Downward: Enhanced Edition review

Prince of Persia meets Mirror’s Edge in this first-person parkour platformer. Taking place in a ruined world with fantasy elements, you’re guided by a mysterious voice and encouraged to seek three relics that hold memories of the past. It’s a journey that’ll take you across ice, lava, and sand. Lots and lots of sand – hence the Prince of Persia comparison.

Ample time is provided during the opening to acquaint with the controls and mechanics. Our ragged and bear chested protagonist can get up to full speed quickly and leap long distances – pulling themselves up ledges should you miscalculate a jump. Wall running plays a part too, and while it’s possible to slide along the ground this isn’t something called for often. New ways to get around are gradually introduced, allowing access to previously inaccessible areas, and glyphs to slingshot onto are brightly coloured. It can however be difficult to spot the blue ‘double jump’ platforms in a world that predominantly features blue skies and endless oceans.  

Downward: Enhanced Edition

Generally, though, Downward has pretty good signposting. A press of the d-pad will show your next location, even spinning you around to face it. Save points and health restoration plinths are common, appearing on the HUD long before approaching. Additionally, a warp point (of sorts) can be deployed. Essentially, it’s a safety net, and you’ll quickly learn how important it is to place one before making a risky jump. It isn’t long after the tutorial phase that larger environments are introduced, many with floating platforms that lead into the distance, sometimes branching in multiple directions. Scouting fully will lead to stashes of Skypieces – used to buy upgrades from a mysterious cloaked merchant, with very few humans left in this desolate world – and collectables such as chess pieces that can be sold to said vendor.

Indeed, Downward prides itself on being exploration-based. There’s a large hub area with towers and temples, along with an optional sub-quest to return scattered bones to a talking skull, and a set of time trial challenges taking place in a floating void. The merchant’s den can also be expanded with a bestiary – although you’re better off investing currency into health upgrades. See, Downward’s combat is of the avoidance variety. Clockwork drones must be approached from behind before yanking their power crystals, while stone golems are only vulnerable after their attacking phase. It’s possible to yank multiple crystals from golems at once, ending battles quickly. As such, this hands-off approach to combat doesn’t feel particularly satisfying.

Downward: Enhanced Edition

A good job, then, that the environments are fun to explore fully. Climb high, and you’re often rewarded with a picturesque view, and later it’s possible to alter locations, flooding deserts with water, and changing day to night – which also makes more platforms and double jump portals appear. Downward is so non-linear, in fact, that I was able to venture off course and into an open area I wasn’t equipped to explore yet – resulting in a good hour of head-scratching. It’s doubtful you’ll see everything before the door to the final location unlocks, aka the point of no return, so you may want to spend an hour or so mopping up.

Despite originally launching in early access on PC in 2017, Downward has a rough edge. I wouldn’t say it feels unfinished, more like it’s lacking a layer of polish. I became trapped on objects a few times – and with no way to return to the last save point, my only option was to quit to the menu – and fell out of bounds once, floating under the level itself. A text box also became stuck on the screen, while on the upgrade menu, one option has untranslated text. It does however look quite nice despite technically being a last-gen game, with rich textures, alluring sunsets, and tranquil seas. I imagine most players will be oblivious to its age.

Downward: Enhanced Edition

Downward: Enhanced Edition isn’t a bad way to spend a few evenings, with the dream-like nature of its environments making them enticing. New locations aren’t just retreads either, with the lava world being remarkably different to the ice realm, and some locations calling for ‘backwards thinking’ when it comes to reaching far-flung waypoints. The upgrade path gives something to invest in, while the optional challenges provide a welcome diversion. At no point though was I fully engaged, mostly due to the lacklustre combat – or rather, the lack thereof – and the weak storyline, which is further marred by poor vocal work. Switch owners might want to check it out, with similar examples of the genre being few. Downward, simply, lacks the same sheen of similar games that came before it.

Caracal Games Studio’s Downward: Enhanced Edition is out now on consoles. Published by Plug In Digital.

SCORE
6