Genre: Hack-and-slash dungeon crawler
Original Release: September 6, 2019
Developers: Flight School Studio and MWM Interactive
Publisher: Flight School Studio
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
Played on: Nintendo Switch
I don’t remember exactly when I bought Creature in the Well last year, but I do remember being intrigued by the art style and the premise of a pinball-inspired dungeon crawler.
Creature in the Well is a short and sweet title that focuses on a lone robot, called a BOT-C or engineer, as they work to restore power and functionality to a machine that’s intended to bring an end to the sandstorm that’s been hanging over the area for ages. Exactly how long is never established in-game, but it’s been at least a century or so if I remember correctly.
As the last remaining BOT-C, you navigate the various wings of the facility housing the machine while being intermittently harassed by the titular Creature. In order to progress deeper into the facility, you’ll have to strike panels using what are essentially pinballs to generate power that can be used to open and unlock nearby doors or (at a later point) to upgrade yourself to generate more charge for each ball. Your BOT-C is equipped with both a strike and charge tool to better facilitate this. The strike tool is designed, as the name implies, to strike the ball in whatever direction you’re facing. The charge tool is used to collect up to three balls at one time and energize them. Depending on the level of your BOT-C’s core, you’ll be able to charge the ball(s) with more power before striking it.
Here’s the problem I have with this game, and unfortunately it’s a pretty big sticking point: Almost nothing is explained to the player. The image above? That’s partway through my adventure. This is after I spent a few minutes bumbling around the tutorial section just trying to figure out what to do. I walked past the first strike tool multiple times before I realized there was a prompt to pick it up. I didn’t know how to heal until I looked up a guide that said “just stand in the pool of water for a bit.” I’m still not even sure what some of the charge tools do based on the in-game descriptions. It’s not a game-breaker by any means, but it does sour the experience for me.
I know that hand-holding is a point of contention in gaming conversation of late, but there’s a balance between letting the player figure everything out for themselves with zero direction (see: early builds of Minecraft) and over-tutorializing everything (though I’ve never played it myself, this is a frequent complaint I hear about Skyward Sword) and it’s a balance that one figures out over time. I’m sure it sounds silly, but I think Guacamelee found it perfectly. That’s an article for another time though.
This article’s a little bit shorter, but I think I covered most everything there is that I can say. You’ve got eight different facilities to explore and puzzle your way through, the hub area opens up over time, and the mechanics are cool. The only thing I can really complain about is a lack of clarity that brings down the experience not just for me, but for others as well (even the guide I used to find some of the collectibles I was missing pointed out that things aren’t explained much, if at all) and that can lead to frustrations. Also, the last boss fight has some Touhou-esque madness going on and that’s something I struggled with a fair bit. It was fun, but I did get a little annoyed after a handful of deaths in the same spot.
With that in mind, I’m going to recommend Creature in the Well to you dear reader. It’s definitely a unique experience that I haven’t found elsewhere and it scratched an itch that I didn’t even know I had for pinball-inspired games. It’s got some problems (namely the lack of explanations), but there’s a lot of charm and effort put in. The devs have their hearts in the right place for sure.