- Developer: Flight School Studio
- Publisher: Flight School Studio
- Release date: 06/09/2019
- Price: £13.49 / $14.99
- Review code provided by Flight School Studio
What do you get if you cross a top down hack-and-slash adventure with Pinball, Alleyway and Sensible World of Soccer (hear me out on this one)? The answer, unsurprisingly, is Creature in the Well. This sounds like a bit of a bonkers premise. It even looks a bit crazy when you first see it in action, but it very quickly clicks and you realise Flight School Games were barking up the right tree when they came up with the idea.
The first thing that strikes you when you load up Creature in the Well isn’t the crazy premise, but in fact the art style. The game received a great deal of praise when it was first shown off and was touted as some outlets’ best-looking game of E3. It’s not hard to see why. The game uses a gorgeous painterly art style, similar in some respects to Killer7. I’ve also seen some comparisons made to the Hellboy comics, which I’m not familiar with. When you see this game in motion it really does pop!
Bot’s Goin’ On?
The game starts with your character, a robot known as a BOT-C engineer, coming to life in the middle of a desert while a sandstorm rages. You soon come across an abandoned facility which houses a huge, ominous looking machine. On the outskirts of this facility lies an uninhabited village, or so you think. You explore the facility and the village before discovering that a few of the inhabitants are still alive, working diligently to try to get the facility back up and running. You set to work with the task of helping to get the machine back online, before coming across the titular Creature in the Well. This sinister monster watches you from the darkness as you move through the facility, showing only as a giant pair of eyes peering from the darkness and a pair of bony hands clad in bandages. These gargantuan hands will throw you from the facility upon your death and will occasionally drag you into the depths to challenge you in what are essentially the game’s boss fights.
The game handles like a top down hack-and-slash adventure. Your character has two tools they can use, a strike tool and a charge tool. You work your way through each section of the facility with a view to powering up the associated part of the machine. Each section is essentially its own dungeon, where each room presents a puzzle or a more action-oriented challenge. Every room will contain a spawn point for tiny spheres which you can strike to send pinging around the area or hold with your charge tool to add power and speed before launching them.
Each area contains a number of pinball style bumpers which need to be struck and cleared before you can progress. You earn “power” which equates to points which is then spent unlocking the next room within the dungeon. Each room has a set power level you need to meet before you can enter, meaning you need to get as high a score as possible in each room to ensure your progress. You find gear and log entries throughout the facility which expand your abilities and shed more light on the purpose of the facility and the reason for the town ending up in the state it’s in. I was drawn in and really wanted to know more about the background of the village and the facility, as the lore portrayed the village as a once vibrant town.
I’ve seen a lot of pinball comparisons in previews, but I actually feel the best comparison for Creature in the Well is the old Game Boy classic, Alleyway. The rooms have an array of blocks you need to hit and clear to progress, while you can dart around the room using a sprint or dodge to position yourself to best attack the obstacles. The freedom of movement you have is much closer to Alleyway and games of its ilk than Pinball where you control a very small number of moving elements on a table. The game gradually expands to add in different obstacles such as lasers which can damage you, bumpers which can fire the balls back at you and even mines which explode if the ball hits them. The game eventually becomes a delicate balancing act whereby you try to clear your targets as quickly as possible whilst dodging lasers and ensuring you don’t set off any mines. Your character has a fairly small health bar, so a few hits from the lasers or mines proves fatal. Thankfully death doesn’t have too much impact, as all progress made in a room is saved and you can return to the same point with all your progress intact.
Killing the Fun
Death does show one of the shortcomings in the game’s design. When you die you are dragged away by the giant bony hand of the creature and thrown out of a well on the outskirts of the village. For some reason the developers decided that you would be revived with a tiny sliver of health. It took me some time initially to figure out how to recharge my health, by standing in a pool of rejuvenating fluid at the entrance of the facility. The game doesn’t tell you how to do this, so my first few deaths were followed up by some serious rage as I tried to get back to where I had died, in a one hit kill state. I’m not really sure why the developers didn’t have your health automatically regenerate upon death, as all this mechanic really adds to the game is an extra ten seconds after every death as you run to the health pool to recharge before another run. This would make sense if there was some element of risk versus reward, as in Dark Souls, but instead the feature just seems baffling and slows the game down unnecessarily. You do eventually unlock a shortcut to the pool, but it still takes some time and, again, adds nothing. Once you recharge you then need to run back through the whole dungeon to get to where you were, but all the doors are unlocked so you can run by all the previous obstacles. It seems like this could all be smoothed out by adding in the ability to respawn where you were, as both choices just serve to slow you down.
You progress through the game by clearing a dungeon and then a “boss fight” which involves a more difficult challenge room where the Creature generally makes an appearance. These boss fights are where the difficulty of the game really goes through the roof. Previews described this game as “brutal”, but up until the boss fights I never really understood why this word was banded about. Then I hit the wall!
The boss fights really test your ability to multi task, and this is where my comparison with Sensible World of Soccer comes in. Many of the boss fights include the mines which I previously mentioned, scattered throughout the arenas. The battles can quickly descend into chaos as balls bounce around the arena in every direction. You as a player need to keep track of these and inevitably act as a goalkeeper in ensuring the mines aren’t set off. The game has a nice dash mechanic which you can use to dive in front of any errant balls and catch them using the charge tool. Some of the later bosses really do pile on the difficulty and can turn into a bit of a headache, as the balance of the mechanics tips from challenging to ridiculous. Thankfully the game allows you to access any of the 8 dungeons at any point, so you can still see most of what the game has to offer even in you can’t beat the Creature itself.
Mechanically the game is an absolute dream to play, the pinball style physics are extremely weighty and the animation when you clear some of the rooms is ridiculously satisfying. Upon clearing a room a large circular bumper will appear which is magnetized. This attracts all the balls in the area before they bounce back off it, the magnetism then draws them back in and they fly around bouncing again and again like electrified satellites, getting faster and faster until everything explodes in a shower of sparks. The game holds up perfectly during play and I didn’t encounter any hiccups in handheld or docked even during these flashy sequences.
The game does repeat a few of the simpler room layouts and the dungeons themselves don’t have a great deal of difference between them other than some of the mechanics of the rooms and the colour palette. The moment to moment gameplay is so satisfying that you’ll be compelled to keep going regardless. Likewise, the art style is so gorgeous that you won’t mind that each of the dungeons look so similar. It says a lot that this was shown off at the same E3 as the Link’s Awakening remake and still came away with some pundits’ praise as the best-looking game shown.
Creature in the Well is lot of fun, but is spoiled somewhat by the sudden sky high difficulty spike. Most players should still be able to see most of what the game offers, but actually finishing the game is a gargantuan challenge and I’m not sure I’ll ever see those end credits.
The game manages to gel together some really unique gameplay styles in a way that quickly makes sense. It presents a beautiful looking world which I wanted to know more about, but the difficulty spike really soured me towards the end. For the majority of the game you have far more “power” than you actually need to progress, so you can afford to march right through a dungeon or two without even attempting the challenges contained within should you wish. This would obviously be missing the point, but the option is there if you wanted to. This doesn’t apply to the boss areas, as those need to be beaten before you can count the level as complete.
I would really recommend the game as it is very unique and does looks absolutely stunning. The soundtrack is a combination of a beautiful piano theme outwith the facility and a more synth heavy electronic soundtrack within. The music and art style complement the gameplay perfectly!
• Looks stunning
• Smooth and satisfying gameplay
• A really intriguing story
• Ridiculous difficulty spikes
• Needless backtracking
• Refilling our health after death is unnecessary and time consuming
Despite the near-vertical difficulty spikes, I wholeheartedly recommend Creature In the Well on account of the smooth mechanics and the audio-visual treat it delivers!