NOTE: The Wells segment in the above video begins at 1:15:45!
First Impression articles are based entirely upon the first roughly 30 minutes of gameplay and may not necessarily be indicative of the game as a whole. This includes the score at the end, which can range from 0 to 5.
Wells is a good idea executed poorly. A sidescrolling action platformer inspired by 90’s run-and-gun games with a steampunk setting and an outlaw protagonist certainly sounds good on paper. You even get a bunch of different guns to play around with, allowing you to adapt to any situation. However, none of this holds up in the face of awful combat, bland level design, and an almost complete lack of plot and characterization.
Combat is the biggest issue here so let’s get that out of the way first. Wells is a rather large target and bullets often are fired at him from multiple sides. He can jump, slide, and duck, but these maneuvers are rarely enough to save him from a hit. On that note, the game does have controller support, but during my time with it ducking refused to work with the controller and I couldn’t aim my gun with the mouse and keyboard; I ended up using the keyboard to duck and the controller for everything else. Wells is capable of soaking up a fair number of bullets and he has to be with how hard they are to dodge. Combat ends up being a damage race where the only thing that matters is trying to kill the enemies faster than they can kill you.
The combat system’s largest sin is the regenerating health bar. Don’t get hit for a handful of seconds and Wells will rapidly heal back up to full. This ends up feeling like a small patch for a gaping wound. Wells has too large of a hitbox to be able to dodge everything so rather than being given a smaller hitbox or a better dodge mechanic he instead received an ability which makes him into more of a bullet sponge than he already was.
You’re virtually invincible while fighting only one or two enemies since it’s so easy to just walk away from them, but even when you’re up against larger groups all it takes is a brief opening to recover full health. Between your hitbox and the regenerating health combat is a slog. I never died within my half hour of playtime except during the second boss fight, which was only because I didn’t know you could duck thanks to down not registering on my controller, but even when I came close to death a few times in the third level it never felt exciting. Take away the regenerating health and combat becomes virtually impossible, keep it in and combat is boring.
Your weapons are the best part of Wells. You start off with a fast and weak gun with ricocheting bullets and, judging by what I played, you get something new near the start of most levels. Your second gun lobs spiked metal balls in an arc which deal plenty of damage and roll along the ground for a while if they don’t initially hit anything. The third gun I found shoots out detonation bombs which latch on to walls and enemies and explode the next time you press the button. Each weapon has unique uses. For example, the bombs can blow up wooden barriers and hit through enemy shields while the spiked balls can be loaded into cannons or lobbed at certain types of switches. There were two other guns in the selection menu as well, though I have not yet obtained them.
There are a few general bits of polish when it comes to your weaponry. First, you can easily and freely aim in any direction, which allows for far more control than four or eight-way shooting. Secondly, each gun has an aiming line, making it easy to accurately hit with weapons like the spiked balls which move in an arc. Time slows down when you open the weapon menu and swapping between guns is painless so you’re really encouraged to use every weapon at your disposal as you move from one enemy type to the next. In fact, you’re further encouraged to swap between weapons by the ammo system. Each weapon has a somewhat limited supply of ammo which will fill back up to full after a few seconds if you run out or don’t shoot for a while.
Unlike the regenerating health, this ammo system benefits the combat; the downtime is long enough to punish players for only sticking with a single gun or for missing a lot of shots while not being so terrible that you can’t just swap back to a gun after using another for a few seconds. I liked all three of the guns I obtained and there are fleeting glimmers of a combat system where you seamlessly take out flying enemies with your pistol before lobbing chunks of metal at enemies below while sliding under bullets, slow time to swap to your bombs, and take out the shielded guards in front of you as you stand up all in one fluid motion. Unfortunately, that combat system doesn’t actually exist and we instead have a great weapon system bogged down by everything else.
Boring level design is the final nail in the coffin. The levels certainly try to be interesting. There are a good number of presumably original assets scattered throughout them and there are some nice visual touches, like a blimp seen in the background at the start of the third level coming in closer for a boss fight at the end of the level. Levels also are good at quickly showing you all the unique traits of each new gun. There’s even a good mixture between vertical and horizontal movement and the fourth level, from what little I’ve seen of it, changes things up even more by placing you in a car on an autoscrolling 2.5D plane.
With all this effort put into the levels, just where do they go wrong? The problem here is that there is often very little happening. You’ll hit levers to lower ladders, climb up some scaffolding to reach rooftops and continue on your way. Sometimes one or two enemies will attack you, a confrontation which poses no threat whatsoever, and at other times you’ll gradually walk along with no danger at all for several seconds.
Similarly, while the game is good at introducing you to unique gun mechanics, it never goes beyond the basics – or at least not in the first few levels. You learn you can blow up wooden barriers with bombs so you swap to that gun whenever there’s something made of wood and you learn you can use your second gun’s projectiles as cannon ammo so you shoot it at a cannon whenever one appears. There’s not anything in the way of challenge or puzzle solving involved, it’s all rather straightforward. This isn’t to say that the game is completely devoid of danger, there were a few encounters against large numbers of enemies in the third level, but these encounters are spread thin and when they do occur it ultimately feels like a numbers game. the challenge comes primarily from the number of bullets being shot at you rather than from the placement or combination of enemy types.
Wells is an ambitious game, it doesn’t have the uncaring slapdash feel of a quick money grab, but ambition alone is not enough to save it from constantly shooting itself in the foot. There are cutscenes, but they tell you almost nothing about the plot and characters. The weapons are great, but your large hitbox and regenerating health make combat a chore. Levels are varied, but the challenges you’re presented with aren’t actually interesting. With a bit more experience I think these developers are capable of making a fantastic game, but as for Wells itself my first impression is that it’s too deeply flawed to save.
First Impression Verdict: Bad 1/5