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Down Ward: First Impressions

Following on from one of my interviews I conducted this month, I thought I would finally write up a first impressions article about a game that has done exceptionally well to catch my attention in recent weeks. Down Ward, under development at Fisholith Studios based in Costa Mesa, California, is an 8-BIT 2D sidescroller with a heavy focus on combat, unique mechanics, and exploration. It follows the story of an owl named Gable, who must traverse the remnants of a forgotten civilization in order to rekindle its dormant relics. Following a successful Kickstarter campaign, the currently free-to-play game is set to be significantly improved upon by the developers with the backing it has received, which bodes extremely well for this already well-received title. You can play the current build from the game’s Steam, Page via the link below:

https://store.steampowered.com/app/904700/Down_Ward/

 

You can also read my interview with Fisholith Studios ahead of the game’s overhaul via this link:

https://scousegamer88.com/2021/04/17/down-ward-fisholith-interview/

 

But in addition, I have also decided to write a first impressions article about what I think of the game in its current form and to get a better idea of what kind of a game it’ll be like when it does get further developed upon. So here’s what I thought about Down Ward in its present state:

Graphics

The game makes use of 8-BIT monochromatic visuals similar to several Game Boy classics such as Duck Tales, Super Mario Land, Tetris, and Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins. The color of the visuals is also interchangeable and can be modified by the player at any time, similar to how the Super Game Boy add-on worked for the Super Nintendo back in the day. But what is most striking about this game is its conceptual design. The use of pixelated art is outstanding and handled with great detail. This was to be expected, as the lead programmer Fi is an artist himself, but I’d only gotten half the idea prior to playing the demo. When looked at more closely, only then does the player get the true feeling of how excellent this game actually looks. 

 

Gameplay

The gameplay is also very wonderfully varied, which to a certain extent, the visuals themselves assist with. The objective of the standard model is to collect feathers, combat enemies and accomplish one or two side quests within each stage by finding secrets hidden throughout. There is also a speedrun mode for the many aficionados of that particular game mode on Twitch and YouTube, similar to Axiom Verge. The developers have billed this game as challenging, and it’s not hard to see why. Although thankfully, the level of challenge is not to the point of the game being completely inaccessible. The challenge involved lies in being able to identify certain obstacles or traps the player can fall for, or watching out for enemies, as they blend in well with the scenery in most instances. But as well as it is challenging, it’s above all, a very fun game to play even in its current build, so it makes me quite excited about what kind of a game it will be following the modifications to be made. 

 

Controls

The control scheme is also particularly unique for a 2D platformer with having to run and jump in order to fly across stages and explore higher areas. The game fully supports controller functionality at this point, which is preferable to playing a game like this with a keyboard and mouse. Curiously, the combat system reminded me somewhat of the Ori games, so it’d be interesting if the developers decide to build on that aspect of the game even further as well, and whether or not, a small RPG element could possibly be introduced in the form of a leveling up system or different means of attacking enemies, etc. 

 

Lifespan

Potentially, this game could be made to last a significantly long time. It would depend on just how far the developer is willing to go in terms of modifying the game they already have, and what more could possibly be added in order for it to warrant lasting a considerable amount of time more than what it already does last. According to my interview with Fi, the team is looking to expand on the game mechanics vigorously. If true, this game can certainly be made to last many hours. 

 

Storyline

The story of the owl Gable is, in-game anyway, secondary to gameplay, as is the way it should be in my opinion. So even at this early stage, if the developers were to neglect the progression of the story in place of modifying the gameplay as much as possible, I don’t think I would feel particularly bothered by that. It would be nice to have a more in-depth narrative to complement the greater depth in gameplay (for example, there could be a story implemented similar to that of Ori & The Blind Forest or Dust: An Elysian Tail, but even if the level of depth in the story stays the way it is, then so be it; it will probably still turn out to be an exceptional game. 

 

Originality

Out of all the retroactive gaming experiences I’ve indulged in since the start of the eighth generation, Down Ward is set to be one of the more standout of the lot of them. Again, it would all depend on what kind of modifications the developers are looking to bring in terms of gameplay, and whether or not they will be implemented well enough to make it as separate as possible from the plethora of games made of the same ilk to come before it. With the unique mechanics and gameplay premise, I wouldn’t see why they couldn’t do that, but time will tell in that regard. 

 

Overall, playing the demo of Down Ward has made me further realize how much potential the game has to break new ground within the indie community. It’s set to be a standout title with an excellent implemented visual style and hopefully plenty to do throughout.

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