Delighting in Downwell on the Vita

Here’s the thing about Downwell. It’s about going down a well. Your avatar is using gunboots to attack enemies and breakable bricks below, as well as provide a brief, hovering boost to stay momentarily aloft in a specific position. On mobile devices, we get to have that vertical experience with a portrait mode portrayal. The PC version limits someone to a viewpoint that still shows everything, but doesn’t exactly recreate the experience of plummeting down a stony chute.

You’d think the mobile version of Downwell would offer the superior experience, yes? Not exactly. This is a game that demands precision. The most perfect runthroughs require you to aim exactly at any and all enemies, or you risk ramming right into an opponent. Which isn’t always bad, since some enemies can be killed by jumping on them, but some areas are filled with creatures you don’t want to land on. Prior to this point, only the PC edition easily allowed precise, traditional controls. Mobile variations forced you to deal with touch screens.

downwell vita tate modeThe Vita version of Downwell offers the best of both worlds. You can play it horizontally with a small segment in the center showing the action, surrounded by decorative well borders. Or, you can flip it. Tate Mode lets you play it vertically, while still using buttons. The intended experience is preserved and presented with improved accuracy.

Customizable controls makes it even better. Initially, I began playing Downwell in Tate Mode and the left setting, which had the left trigger, directional buttons, and left analog stick at the bottom of the screen. Since the gunboots can’t be mapped to the D-pad, only the action and trigger buttons, this was a little uncomfortable. Switching it to the right setting, with the right analog stick assigned to movement and triangle to gunboots, resulted in the perfect combo. The game felt natural, looked gorgeous and I even found myself reaching the Catacombs on my second try. I’d never reached Limbo until playing Downwell on the Vita.

As another bonus, Downwell’s Tate Mode can feel like a throwback to the Wonderswan. Bandai’s handhelds let you hold them vertically to play certain games, with special buttons already in place for the adjusted control scheme. Downwell’s accommodating controls and shifting perspective honors the spirit of those earlier, handheld shooters.

Downwell is an incredible game. It doesn’t matter where you’re playing it, as the experience is always solid. Though, if you haven’t picked it up yet or feel like double dipping, the Vita version is the way to go. It’s so versatile and considerate of your needs. You may find yourself hitting new heights, or in this case depths, if you pick this particular incarnation.

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