I love it when a game comes along and combines genres together, even the ones that don’t necessarily work out perfectly. At the very least they’re interesting experiments trying to offer something different. Something unexpected. First trailers of Creature in the Well hinted at an adventure combining the dungeon-based exploration of a Zelda title with – of all things – pinball. It’s certainly a unique combination to say the least, but is it a winning one?
Engulfed by a terrible ongoing sandstorm the small town of Mirage has been reduced to a desolate ghost town. Bad enough on its own but what makes this worse is the fact a facility and machine that can help deal with such a weather event dwells within the base of a nearby mountain unused. Unfortunately said mountain also happens to house a giant creature thwarting any attempts to use the machine and destroying its BOT-C units that worked to maintain and run it. Enter your character, a stray BOT-C engineer who must now venture through eight dungeons found within the facility, restore their power one by one and help the town of Mirage.
How to go about restoring power involves your engineer venturing through each dungeon’s labyrinth of rooms and besting a boss encounter at the end. While other dungeon crawlers will have you taking down enemies with swords, shields, guns, and magic, interestingly there’s no real “attacking” to be found in Creature in the Well at all. Instead, your focus is on accumulating electricity by striking small orbs at energy-providing bumpers using two types of tool. The first allows you to simply strike the energy orbs and the other charge them up on the spot and fire off in any direction at will. It’s an interesting approach and one that likens the action to that of a pinball table the difference here being you also have to consider the placement of your BOT-C unit as well.
Advancing through each dungeon will require you to use your earned electricity to power up locked doors leading you on to the next room and one step closer to your end goal or toward a hidden collectible. Like a game of pinball, there’s a lot of satisfaction to be had watching a well-fired orb bouncing about a room ricocheting between bumpers and increasing your bank of electricity. In fact, it’s even more satisfying when there are three or more orbs wildly moving at speed.
The complexity of rooms of course increases as you progress, the game injecting new ideas with each visited dungeon. Red beacons will emit a radial attack if hit by an orb damaging your poor robot should he fall within. The introduction of these suddenly has you thinking more about your approach to a room since recklessly swinging away at orbs often results in a quick death. Rooms will eventually task you with hitting multiple bumpers enough before a timer expires and facing off against machines that fire damage inflicting red orbs of energy at you. As a general rule anything red or orange in color can be assumed to be dangerous to you.
The game offers a certain amount of choice in which order to tackle the eight dungeons and each does offer a couple of secrets to be found too. These are often blocked by tough to complete rooms, and reward the player with new skins and striking and charging tools. The tools – of which there is a good selection to try out – offer differing perks and abilities. One charging tool I found particularly useful would show the orb’s trajectory before I hit it making aiming for smaller gaps much easier. It’s fun testing these tools out with some definitely more useful than others.
As much as I enjoyed the premise of the game and its unique gameplay hook I did run into a few troubles in my six or so hour adventure. For starters the game doesn’t do the best job in explaining itself, a chunk of my playthrough spent struggling to clear certain rooms. Was I doing something wrong? Was I just bad at the game? Turned out I needed to upgrade my core at the town’s store, something not made especially clear. Once I’d done this it suddenly clicked and my adventure continued, but really this is the sort of thing avoidable with a little more clarity. The game is tough enough and sometimes frustrating even when you do have a grasp of what to do. Healing is also another action that again wasn’t especially obvious – you have to walk into milky looking pools scattered around the facility.
The game is also prone to repetition from time to time. While each dungeon does introduce you to new challenges, you’ll find yourself passing through rooms that feel very similar (or even identical) in layout to previously visited ones. Unlike a typical dungeon crawler where enemies evolve and change along with your attacks, Creature in the Well’s pinball mechanics feel less obvious in their progression. You’re still essentially swinging away at balls of energy trying to hit every white bumper in the room. Even the game’s boss battles follow the same disappointingly predictable formula for every dungeon.
Visually Creature in the Well is striking, it’s almost cel-shaded art style punctuated with thick lines and a surprisingly varied color-palette. The dungeons might not differ too much in terms of detail and character but the switch in coloring certainly helps give each its own vibe and feel.
Creature in the Well is a strange invention but one that ends up being much more than just a curious mixup of genres. It’s a mysterious journey through a weirdly beautiful mechanical world, the pinball-esque hook constantly driving you forward as you explore deeper. It’s an enjoyable venture sprinkled with moments of frustration, confusion, and repetition but that doesn’t stop it being any less engaging and a true one of a kind experience for Switch.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Flight School Studio