Creature in the Well is one of those games that I thought I understood just from the promotional materials that had been shown, but it actually veers in a very different direction. The obvious assumption was that developer Flight School has mixed The Legend of Zelda with pinball, but truly it reaches beyond such superficial connections into something wholly unique when you add all the disparate parts together.
The game takes place in a desert wasteland, alluded to being of the post-apocalyptic variety. You play as a recently awakened robot who ventures back to the only job it knows – powering an ancient factory. Only said factory has been overrun by a large monster that dwells in its literal depths. As you venture further into the facility, this creature, of which you mostly just see imposing eyes and humongous, reaching hands, mocks and taunts you, assuring you that it will stop you completing your task. Most of Creature in the Well is a quiet, solemn and enigmatic experience, but the very few bits of lore that are divvied out by the beast provide enough impetus to entice you further and further.
The game is played in an overhead fashion in a beautifully rendered Technicolor landscape. While your robotic avatar can certainly swing a pipe or baseball bat, these melee weapons aren’t used to directly beat your opponents – they’re used to hit glowing orbs towards them. Actually, this is mostly secondary, too; the bulk of the game is having you bounce said glowing ball into different targets at different angles in various puzzle rooms that are strung together like a dungeon. There’s a secondary “weapon” that you use to pull the orbs towards you as well, giving you the opportunity to set up your shots, as it were.
The stage design is clever, shaking things up constantly by offering you different challenges as you try to power up the factory. Some sections are more traditionally pinball-like in nature, with you hitting bumpers to gather power that’ll in turn open up a peg that your balls will bounce off for more juice. Some stages have you dodging enemy attacks while doing so. Others still might have you playing in a more Arkanoid fashion, where the ball careens between bunches of “blocks” on its trajectory. And then there are moments are similar to boss battles, treasure hunts and puzzles. These sections do repeat thematically, but most are always entertaining enough that you don’t mind.
Creature in the Well shies away from being a pinball game proper, with plenty of “video game” moments that not only break up the action but give you reasons to look around the world beyond moving to the next puzzle. There’s a hub town that you can poke around in, which goes a long way towards giving a lot of periphery personality to the proceedings. You can find new gear to equip yourself with that changes the way you hit the ball. In most games I usually stick with whatever loadout I deem the most powerful, but here I was constantly changing it up because of how truly different the various loadouts make the game, and how essential certain bits of gear were for certain situations.
I figured I was going to have fun with Creature in the Well, but I was taken aback at how engaging it really was. There are moments where the game expects you to deftly maneuver the orb on a certain path that can be maddening, but it moves so swiftly I kept pushing through until I solved it. I’m of an age where I don’t always have the patience for a game to be that fiddly, so the fact I persevered is about the highest praise I can give: not only did the difficulty not bother me, it actually egged me into keeping on going. I didn’t stop to let the creature win, and you shouldn’t either.
Creature in the Well was developed by Flight School and is available on PC, Switch and Xbox One. We reviewed the Switch version.
Disclosure statement: review code for Creature in the Well was provided by Popagenda PR. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.