Bus Stop Games: Downwell

Bus Stop Games is a new feature that explores and picks apart mobile games avaliable in either hand-held or mobile format and assesses how much fun they are on London’s most well known public transport system – the bus. Today, we’re looking at Downwell for the PS Vita.

There’s often a bit of a trade-off between simplicity and depth in games. traditional knowledge would suggest that the simpler the mechanics, the less depth a game has. It’s hard to give something meant for quick, rapid-fire bursts of fun anything more than a surface level thrill. Right? Well… not necessarily.

Downwell is a simple game. You jump… down a well… and you just have to make it to the bottom of each level. As you fall you can shoot straight down only stopping to recharge your guns when you hit solid ground. Dead enemies drop gems that can be traded in at shops at various depths in the well but apart from that the game doesn’t really get any more varied than that. If you think that can get old really quickly then think again. Downwell does actually have a lot of hidden depth and incredibly tightly designed mechanics for what it is. So what should be a game you play for 10 minutes and forget about can easily turn into 30 minutes then into an hour and before you know it you’ve been falling for for so long you’ve missed your bus stop.


So what makes Downwell so much fun?

Well, Downwell gives you a limited amount of input but a wide array of outcomes to those inputs. For example when you jump and shoot, it really isn’t just jumping and shooting. In fact, shooting while in mid-air does a whole lot of other things, too. The force of the bullets shooting below you keeps you afloat mid-air briefly but also depletes a charge bar on the right hand side of the screen. Once that bar depletes you can’t shoot anymore and you have no choice but to let yourself fall on to a platform below to recharge it. This means that your positioning and where you could potentially land when the charge runs out becomes a much more nuanced decision than it typically would be in other games. In Downwell and you often have to make that decision within a split second half-way through a ballsy jump. Do you shoot your way through a wave of enemies and hope there’s a ledge just below them off screen to recharge? Or do you decided to save your charge and try to jump on their heads and kill them without using ammo? I mean, you never know what’s lurking off-screen afterall.

This is supported by a cute 8-bit aesthetic that you can customize by progression through the game and with satisfyingly crunchy audio queues it becomes annoyingly addictive kill everything in sight. Gems cascade out of enemies and crates and various pieces of debris in the well and are sucked up inside your character like a vacuum and amassing a small fortune at the end of a level by way of carefully and skillfully dispatching enemies with a mixture of jumping, shooting and careful charge bar management is a wonderful thing.

For a game about falling down a well it’s surprisingly… deep. It’s such an incredibly tightly designed game. it takes a singular idea and expands upon it as much as possible and it demonstrates that you can make a game of depth out of seemingly simplistic building blocks. And did I mention it achieves all of this with just a directional stick and one button? And what’s more, the short bursts of playtime you’ll have in Downwell make this a perfect bus stop game.


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