Creature in the Well is a top-down dungeon crawler with a rather novel twist: Instead of bopping enemies in the head with a sword, you bop them by playing pinball. While the game certainly gets points for its visual style and unique premise, it unfortunately doesn’t do enough with its concepts to make it interesting the whole way through.
Creature in the Well
Developer: Flight School Studio, MWM Interactive
Publisher: Flight School Studio
Platforms: Windows PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One
Release Date: September 6th, 2019, March 31st, 2020 (PlayStation 4 Version)
Creature in the Well is set in a mysterious world that has been engulfed by a sandstorm. A small village named Mirage sits at the foot of a mountain, inside of which is a vast facility that was built to save the world from the sandstorm.
However, before the facility could be finished and powered up, it was sabotaged by a enigmatic creature that lives in Mirage’s well. The Creature destroyed the BOT-C engineers tasked with building and powering the facility, and ever since it has sat dormant and unfinished.
You play as the final BOT-C unit, having suddenly reactivated in the desert long after the Creature’s rampage. It’s up to you to power up the facility, and save the people of Mirage from the endless sandstorm. Unfortunately, the Creature is still around, and doesn’t intend on letting you fulfill the job you were programmed to complete.
While there are some NPCs here and there to interact with, most of Creature in the Well‘s story and lore will be told through notes and diaries that you’ll find along the way. Reading these, and listening to the Creature’s ramblings when it appears, will gradually allow you to piece together what happened.
The game’s lore is fairly interesting, and is paired with a grainy yet vibrant visual aesthetic. The villagers of Mirage are an assortment of colorful anthropomorphic animals, each of which have their own quirks and roles in the story. The titular Creature, meanwhile, stays hidden in the shadows. All you see are its eyes and hands, further emphasizing its mysterious nature and purpose.
The basic premise of the game is to make your way through every major sector of the mountain facility so you can power up the computer at its core. To do so, you’ll need to clear numerous rooms of pinball-inspired puzzles to gather power, which is in turn used to unseal doors that take you deeper into the facility.
The game’s “combat” mechanics are quite simple, and revolve around some pinball fundamentals. You have two “weapons” equipped at a time: a striker and a charger. The charger is used to pull spherical balls of energy towards you, allowing you to aim them. The striker is essentially your paddle, allowing you to hit the pinball-like spheres of energy.
All of the game’s rooms involve hitting bumpers to gather energy. Each bumper needs to be hit a certain number of times to make it withdraw into the ground. In most puzzles the goal is to make all the bumpers in the room withdraw, raising a large bumper that generates a ton of energy when you hit it.
Since Creature in the Well is essentially a pinball game, you can’t directly interact with all the bumpers and doodads you need to hit. Instead, you’ll need to dash and dart around the rooms, using your charger to attract balls so you can hit them where they need to go with your striker.
Over the course of the game, you’ll find new charge tools and strikers with unique effects, like healing you when you catch enemy projectiles, or adding a slightly more precise aiming reticle. You’ll also find cores that you can install in town that reduce the number of strikes you need to score against bumpers.
While the game doesn’t have stat-based loot like your typical dungeon crawler, the game’s approach to items is still pretty nice. Each of the various items have their defined uses, and as you get deeper into the game, you’ll find yourself swapping them out during puzzles and boss battles to make use of their unique strengths.
Unfortunately, the fact that you have to equip an item that makes your targeting arrow more accurate means you’ll often feel handicapped by how awful it is by default. All you get is a simple arrow, making it hard to judge longer distance shots, especially while in the middle of a heated boss fight where you are constantly dodging projectiles.
Each floor of the dungeon usually revolves around a specific mechanic. There are turrets that shoot projectiles at you, levers that raise or lower bumpers when hit, bumpers that send projectiles flying back at you when hit, and so on. The boss fight of each floor also heavily utilizes that floor’s gimmick.
The early portions of Creature in the Well are quite fun. A pinball-based dungeon crawler is definitely an interesting spin on the genre, making the first half of the game pretty unique and refreshing. Unfortunately, the game starts to lose steam quickly, and it becomes obvious that the developers just couldn’t think of enough concepts to flesh out the full game.
This becomes most apparent when you begin to notice puzzles being reused repeatedly. This happens as early as the third floor, which isn’t even halfway through the game. There are several puzzles in particular that are reused on nearly every floor of the dungeon.
One example involves a long corridor lined with bumpers interspaced with towers that, when struck, cause explosions that can deal heavy damage if you are caught in them. Another is a “free” room that isn’t a puzzle per se, but just a room full of bumpers to smack so you can grind for extra energy. Each floor has this exact same room repeated multiple times.
Even the floors themselves are little more than palette swaps with a few rooms that throw in a new mechanic. Eventually, you’ll begin to be able to predict what sort of puzzles are in the upcoming rooms because the dungeon layouts are so similar.
The worst part is that the game isn’t even that long. Most players will likely beat it within four hours. If you want to find every collectable, item, and secret, you can probably up the total playtime to about five and a half hours. The short overall game length makes the sheer number of repeated rooms and layouts all the more obvious.
Creature in the Well can also get rather frustrating at times from a difficulty standpoint. There are quite a few timed puzzle rooms where you only have a few seconds to hit bumpers multiple times. If you screw up, the entire puzzle restarts.
The levers that raise and lower bumpers are also infuriating because hitting them resets the puzzle, something that is quite easy to do accidentally while you are in a room full of balls bouncing here and there.
Probably the most annoying aspect of the game, however, is that when you die, the Creature boots you out of the dungeon and back into Mirage. This means that you’ll need to walk all the way through town, back into the dungeon, and then slog your way back to where you were previously.
It comes off as a mechanic that was added to intentionally pad the game out to try and hide the fact that its only about three hours long. It doesn’t even make sense from a story perspective because the Creature very clearly wants to destroy you before you can get the facility up and running.
This trek back is made even more annoying by the fact that you revive with no health, and the only way to regain health (aside from a specific item) is to sit in a pool of liquid for a few seconds. There is only one such area per floor, so when you are low on health you’ll need to backtrack to it each time.
Ultimately, Creature in the Well is a very unusual and interesting game idea that stumbles in its execution. There are some pretty significant difficulty spikes towards the end of the game, and some mechanics are just downright frustrating.
The larger problem with the game, however, is that it just runs out of ideas fairly early on. Only a few of the mechanics the game introduces significantly change the flow of puzzles.
Worse still, the game frequently repeats entire rooms and puzzles, a flaw that is extremely apparent because of how short the game actually is. It’s like the devs came up with a really cool concept for a game, but just couldn’t figure out how to expand on that concept with enough puzzles or mechanics to last the entire way through.
With all that said, I didn’t really hate my time with Creature in the Well. It has a few genuinely cool ideas and mechanics, its just a shame it blows its load a bit early and becomes very repetitive in the game’s second half.
If you like the premise, then you’ll probably still find some things to enjoy about the game. Just know that Creature in the Well is short and runs out of content and mechanics fairly early on.
Creature in the Well was reviewed on PlayStation 4 using a review copy provided by Flight School Studio. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.