Back in March of this year when Creature in the Well was announced it certainly enticed eyes to watch out for it. Developed by Adam Volker & Bohdon Sayre from Flight School Studio, the game is touted as a pinball-inspired hack & slash dungeon crawler. If a bit of uncertainty lingered in as to not knowing exactly how it controlled or what the gameplay was like, it’s understandable. How would one know if it’s true to the “hacking” and “slashing” where actions would not require much thought and pinballs just fly towards targets at random? There are some instances where that might get you by, slowly and inefficiently, but Creature in the Well is a game that once it’s in your hands you’ll know just how much control you actually have. Reflexes, aiming, movement and pure skill all come into play here. Throughout the 8 of its dungeons, players a put up against challenges that more often than not fight back, and it rewards players seeking them out. This game is fresh fun.
The game takes place in the city of Mirage. Glooming the entire city has been a devastating sandstorm that’s removed its inhabitants entirely and forced the rest of them to remain indoors. You play as an engineer and the last remaining BOT-C unit who picks up some basic gear and ventures into the mountains to restore power to ancient facilities in order to stop the madness, only to come into contact with the Creature who wishes to stop you along the way. What are its motives?
At its core, Creature in the Well is a pure dungeon crawler with 8 hand-crafted temples to go through. They contain rooms to challenge you, secrets to find, and boss fights. It just so happens that every boss fight is the Creature itself resulting in new and challenging methods of your disposal. Your goal is to restore power to each of the temples in order to complete the plans of a much larger project for survival. Temples unlock in a specific order and based on how many are completed, but the couple or few that become available as you progress allow for you to tackle which of them you like. They can be accessed and exited at any time. Minus the overworld, Creature in the Well feels a lot like the original The Legend of Zelda in ways. Dungeons are themed to different colors, have a layout where rooms can be ignored entirely, and end up in a challenging boss arena. Similarly, there’s plenty of secret rooms to unlock which reward the player for seeking them out.
There’s not many inputs to focus on in Creature in the Well. Aside from movement, it comes down to two essential combat maneuvers and a dash. There is not brief period of invulnerability during a dash so it’s mainly used as a way to move around quicker. Pressing it once will dash, but holding it down will allow your to sprint. Dashing through any hazards will still damage you. The layer of control comes down to the two combat inputs, and both involve different tools in your inventory. Strike Tools are weapons that hit the balls away from you and causing a set amount of damage to anything it hits. Charge Tools allow the player to keep the balls in place which can then be struck in any direction. This gives the player the collect themselves and plan their next move as opposed to wildly swinging at balls. Interestingly, the game does feel like a baseball action game. In fact, one such Strike Tool is a baseball bat. Charging balls serves another purpose other than preparing your next strike. They also power up the attack depending on how much your charge them in place. Finding “Cores” in dungeons will allow you to upgrade them at Danielle’s shop and make you more powerful, thus charging balls to a greater degree of attack power.
What’s interesting is your method of fighting back in any way is revolved around the pinball mechanic. The tools you wield cause no damage on their own as swinging them towards any hostile object does nothing, but the effect it has on energy balls and where those balls are being direct at will literally clear out a room. In many instances, some rooms challenge you in specific ways that if successfully completed will unlock a secret path to other areas. These generally reward the player for unique equipment and/or core upgrades. There’s even Capes to find to change your visual flare.
Strike Tools and Charge Tools are worth seeking out as they change how you play the game. I mentioned the baseball bat earlier. Though it’s one of the simpler Strike Tools that’s easier to find, one of its functions is that it allows the player to hold the attack in a position for a second before striking, much like taking a swing at a baseball. Strike Tools and Charge Tools can aid your adventure in meaningful ways. One Charge Tool allows you to recover your energy (health) back when receiving balls with energy from an outside source. Another will remove the knockback that takes place when you catch a ball. One Strike Tool allows you to slow down time for a brief moment so you can strike more efficiently at targets. One splits balls into multiple fragments, another causes an electric chain reaction. Mixing and matching both tools changes the way you attempt your playthrough and are worth finding. The challenges in unveiling the areas to these unique tools are often centered around the ability of the tools that would have made them easier. So completing its challenge rewards the player with a tool designed around its own mechanic.
There’s quite an atmosphere in Creature in the Well and is recommended with a nice pair of earbuds or headphones. The temples feel similar in aesthetics, but with a different color palette. There’s still eerie vibes through all of it, however. What sets them apart are the set of puzzles that come within the rooms. Many rely on pure reflexes. Some bumpers need to be hit in a specific order as they appear and at times they come with a timer before retracting back into the floor. Some turrets shoot energized balls that can harm you, unless they’ve been hit back. These balls in turn are used for the room’s puzzles as well. Some hazards need to be dodged. There are power conduits, for example, which cause an area of effect damage when struck so they need to be avoided all while you have to attack other objects. Slingshots and bumpers require a certain amount of damage done unto them before they’ve been taken down. Repeated attacks and well-timed charge shots will do the trick. What feels like Araknoid or Peggle, taking down all the objects with its sound effects to boot, creates such as satisfaction that at times can feel compulsive to repeat the process even if it’s unnecessary.
There’s a mini-map displayed on the screen so players can see where they are in dungeons. Players may also bring up a larger, whole map of the dungeons while in the pause screen. It’s noted how many of the rooms areas are completed so players can go back to clear them if they haven’t. It’s easy to skip a lot of them, too. Many rooms can be bypassed by opening its door and not completing the room. Each door requires a certain amount of energy to be opened and once opened it is unlocked permanently. Energy is a form of currency really. Energy is gained by absorbing the power from the obstacles and puzzles in your way. You can gain incremental power by taking down each unit in your way, but clearing out a room’s puzzle will grant you the final bumpers that contain larger power reserves and net you the amount you would naturally desire.
Players can regain their ‘health’ by standing in these pools of energy found within dungeons. Taking enough damage that would shut you down will result in the Creature grabbing you and placing you outside of a well and completely out of the dungeon. There are checkpoints within dungeons. Specifically one before the boss room where players can spend energy to unlock a portal to it in the temple’s entrance. There’s not much context to why things are the way they are when it comes to the story, but there’s enough there to gain some interest. Roger T. Frog is a one of the bots you’ll encounter at your main base and who has logs found throughout dungeons to get more of a backstory. While those were nice to read, I didn’t find much of a payoff when it came to the end. I did, however, find a huge payoff in the gameplay as it remained fun and challenging the entire way through. There’s stats to check and a completion percentage to go for. The game runs smooth in handheld as it does docked.