Review: Downwell

You want retro? I'll give you retro, consider a mashup of Jumping Jak (expect on its head, so Falling Jak) and Bombjack and you kind of have the ingredients for Moppin's Downwell. In design terms it looks so simple, but as with the best true indie classics, the execution is fiendish and fantastic at the same time.
The simple but cunning mechanic is in the hero's boots, these fire a range of weaponry depending on what you pick up on the way down, helping arrest your fall and dealing death. This, along with a vicious range of nasties make for on-the-fall tactical decision making, even as you try to dodge, fire and grab the bonus gems. Red is the key color here, enemies with a red top will hurt you if you fall on them, those with a red bottom cost you life if you jump up and those that are all red - RUN!

The game is best played in Tate mode, holding the Vita long ways. Although the Vita's headphone port becomes a bit of a sticking point if you're playing with cans that have a chunky plug. Still, you can configure the controls to something comfortable for you. You can also change the colour scheme and your default style of character to add some variety (or just more lives).

Down With the Skids

Then, its on with the plummeting, as you try to stay alive, across four worlds of mad descent. This is old-school gaming, tricky from level one and much harder the further you get. At the end of each level you get to choose an extra power-up to help you along the way and stores are accessible in each level, if you're in the right place, or able to react to reach the entrance.

Naturally, what starts out as simple bits of platform soon become spiky traps as you move on through the catacomb levels into the deeper, darker places of Downwell. In later levels, the things throw stuff at you, and those early spiky snails now look positively cute!

Clarity of thought is required to get anywhere in the game, you need to remember what's above you when you jump, what could be below as you fall, and be on the look out for threats and opportunities on all sides, all while dropping into a procedurally generated black hole in the earth, managing your meagre firepower and looking for upgrades.

Simple and genius gaming, Downwell is an example of what one person can do, no need for high-mesh polys or a budget of billions. Developer Devolver helped bring the game west and to a wide audience including the Vita. If 1,000 truly indie developers are inspired by Downwell, and make similar experiences with their own unique features, they could help feed the Vita for another year or two.

That's important, as is supporting the game, even if you think Spectrum level pixels are below you, consider Downwell arrives on Vita just six months after its iOS debut - anything that shrinks the, often massive, gap has to be good.

Score: 9/10
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Price: £3.99
Developer: Moppin
Publisher: Devolver