“Wells” is a side scrolling action game developed by Tower Up Studios. It’s reminiscent of an era gone by, pulling inspiration from popular ’90s games from the past. The story is simple and the gameplay is fun albeit a bit repetitive. There are ten levels of running and gunning on your way to take down the villain Hyde. It’s a mixture of steampunk tone and obvious inspiration from the “Bioshock” series. These games live and die by their level design and variety. Does “Wells” manage to pull this off, or fall victim to the repetition? Let’s dive in and find out.
The story of Wells is very basic, but that’s pretty commonplace for games like this. Looking back at classics like “Mega Man”, you’ll see that the story of those games was also pretty bare as well. We have our hero, George Wells, seeking revenge after an attempted murder. The story plays out through cut scenes that resemble a comic book. It would’ve been nice to see some fully animated cut scenes, but it’s an understandable omission due to the indie budget. The game is mostly dialogue-free, save for a few ending cut scenes. This is both a positive and a negative, as the lack of voice makes it easier to personally fill the shoes of the hero. However, I would’ve liked to see some dialogue, as George isn’t a terribly interesting protagonist without it.
Regardless, the story has little to no impact on the progression of the game or your overall experience with it. Consider the narrative an extra; a side note in the overall placement. The focus is almost entirely on the gameplay, which is par for the course.
Thankfully, Wells has a bit of variety to push away from its bare bones story. The actual controls and movement are pretty simple; you can move left to right, jump and duck. The emphasis is on gun play, as you find yourself blasting away numerous baddies as you progress through the stages. You start with a simple pistol, but unlock new weapons every level or so. The variety of weapons play a bigger role than standard run and guns, and reminded me of “Mega Man” in that regard.
Switching between weapons is quick, and easy. Pressing the bumper buttons cycles through a weapon wheel (pictured above), allowing you to choose from the five weapons as you unlock them. Besides the pistol, you gain a grenade launcher, an assault rifle, and a few I won’t spoil. Enemies are often strong and weak against certain weapon types, so knowing how each enemy reacts is crucial on higher difficulties. The weapons are also used within the game’s slight puzzle elements. While these puzzles won’t leave you scratching your head, they’re a nice change of pace. For example, you might have to clear an obstacle using a combination of weapons.
One of my favorite game mechanics of the past is the inclusion of humongous boss fights. We don’t see these as often in modern games, but used to be a necessary inclusion in retro titles. Wells brings the boss fight back, and while I wish there would’ve been a few more, what’s in the game is good. Bosses are large and intimidating, often requiring specific strategy to overcome. You won’t simply be able to spray them with your assault rifle and walk away alive; you’ll have to experiment with different weapons and find their weakness. It’s a gameplay experience I haven’t gotten since I played “Mighty No. 9”, and a nice one to revisit after all this time. Bosses do a good jump punctuating game play, and switching focus to a new area. Most areas stay the same in terms of gameplay, with the exception of a vehicle section I rather enjoyed.
Graphics and Presentation
Wells isn’t the best looking game, I’ll admit that. It looks like an early Xbox 360 title with some fancy lighting effects. Character models and animation can be stiff, and when explosions start erupting, frame rate tends to suffer. However, the game manages to make up for this in its decisive tone. It’s a sentiment I speak of often; I’d rather a game have personality than look incredibly flashy. Wells is consistent with its steampunk vibe, feeling metallic and rusty the whole time. While it won’t win any “Best Graphics of the Year” award, it’s a cool take on the steampunk aesthetic that evolves as you progress.
There’s ten levels, and while most of them share a similar visual tone, a few levels truly stand out. Beyond dirty streets and rooftops, you’ll explore some pretty cool environments. From an oil platform to a city in the sky, Wells manages to take you to some interesting places. This helps break up the monotony of the sometimes repetitive combat. I was always excited at a level’s end, curious to see where the game would drop me next. It’s disappointing that most of the best stuff is held until the last half of the game, as the first five levels can be a bit monotonous due to the lack of scenery change. As a package, the game does visit some interesting locales that are presented nicely.
Wells – The Verdict
Wells is a nice trip back to the heyday of platforming action games, and takes obvious inspiration from the greats of that genre. It’s not the prettiest or most consistent game, but it’s a decent time. If anything, Wells does a good job keeping the player guessing, shaking up your expectations with puzzle elements and large bosses. Combat can be a bit repetitive, and I would’ve liked for some more enemy types, but everything in the game is functional. The game is short, and will only take you a handful of hours to complete. However, there’s additional modes of difficulty as well as a New Game + mode that unlocks after completion. If you enjoy the game enough the first time through, Wells is smart about letting you return for a modified second run. It’s something I wish games of yore would’ve had (imagine starting Mega Man 2 with all the weapons), and is a nice touch. The short length and repetition keep it from ever truly being great, but it’s by no means a bad game. Wells is the kind of game that will be received very differently, depending on the player’s preference and gameplay history. Platformer fans yearning for a ’90s nostalgia blast might find a great game within Wells; I simply wasn’t blown away by it. It’s worth a play through, but I probably won’t return to it. However, I recommend you take a look and see if it’s a game that interests you. At the very least, you’ll have a fun few hours that won’t cost you too much.