Downwell: I Want to Enjoy the Stars
Recently I was talking to my friend about the new game Downwell. I really enjoy the game so I convinced him to buy it. As we were talking he asked me, “There’s no reason to anything, why am I doing this!?” “There are hidden treasures down there! You are venturing to find them!”, I replied. “But it is so nice at the top!” He was right, one of my favorite moments in Downwell is the top because of how calm and different it is to the endlessly expanding well beneath. At the same time though, the surface is one of the most disappointing aspects about Downwell. It could be that I have been playing a lot of games that break the fourth wall lately but Downwell is very transparent about everything in the game. There isn’t anywhere to explore above ground, the shopkeeper isn’t a guy with ulterior motives, and there are no secret floors. That kind of bothers me.
The thing is that Downwell, can be considered a roguelite because it has a lot of elements that set it in that genre. Each time you play it the well’s design changes and you have to approach it differently, the side-entrances are randomized so you never know what will be waiting behind each screen, and there are upgrades that help the player progress between levels. I am not saying that all of the elements of Downwell categorize it as a roguelite, but there are roguelite elements which cause me to go into the game with expectations. I expect going into roguelike/lite/trite that I am going to be expected to learn the game inside and out through experiencing it. I expect that there are going to be moments where I exclaim, “Holy tamales” when I discover that there is a mechanic in the game that completely alters my experience.
When The Binding of Isaac was rereleased as Rebirth I was a spoiler-grizzly. If anything came up that would reveal what the game had in store for me I would lock up and make sure that I heard none of it. It’s because that is the fun of the game for me. The story is a bit interesting, the shooting is fun, but when it comes down to it most of those things improve greatly when I discover all of the cool pieces of the game later down the line. It is the same with other games, sometimes they are not even roguelikes such as Towerfall: Ascension, Dark Souls, or Fez.
There is something about the thrill of the reveal that is incredibly addicting, it’s a fine line though, one that turns some people off to their attached experiences. For some it is just not fun going through the games waiting for something exciting to happen, so they seek it out themselves with a guide or help from the community. It isn’t bad that people go this route, if anything it is great that someone else can enjoy the game but it certainly feels like they are missing something.
So far, the only things in Downwell that has made me rise up in my seat, aside from the excitement from staying alive, is finding out that you can slide over a screen when you walk through a bubble, and that the shop keeper gets upset when you jump over his counter. I wish the game gave players a reason to stay at the surface level though. The stars look so beautiful in the sky, and the title just has a charming look to it. I wouldn’t care if it was just a secret way of accessing a cute easter egg or a little side screen. Any excuse to stay on the surface would make me happy.