We aren’t short of pixel platformers. We aren’t even short of pixel platformers that are focused on their unique movement mechanics. And hey, that’s a good thing! Stop thinking too many of something good is a bad thing, silly! Down Ward joins the ever-growing modern trend of unmodern trends, with a very beautiful, four-colour platformer that asks you to master the movement of its owl.
Which takes a bit of practise. Our feathered friend here does not fly in the traditional sense, but rather combines jumping with flapping as if a fledgling still trying to get their birdbrain around the concept. You can hop, sproing, glide, flap, and even if you get the timing right, soar diagonally upward for a bit, and it’s a combination of all this that Down Ward wants you to juggle to explore its levels.
Which all could have been an almighty faff, but instead proves to be a rather instinctive fiddle. Rather than frustrating me, I found myself rather enjoying the process of mastering it, even though it still feels as if I’m not quite there. That’s the sort of thing that’d normally drive me potty, so Down Ward is clearly getting something right that I don’t even know how to identify.
Each level is self-contained here, rather than offering a sprawling open world. Instead each chamber hides a collection of feathers, that must be gathered and fired into a sort of totem thing, that when complete fires a vast beam of light and you’re off to the next. Except your owl is a weakly little chap, and cannot sustain a single wound. Catch a bramble, or bump into an enemy, and you restart the area – that is until you’ve triggered another statue in each zone, once you have two feathers, that then allows progress to be maintained after death.
That’s if you’re playing on the easiest mode, I should add, which is this game’s ‘Normal’. There’s a hard after that which removes the ‘checkpointing’, and a super-hard speedrun mode. But they are for loons.
I’m split on how I feel about the stage-based set-up. With a character that can jumpy-fly, it seems like it would be a lot more fun to progress between areas yourself, rather than its (rather lovely) rotating fade and immediate arrival in the next scene. But it also allows for a steady climb in difficulty as it introduces new elements, new enemies, and more challenges.
I should say I haven’t gotten deep into this one, and my concern is that it will eventually become too fiddly or tricky, and I’ll become impatient with those one-hit-kills. But I just love the art style, accompanied by a really nice soundtrack. You can choose which colours you’d prefer the game to play in, not only picking from a list, but it even puts up a pop-up console to let you hack the HEX codes to set absolutely any combination of the four you like. Which, yes, means you can make it a really ugly game too.
Oh, and here’s a thing. It’s free.
Yeah, any complaints anyone might have had get rather pushed aside there. Quite why developer Fisholith have made a properly good challenge-platformer available for nothing entirely eludes me, as I’d have been delighted to have thrown a fiver at this. But goodness me, jump on this on Steam since it’s not going to cost you a penny.