In many of H.P. Lovecraft's stories, an adventurer stumbles across something he shouldn't have — a mysterious cavern, an ancient city under the sea, a strange cave full of secrets. And though these hidden places are always filled with terrors, curiosity pushes the adventurer onwards into darker, more disturbing territory. Downwell, a new game for iOS and PC, feels like what would happen if you took one of those stories and turned it into a low-fi video game. And then you added gun boots.
Really, the name says it all: Downwell is a game about falling down a well. You don't know why, but from the very moment the game starts the tiny main character is making his way farther and farther into the depths of a deep, dark well. This turns the experience into an interesting twist on the typical platforming game. There are platforms and enemies you can jump on, like in Super Mario, but instead of moving left to right, you're constantly going down. You'll actually spend much of your time navigating falls, moving your body back and forth to avoid obstacles and crush enemies.
It seems possible to reach the bottom
But the real twist comes from the aforementioned gun boots, which serve two purposes. The first is offensive: you can use them to shoot bullets (and, eventually, laser beams) to kill enemies that get in your way. You'll unlock better weapons as you progress, and many monsters can only be killed by being shot (others you can jump on like goombas). But having guns on your feet also allows you to maneuver in different ways. Firing a bullet will help slow your descent, making it possible to reach new areas. It takes some getting used to — you can only recharge your guns by landing on the ground, for instance — but gun boots are surprisingly versatile. More importantly, they're fun.
The main goal of the game is to simply survive, which isn't easy since the well is absolutely teeming with Lovecraftian horrors; floating eyeballs, strange flying jellyfish-like creatures, disembodied skulls, just to name a few. As you progress you'll unlock new abilities. Some are simple, like a gun-equipped drone that follows you around; others are disturbing, like the ability to consume dead bodies to replenish your health. Somehow, there's also a shopkeeper deep in the well, and you can collect gems to buy helpful items like sushi or a hot plate of curry.
The landscape changes the further you explore, and the layout is different every time you play. What starts as a simple, stone well gives way to a gothic cavern. Eventually the whole thing is flooded with water. You'll get stronger, and face more disturbing enemies, and the game remains tense throughout. You only have a limited supply of health, and once it's gone, you have to start over from the beginning. Based on the leaderboards, it appears that it's possible to reach the bottom, though I've yet to get there, and I'm not sure if I ever will.
But like a Lovecraft protagonist, I can't stop exploring. There's something that compels me to keep pushing forward in order to see what's next, even though I know that only death awaits me in the end.