Quite some time ago, I played one of the most quality games I’ve encountered for mobile, I can’t recall how I stumbled up on it, but I must say whatever the source is the true hidden hero here. I’m talking about Downwell which, without a doubt, is one of those games that has earned my admiration in many ways.
I find that 99% of the times my experience with playing games on my phone goes something like this; first I find a game that looks cool, then I erase some old app that I’m no longer using because, who has free space for new games right? , then I find that the game is not as interesting as I though, yet I play it for about a week and finally I forget about it , until next time I have to download a new game at which point it might get deleted. The truth is that I’ve rarely found some game that I play for more than a few weeks, and even though I must admit I’ve erased Downwell a few times, it doesn’t take long before I’m driven back to it and I must get it again.
Now, the fact that I’m on a vicious cycle of downloading and deleting Downwell shouldn’t be taken lightly, you see I’m a “connoisseur” there’s a reason why it keeps poping back once I realize that compared to other games this Downwell rises from the crowd and feels… Well Badass!!!! , this combined with its solid game mechanics, the “Gunboots”, the amazing animations for the main character and the fact that we can land on enemies and beat the crap out of them makes for an intense experience.
Yet there’s something else that sets Downwell apart from the rest, and I think it has to do with the controllers. Mobile gaming has a really hard challenge when it comes with how you interact with the device, it’s really difficult to innovate in this field so it feels seamless, the truth is that the “best” solution is the one the user is familiar with, that’s why you have similar control schemes for many popular games. Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, Fruit Ninja, Clash of Clans, Monument Valley are all touched based controls, they do interesting things that integrate well with this new medium.
But going back to what feels familiar the other second type of solution leans towards emulating a real controller. This can be a disaster; the truth of the matter is that a phone is not a gamepad. Each phone is different the screens are often too small to make room for the joysticks and buttons, or you end up with overlay controllers that block the game view, even worst awkwardly placed controls that feel unnatural and make the game harder to play offering less precision. With all these variables, it’s understandable that the logical choice is limiting the gameplay options and relying on some of the things phones are better at.
But here is where Downwell excels, the game works based on “platforms” therefore it would make sense to use the second solution type and emulate the traditional control scheme instead of touch/gesture based controllers. The developer was aware of the previous hurdles mentioned and went about solving the screen space problem in an interesting way… minimalism. The idea is let’s use the least amount of controllers possible. Ojiro Fumoto, aka “Moppin” the creator of Downwell said that while he was developing the game they were really aiming towards a simple control scheme since he himself had been a victim of too many buttons on the screen which in his opinion made it hard to play.
Therefore, Moppin settled on 3 buttons. The protagonist is constantly going down thanks to our old friend simulated gravity, so the important thing is to focus on sideways movement left to right, that gives us 2 of our buttons and then they assigned 2 functions to the third button for jumping and shooting in case we’re falling.
Long story short, it’s comfortable, responsive, and seamlessly integrated, it is mimicking a real controller but the implementation removes the awkwardness. I’ve seen plenty of arguments against this type of control scheme for phones and I think they have a fair point, I’m the first one against clunky invasive controllers. Yet I find myself often wanting more well-integrated controllers and Downwell is a good example of this.
I guess my conclusion is, controls can make or break a game, so it’s nice to see games that feel designed for this new medium and have control schemes that immerse you in the experience and make you forget you’re using them.
Do you know any games with awesome/unique controls? let me know I’d love to check them out.