Kat recently got an iPhone 6S, so she's back to combing the Internet for iOS games she doesn't hate. You can read some of the previous entries in the series here.
Downwell is the platonic ideal of an addictive mobile game. It's easy to grasp, the only concepts that need to be understood being that forward progress means falling and that you want to avoid hitting enemies. And it's quick. Trust me when I say that you're going to die a lot in this game.
Your hero is a boy who looks like a marshmallow with arms and legs. There's no explanation at the outset as to why he's jumping into a well, it's just a given that he's going to hop into that big hole in the ground. And from there he falls a very long way.
In a way, you can almost call it an endless runner. Both share a certain sense of momentum. But in Downwell, you can stop briefly on one of the many blocks and get your bearings, which is an important skill to learn since simply falling will inevitably get you impaled on one of the spiny many monsters floating around in the well. There are also shops ala Spelunky containing health and energy that can be bought with the gems that you earn from bouncing on or shooting enemies.
Shooting is one of the more interesting aspects of Downwell. The protagonist wears gunboots that can shoot straight down - essential for taking out the many creatures that he finds along the way. The shots not only damage enemies, they briefly arrest the protagonist's downward momentum, which is very useful if you feel like you're moving too quickly. They can also be upgraded with different bullets, including a very useful shotgun blast.
The trick, though, is that your gunboots don't have unlimited ammo. Rather, they have a finite number of charges that refill automatically, meaning that you can't just lean on the trigger and fire all the way down the well. Thus, an underrated part of Downwell's strategy is acquiring additional charges so the hero can fire for longer periods of time. There's also a "gem high" mechanic that will power up your shots, making it easier to punch through some of the rather tough enemies that you encounter along the way.
And it should be mentioned that the difficult enemies show up rather quickly. Thus far I've only managed to make it to 2-2, and that was only because everything aligned properly and I was able to get some good weapons and plenty of health. The protagonist's rapid progress makes it hard to avoid the enemies in the well, many of whom will cause damage if you land on them and can't easily be sighted beforehand. Luck is thus a component in being able to make any real progress in Downwell. On a sidenote, there's nothing more demoralizing than landing at a shop with one HP and not having enough money for some more health. It's just the worst.
I'm not usually a fan of games where luck is such a major component, but Downwell works for me on a few levels. First, the runs last a maximum of between 5 and 10 minutes, making a quick death relatively palatable. Second, you unlock components as you die such as "Arm Spin Syle," which makes it so you only find gun modules in the various side cavern. Finally, skill still manages to override luck in Downwell, especially as you begin to acquire more upgrades. Its memorable visual style and retro soundtrack also add a great deal to its appeal, reminding me in many ways of falling down the long tunnels in the original Metroid.
Downwell is available on both Steam and iOS; and while I've stated in the past that I like to focus on mobile exclusives for this series, I think Downwell is a mobile game in spirit. It can be the tiniest bit awkward to scrunch your thumbs onto the touchscreen, but the large on-screen buttons and responsive controls make it easy to play. What's more, the simple concept and extremely quick gameplay loop make it a natural for mobile platforms. This is a game that you want on your iPhone.
Downwell, it should be mentioned, is the product of Ojiri "Moppin" Fumoto - an opera student turned indie developer who has become one of the standard-bearers for the indie gaming community in Japan. It was originally one of his many test prototypes, but it eventually blossomed into a full-fledged game, and was subsequently pick up by Devolver Digital. With Downwell, Moppin displays keen instincts for what makes a good game, garnering strong reviews around the Internet. Here's hoping that Downwell is only the first in a new wave of strong and inventive mobile games from Moppin and the Japanese indie community at large.