Creature in the Well can be a beautiful and intense bullet hell if you can make it past the repetitive first half.
I was very excited about Creature in the Well when it was first announced on Nintendo Direct. A dungeon crawler with pinball-based combat and puzzle-solving is an intriguing concept. Besides, I always had a soft spot for pinball games.
I enjoyed Creature in the Well enough to “pinbrawl” my way to the end. However, developer Flight School Studios could have done a lot more with the game’s premise and core mechanics.
Ain’t Too Deep
In Creature in the Well, you take control of the last engineering robot in a world engulfed in an endless sandstorm. Looking for shelter from the storm, you find yourself wandering into an old, almost abandoned facility beneath a mountain. Unfortunately for you, a nasty creature has declared itself king under the mountain and will do anything to prevent you from reactivating the facility, bringing his rule to an end.
Throughout the game, you enter different areas in the facility and slowly bring them back to life, restoring their mysterious functions. Along your path, you discover some of the surviving inhabitants who tell you a little more about the world. You can also find log entries from previous workers that reveal more information on the sections of the facility and the creature.
Unfortunately, most of these fail to resonate. The log entries are always short and don’t make a lot of sense, and the villagers don’t have a lot to say. It’s easy to feel detached from the story elements in the game. You just keep going deeper and deeper into the mountain, without carrying why.
Charging It Up
You don’t go into the facility empty-handed. You always have two types of weapons with you – a hitting bat and a charging bat. With the first one, you send small energy balls flying across the room, and with the second you charge them with more energy. As you go through the facility, you repeatedly hit these balls into small machines (all shaped like pinball bumpers) to gain more energy, disarm traps, and open doors.
Of course, as you progress, things get a little trickier. Some bumpers will send balls flying back at you and damage you if you get hit. Others will fire slow-moving energy orbs at you, or release a devastating shockwave that takes a large chunk off your health. These obstacles do make the gameplay a little bit more interesting, but things get very repetitive quickly since many of the rooms have very similar layouts.
Also, you can’t hit the ball or charge it up while moving, so you’re limited to one action at a time. You can still beat plenty of rooms this way fairly quickly, but there isn’t a lot you can do differently in one room or the next.
As a result, Creature in the Well can be very challenging in some areas, especially when you need to hit a series of bumpers under a time limit. Going back to these rooms after upgrading your life meter or finding different equipment made it easier to beat them. However, skipping some areas means you can miss out on a crucial bat that would have made your advancement much smoother.
The Mountain Holds Some Secrets
While there are diverging paths and secret areas, Creature in the Well isn’t a Metroidvania. The different sections in the facility are mostly linear with only a few short off-shoot branches here and there.
Exploring these short branches is rewarding, however. Whenever you find a hidden room in the facility, there will be something new for you to pick up. It can be an old core you can scavenge to increase your life bar, a new bat, or a colorful new cape. These upgrades will make you more powerful and versatile, allowing you to progress with ease. Finding these hidden weapons makes some of the more annoying puzzles and boss fights in the game much more tolerable.
When you already have many of those upgrades and bats, Creature in the Well can get really intense. In fact, the best parts seem to be hidden away in the second half of the game. Cannons that shoot energized balls at you, bumper traps that spawn harmful orbs, and deadly waves of electricity turn the game into a bullet hell. The good kind of bullet hell.
Every dungeon peaks in an encounter with the creature in the well, which serves as a boss battle. Whenever you approach the end of an area, you will find yourself on a platform that the creature pulls downwards, deeper into his lair. To climb back up, you need to clear the challenges on each floor as the platform slowly ascends. These boss battles are action-packed and make for the best parts of the game.
Punk and Vivid
While the best qualities of Creature in the Well may not be its gameplay, its art direction is undoubtedly commendable. The game is decorated in bright, matte colors that differ between each section of the underground facility. The visual style looks almost like graffiti art, which makes the game pretty punk.
The traps and bumpers all have visual cues that indicate how much they are charged, and at its busiest, the screen comes alive with vivid colors, flashes, and sparks.
But when you come across interactable items, the unique visuals don’t help make those stand out. I found myself overlooking some pickups just because I couldn’t tell them apart from the rest of the background.
The camera in Creature in the Well is not as static as in other games in the genre. It constantly turns as you move between rooms, giving the game a dynamic feeling. However, the result can be quite disorienting. I had to keep my eyes on the map to make sure I was going in the direction I intended to go.
The mostly eerie ambient music fits well with the post-apocalyptic setting. The soundtrack works together with the distinct visual style to create a dark, foreboding mood the reminds you the creature is always watching you, ready to attack.
While the unique art style is more than a good reason to be excited about Creature in the Well, the gameplay doesn’t achieve its potential until the second half of the game. Once you gain enough types of bats, you can adapt to every situation by choosing the right tools.
Even though it is occasionally repetitive, I found myself playing Creature in the Well to the very end. I also made sure to visit every room. With the creature taunting you at every turn, you feel compelled to keep playing until you reach the very bottom.Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.