Down to Hell is in a category all its own of non-vaporware indies worth skipping, and its only value may be in teaching developers what not to do.
Imagine a side-scrolling action RPG that challenges players with a precise mix of fantasy combat and platforming, rushing them along through its breathtaking hellscapes to face off against nightmarish boss after nightmarish boss to the breakneck beat of Doom-like metal stylings. To truly understand the kind of experience that Down to Hell offers, though, imagine a game in which all of the above is present but has been executed as poorly as possible. Taking a handful of well-trodden ideas and half-baking them into an amateurish slog of a 2D hack and slash, Down to Hell is an unentertaining mess from beginning to end.
First, however, credit should always be given where its due, and there is some credit to be meted out even in the wake of a game as inferior as Down to Hell. It has but a single redeeming quality, that being the obvious work put it in by its visual designers, whose talent - along with that of the programmers who managed to keep the product from shipping as a crash-prone bugfest - is probably the most functional and creative asset at Polish developer Red Dev Studio's disposal. The hell-inspired backgrounds of Down to Hell aren't exactly pretty (they're far too blurry for that), but they employ a robust palette of hues and gradients that commingle to sufficiently invoke the eternal twilight and despair of the game's purgatory setting that every other part of the experience seems hellbent on sabotaging.
Beyond that solitary beacon of redemption, though, Down to Hell is unmitigated bum to actually play. At first glance, it seems to have so much in common with the bleak Christian imagery and undertones found in the Dark Souls series that it's easy to assume that it's yet another low-rent Soulslike to throw on the pile, but it's really just a run-of-the-mill 2D action game with non-essential dodging. That wouldn't be a problem in and of itself were it not for the fact that Down to Hell is just so bad at it. It promulgates itself as a tough-as-nails fantasy adventure with RPG elements, but its progression system is a non-starter and the actual gameplay, whether performing light and heavy attacks and casting spells, simply amounts to a repetitive click-fest. Playing more like a loosely cobbled boss-rush than an action platformer (with only pointlessly short action platforming sections between bosses), the entire game can be completed in just a few hours because players can just spam the same attack or two over and over again until everything dies.
Despite its short length, Down to Hell still instills a disproportionately deep sense of wasted time through its repetitive nature and laundry list of irritations. Every time the player character swings his sword, the camera awkwardly zooms in and back out as though it were controlled by a substance-abusing Lakitu. Almost every boss shares near-identical, flat planes with different backgrounds for arenas, with each monster employing suspiciously similar attacks as the rest and looking more ill-designed than the last. Every animation exudes a level of mediocrity and disjointedness that hearken back to the earliest days of Adobe Flash, excepting the fact that many artists of that period were producing quality interactive media leagues beyond what Down to Hell is apparently capable of despite its use of the far more usable and purpose-built Unity engine.
It's doubtful that Red Dev Studio prioritized story to be as integral to Down to Hell as its unsatisfying gameplay, but it's nevertheless present in a game that otherwise lacks anything else of interest. Aside from some decent but irrelevant lore in a menu, Down to Hell's plot is nonsensical, and its protagonist is unlikable in ways even the writing team could not have possibly intended. In a nutshell, an angsty knight with a chip on his plated shoulder begins his descent into hell because he's proven too powerful for his fellow mortals. Oxymoronically - and for the only time in the game - he's almost immediately overwhelmed by low-level minions, at which point he's saved by a girl (who's also visiting hell?) before she, herself, is kidnapped by the very forces from which she just handily rescued the knight. At that point, the knight decides to not have any more near-death experiences and vows to free her as a childlike means of getting back at her. Combined with a bottom-of-the-barrel localization from Polish to English rivaling Zero Wing, Down to Hell's story is strikingly awful.
In all fairness, game development is far from easy, especially in contrast to, say, video game critique. Nothing exists in a vacuum, however; Red Dev Studios' sin cannot be so easily separated from the towering catalog of indies of similar scale, so many of which achieve far more in disparate systems and characters than Down to Hell can muster in an entire playthrough. Every game is a learning lesson for a studio to put under its belt, though, and it can be sure that Down to Hell has a lot of lessons to offer Red Dev Studios if it's only willing to learn.
Down to Hell is now available for PC and will release on Nintendo Switch in 2019. Screen Rant was provided a PC code for this review.