Video games often put players in the role of saving the world. Players can be warriors, fighters, soldiers, detectives; armed and trained to fight the bad guy and save whatever is most important. Creature In the Well shifts the paradigm: What if there is one enemy in the entire game, and that enemy has turned an entire fortress into a giant pinball machine bent on harm and destruction?
Creature‘s answer is to turn the player into a robotic guardian. Instead of swords or guns, they are armed with a bat that acts as a pinball paddle. From developer Flight School Studio, Creature In The Well shakes up the established action-adventure game formula to revive a once-popular pinball mechanic and merge it into the video game world of today, creating an exciting adventure that cannot be found anywhere else.
Creature In The Well takes place in an empty, arid world turned to sand and ash. The sand scours and erodes all it touches. Through the sand, a miracle erupts from the desolate wastes: A machine, humanoid, grey, and rusted, but operational. This robot is a guardian built to defend the mountain. Within that mountain lies a miraculous machine, capable of controlling the weather. However, a dire monster lies within the mountain. It has slaughtered and destroyed, manipulating the machine’s defenses against anyone who dares to venture into the mountain. As an integral part of this machine, the robotic guardian has the capacity to manipulate energy and fix the machine. While not designed for combat, perhaps the machine can find a way to defeat the monster and save the world.
Creature In The Well is an action-adventure game with mechanics akin to playing a video game pinball machine. As the robotic guardian, the goal is to venture into the mountain, solve the mountain’s many puzzles, and regain control of the weather machine to save the world. Standing in the player’s path is a mysterious, shadowy Creature; gargantuan and unpredictable. The Creature has taken control of entire systems in the machine and turned them against the inhabitants of a small village. Each puzzle involves energy balls. These balls can be used to charge and power devices, but can also be used against the player. Players are armed with energy conduits that resemble baseball bats or melee weapons. Swinging these can deflect or charge energy balls.
The giant machine within the mountain of Creature In The Well is divided into multiple sections. Each section is a small labyrinth, distinguished by its color scheme. Similar to a Metroidvania, Creature In The Well allows players to venture into each section in whichever order they wish. Each sector has its own unique puzzles, secrets, and items to discover. Discovering more conduits increases the player’s arsenal. Each conduit has a unique ability, such as laser sights and instant charging. Finding them throughout the world is not only incredibly useful, but discovering what each conduit can do is delightful.
Additionally, there are hidden “cores” that unlock more health for players, making them a quintessential item for the later levels’ challenges. Creature In The Well’s puzzles features a variety of traps, turrets, and obstacles. Using the conduit and the energy balls, players knock out turrets, switches, bumpers, and generators to gain energy and disable defenses. The more energy earned, the more doors that can be unlocked to discover each section’s secrets.
Players use a combination of speed and skill to solve the most challenging puzzles. While dodging enemy energy balls, they must time how to use those balls at the right moment. Players swing, swipe, capture, and release, almost like a hectic baseball game. Pools of white energy can heal the player, and one can always be found at the base of the mountain. If players lose their health while in a section, the monster will casually toss them out of the mountain. The player may then bypass already solved challenges to try again. Creature In The Well is firm, but fair, even regarding boss fights.
Bosses and Balancing
One of the big highlights of Creature In The Well is the constant conflict the game’s protagonist faces. There are no detailed plots or multitudes of villains. Only you and the Creature. The Creature will taunt players, making witty and cynical comments, constantly discouraging the player. Still, players can defeat the Creature’s various challenges. Each section ends with the Creature pulling an important component of that section from the machine. Players have to then fight from the ground up to loosen the Creature’s grip on the component.
These boss fights are quite challenging, with players achieving victory by the skin of their teeth, as energy beams and explosives shoot and detonate in a chaotic flurry that scorches your metallic skin. Creature In The Well is controlled pinball chaos. Despite this challenge, players who lose can warp back to begin the boss fight again. Creature In The Well is a solid challenge for experienced players, but certainly fair to those who are unfamiliar with adventure games.
Reimagining Action-Adventure Games
Everything comes together to create one of the most profound interpretations of the action-adventure genre. Creature In The Well is a game filled with action, but has neither guns nor bloodshed. The whole game takes place in a single mountain fortress, but it feels like a grand adventure. There are no enemies to slay, but solving each puzzle feels like vanquishing an opponent. It’s a truly remarkable and well executed concept, providing something original, yet rather familiar. The gameplay is polished and fully realized and feels challenging, but never overwhelming.
Creature In The Well is not only a wonderful way to make an action-packed adventure, but is also a benchmark in rethinking common gameplay mechanics. The guardian swings his conduits like a sword, but does so to solve puzzles. Creature In The Well is very reminiscent of the puzzle games that once populated almost every single gaming platform in the 1990’s, from Metroid Pinball to Sonic Spinball. In Creature In The Well, pinball is instead mobile, revolving around a humanoid robotic figure. This is all accompanied by a wonderful graphical style that is very much inspired by thick-inked graphic novels, evoking the sensation of a rusty and worn world.
Creature In The Well can also be a great metaphor for dealing with anxiety and depression. Depression is often described as a shadow that never leaves you, looming and ever ready to envelop its victim. It can be challenging, perhaps seemingly unbeatable, but like the robotic guardian of Creature In The Well, you can get back up and keep fighting. Eventually, you may put the Creature that is depression and fear into a corner and render it powerless.
I found myself remarking at my own struggles and feelings as I played while feeling empowered for every small victory. Most video games can create this metaphor, including the Dark Souls games, but Creature In The Well makes this connection is not only more evident, but also easier to understand. The Creature is the only villain, making every possible effort to hinder your efforts, and only you can defeat him. Each time you fall, you rise again, getting stronger, faster, and smarter. The Creature taunts you and laughs in your face, but you keep coming back, harder and more resilient than before.
The only drawback to Creature In The Well is its length. This is an adventure that can be 100% completed inside roughly ten hours. It’s a heck of a ride, but it’s an incredibly quick one. I can easily imagine a follow-up to Creature In The Well, utilizing the pinball mechanic in a zero-gravity arena or in a vehicular perspective. No matter how they do it, there is a fascinating story told here and I hope to see more from the developer team.
Creature In The Well is excellent and everyone should own it. Its impressive visual style, coupled with its innovative gameplay, creates one of the most affecting and memorable indie action-adventure games on the market. It’s a worthy adventure and I encourage you to embark on it.
Creature in the Well was reviewed on the PlayStation 4 in North America thanks to a review key from Popagenda.