tucked into the side of the well that exist in special combo-preserving zones.
The first thing working against you is gravity. You fall quickly as it relentlessly pulls you down, and you'll only be able to see a short way ahead. And you can't use your gun boots with abandon to slow your descent and clear the way ahead because their ammo is pretty limited, and the only way to reload is to land on a platform. You'll also need to be careful, because enemies can attack you from the sides in the air or on a platform and certain enemies can't be jumped on, and when they do you'll lose a health point. Once those points are all gone, it's game over and you'll have to start again from the top. Memorizing the locations of the platforms and the positions of the enemies won't help, either, because the well is randomly generated and will be different each time that you play.
The well is divided into four main zones, each of which is in turn broken into three levels. At the end of each level you'll be given your choice of a power-up, with your possible selections randomly generated, of course. These can give you new types of gun boots, like lasers that emit an unbroken beam for a few seconds, increase your health, those types of things. And at the end of each zone, a boss fight awaits.
There's no scoring in the game, just the pursuit of more gems and higher level combos. As you play you'll be able to unlock additional color palettes to change up the game's two colors (three if you count the background). This is entirely an aesthetic choice, and you'll find that there are a couple that you prefer and will stick to. Work even harder and you'll begin to unlock the game variants that change up the rules slightly.
If this all makes the game seem simple to play, it's because it is simple to play. You can figure out all of the gameplay mechanics on your own in less time than it took you to read this review. However, it is certainly challenging in the way that all good arcade platformers are. Your reflexes will be put to the test as you try to string together combos and fall deeper than before, and the game has a way of drawing you back in for just one more try. And after a particularly good run, you can compare your highest combo or gem count to those on the leaderboards and see just how far you really have to go before you can compete for a top spot. Downwell isn't the kind of game everyone will like, but if you like challenging arcade platforms, you'll love Downwell.
Final Rating: 90% - Jump on in.