Downbeat is a rhythm action game where the player is a DJ of the '80s and has to attract people to the dance floors. The player has an isometric view of the club which is divided into four dance floors in different colours. As the music begin to play small balls (representing dancers) will drop down towards the dance floors and the player has to match his mouse clicks with when the balls reach the floor. The balls have different colours and the player has to move the pointer around so that balls drop to the dance floor with the same colour. When the player matches the beat at the right dance floor he earns points and more dancers. By getting dancers to the floors the player's groove bar goes up. Groove is decreased by dancers leaving, offbeat clicks and empty floors. A level is over when no groove is left. There are also special objects that can be collected. By collecting three objects of the same kind the player makes a set which can then be cashed in for extra points.
The game has two modes: city mode and freeplay mode. The city mode consists of four cities: New York, London, Miami and Los Angeles. Each city has a few songs that the player has to unlock by completing the previous ones. These songs then become available in the freeplay where any song can be played in any city. The songs are instrumental covers of some of the biggest hits of the 1980s. These include songs like Material Girl, 99 Luftballons and Our House.