When I first saw the announcement trailer for Creature in the Well during the Nindies showcase earlier this year, it immediately piqued my interest with its derelict setting and intriguing pinball-based gameplay. When I tried the Creature in the Well at Flight School Studio’s booth at PAX West recently, I loved it and figured it would be a hit upon release. Now that it’s out and I’m going to double down on that opinion. Put on your dungeon spelunking gear and get ready to delve into the darkness of Creature in the Well, one of my favorite indie releases of 2019!
The plot of Creature in the Well is simple and straightforward. You are a maintenance robot, BOT-C, who has reactivated after a long dormancy and your function is to repair the power plant systems of a nearby town. The mountain these systems were build inside was taken over decades in the past by a gigantic, dangerous, mysterious creature… and Creature does NOT like that you are in its mountain.
Creature follows you from below, often peering at you from the darkness, never allowing you to see his face or full body, and will deliver a scathing rant at you on multiple occasions. It’s your job to make your way through all the zones of the plant, reactivating each of the integral systems, which only fuels Creature’s rising temper and desire to block your path with more and more difficult challenges.
Creature in the Well features a wide variety of mechanics all based on pinball physics. The “pinballs” are energy orbs and the “bumpers” are the batteries you’ll need to power by hitting the balls into them with your weapon. Controls are precise, crisp, and responsive, with a small dash and concise blade attack. New mechanics are introduced with steady pacing, such as bumpers that fire back flaming energy balls you must catch, or automatic energy ball turrets, even touch sensitive bombs you’ll have to dodge.
You will never be bored because the game throws new challenges at you with each path you’ll explore inside the power plant. The difficulty can become incredibly brutal at times, but winning a stage is so satisfying. When you successfully complete certain rooms, you will even be rewarded with secret paths leading to new weapons, upgrades, or cosmetics.
Visuals and Audio
The cel-shaded aesthetic of Creature in the Well is fitting and moody, highlighting the age of the machinery with low contrast color motifs and obvious signs of long term neglect. I was reminded a little of of Hyper Light Drifter by the muted, derelict visuals and low-fi, electronic soundtrack, in addition to the brisk combat animations of the main character.
I considered this a good thing since, as my readers know by now, Hyper Light Drifter is one of my favorite indie games of all time. I mentioned this observation to one of the two developers in person after playing the demo at PAX West and he said it was actually feedback they got a lot, but it had not been a conscious design choice. Regardless, I think their presentation comes across wonderfully!
What Could Have Been
I had an immensely positive experience with Creature in the Well, yet I did have a few nitpicks by the end.
1. I would have loved to see more variety in interactions with Creature. Encounters with the game’s namesake quickly begin to feel formulaic because Creature will always appear before the final stage of each path to scold you, always in a room that looks the same as the others you’ve seen him in. I thought Creature was fascinating and wanted more of him, but in different, interesting, startling ways.
2. In many of the stages it can be quite difficult to visually follow everything happening at once as there are many, many moving parts later in the game. This caused me more deaths than I felt were fair. Fortunately the walk back to the power plant is not long.
3. Each time you die and are tossed from the well at the edge of town, you’ll pass through that town on your way back to the mountain. You can hear voices inside the homes, but can’t interact with any of the townspeople except one. Additional interactivity in the town would have made that area feel more vibrant in contrast to the stark mountain tunnels.
4. There are fair number of collectables to acquire, but only a handful of them allow you to customize the way you play. I had found around a half dozen weapon replacements before I picked up one that did something besides simply changing the appearance of my weapon. This is an area that could have definitely been expanded upon.
Priced at $15 with around 5-6 hours of quality content, this skillfully made, bite-sized title by Flight School Studio is a delightful way to spend a rainy Saturday. Creature in the Well is a breath of fresh air in a gaming desert full of tired tropes and copycat titles, and easily earns a solid 8/10 from me. I can honestly say there isn’t anything quite like this Creature in the Well out there at the moment and it is certainly worth playing, especially at its friendly 10% launch discount. What are you waiting for?
Thanks for reading!
Note: Game key kindly provided by Popagenda PR for the purposes of review.
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