App Reviewed on: iPhone SE
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Whenever a mobile game gets a lot of mainstream attention, it's inevitable that imitators will come along to try to ride the coattails of the original game's success. In taking one look at Fowlst, it's plain to see that this game is chasing Downwell, the hard-as-nails roguelike with a super minimal aesthetic. If that weren't enough, playing Fowlst also reveals that the game's control scheme is practically identical to 2013's mysteriously popular Flappy Bird. Despite how clear Fowlst's influences may be though, the combination of these things makes for a game that feels surprisingly fresh and original.
In Fowlst, you play as a renegade bird that is fighting its way through waves of demons in a series of enclosed arenas. As these demons come to attack, you must fly into them to kill them while making sure to dodge their projectile attacks. This is harder than it seems at first, as Fowlst is completely controlled Flappy Bird-style. Tapping on either side of the screen will cause your bird to briefly flap upward in an arc in that direction before starting to plummet to the ground again.
Once a room is clear, a new path opens up which leads to another arena where the process begins once again. As enemies die, they drop power ups, which can help you survive longer, and gold, which can be used to unlock upgrades that can carry over between rounds. In game power ups can do things like heal your owl or momentarily freeze enemies in place, while permanent upgrades can grant more life and even things like rockets that can lock onto and defeat enemies for you.
While the first few rooms in Fowlst may be completely empty aside from a few demons that spawn in, later levels add variety (and challenge) by introducing new obstacles and environments to deal with. Some stages will be partially filled with water, while others have giant saws that extend out into the arena, for example.
Fowlst also features boss fights. After progressing through a set number of arenas, giant demons with rings of fire or giant fish in arenas completely underwater come along to try and end your run. While these bosses may appear insurmountable at first, unlocking new upgrades between rounds makes each subsequent run (and boss fight) easier.
The progression of unlocking persistent upgrades is the primary way that Fowlst keeps you playing. Each new unlock has the potential to let you get just a little further on each run. While this is satisfying in its own way, it can lead to long stretches where you feel like you're just grinding out currency instead of getting better.
Another problem with this structure is that upgrades--once purchased--can make the opening levels of Fowlst feel repetitive and boring. If you have homing missiles, the first few arenas that just have a handful of demons feel like a brainless slog until you get to an arena with actual obstacles. It's a small complaint in the grand scheme of things, but one that dampens the replayability of a game that is built around being replayed.
The bottom line
Fowlst takes two, obvious sources of inspiration and shamelessly slaps them together. The result is a game that is clearly reminiscent of both Downwell and Flappy Bird while still feeling like its own thing. There are times where its run-based nature can feel a little overly repetitive, but this roguelike arcade game is still a hoot.