Pinball games never sound particularly exciting or interesting. But pinball machines remain so addictive because they deliver a perfect formula that no one needs to change. However, by mixing hack-and-slash action with pinball inspirations, developer Flight School have created a distinctly fun, frantic and original game in Creature in the Well… It’s just a shame there isn’t more.
Waking up as the last remaining BOT-C unit, your main objective in Creature in the Well may seem vague. But soon you’ll find a city that’s been trapped in a sandstorm for generations, with only one way to save it: ancient, failing machinery at the heart of the cities mountain. Though there is a problem; the titular creature stalking the depths of the facility.
There are surprisingly quite a few nice lore tidbits waiting at the end of each level. Some explain more about the history of the city, the threat of the sandstorm, progress on the machine or the encroaching creature haunting both the robotic engineers and the anthropomorphic animals that live in the city.
The central mystery of finding out what has happened to the now desolate, depressing city drove me forward through the game, however, when all was said and done, I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed. As the logs and diaries go on, the story gets more and more interesting but it ends quite abruptly; the full origins or motivations of the creature aren’t really explained. But hey, I enjoyed the story stringing me along anyway.
Creature in the Well’s narrative is only secondary to some of the most satisfying gameplay of the year. As you journey down 8 levels in the game you’ll face pinball inspired puzzles and combat situations. There’ll be plenty of inactive machinery around the levels and to turn them on you’ll need to bat orbs of energy into them.
This gradually gets more and more complex as the game introduces time limits, tight spaces to hit the orbs through, and puzzles that are impossible unless you hit an orb at exactly the right angle. Hostile turrets, drones and other environmental obstacles also pop up. At times the amount of orbs, obstacles and hazards on screen become overwhelming in the best, heart-pounding way. Dodging, blocking, aiming and hitting orbs never gets tiring though; helped by the variety of obstacles that the game adds, especially with the addictive thud of an orb hitting a wall.
Our BOT-C unit is also equipped with two different weapons: a charge tool and a strike tool. The charge tool lets you power up an orb while also having it follow you around for a second, allowing you to have a moment to aim your hits in the more insane stages. This is especially useful when it comes to turrets spitting harmful orbs at you, since you’ll be able to block them with your charge tool. Strike tools are just what you use to hit orbs away or at machines.
Creature in the Well’s stable of weapons aren’t simple charge and strike weapons though. There’s an array of secret paths that’ll lead you to cosmetic capes, upgrades and secret weapons. Hitting a machine will reward you with points that you can use to progress, but if you want to uncover these secret routes you’ll need to fully complete some of Creature’s more challenging rooms. The game actively encourages you to become better by beating the hardest challenges, with the incentive of loot.
Many of the game’s hidden loot collecting opportunities carry a surprising amount of strategy with them. There are novel ones like a simple twig or a frying pan but many have game changing passive abilities attached to them. For example, a charge tool that projects a long line in the direction you’re looking, which helps with aim. Mixing and matching these charge and strike tools are some of the more interesting parts of the game.
In boss battles with tons of drones and turrets, you might want to equip an axe that’ll split every orb into three more to efficiently deal with the drones and a massive magnet charge tool that attracts orbs from greater distances since you won’t have a ton of moving space. Using the right tools, for the right situations, is critical and the ability to change equipment anytime, even in the middle of conflict, is a welcome option.
With such a smooth, crazy and addictive gameplay loop, it’s a shame that there isn’t much to chew on. You can fully beat the game and collect everything available in more or less 5 hours. This is definitely more than a lot of games of a similar price point but with Creature in the Well’s arcadey action, the game has a lot of untouched potential with leaderboards and other modes. This means that Creature in the Well’s post-game content is non-existent, when it could’ve been the best thing about it.
Apart from that minor gripe, Creature has art to die for. Its cell-shaded, grainy, comic book aesthetic is always interesting to look at and constantly evolves throughout the game. Every level of the mountain has a completely different colour palette and they all work. From a monotone black and white stage to an alien looking level full of unlikely purples and yellows.
I can’t wait for whatever developer Flight School works on next, as with Creature in the Well on Xbox One, what could have been a novel and gimmicky take on pinball action is instead one of 2019’s best looking, best feeling indie games. Its collectibles are enticing, its weapon combinations are strategic and its core gameplay feels so, so good. It’s just a shame that they didn’t utilise Creature’s amazing gameplay, in a more repayable post-game mode.