A dungeon-crawling pinball hack-and-slasher. That is what Creature in the Well describes itself as. Now, I can see dungeon-crawler and hack-and-slasher going together, but pinball? Well, Creature in the Well shows that that can actually be pretty fun.
Unique stylized aesthetic. Yet again we have another indie game with another cool art style. However, this time, it’s actually not pixel art, it’s something a bit more “clean” for lack of a better word. It’s a stylized art style that makes heavy use of color, with a blacked-out background to provide emphasis towards the game’s environments. These environments are color-coded dependent on what level you are currently in, so they’re easy to tell apart on top of already looking pretty good.
Not only that, but this art style looks really good in motion courtesy of the game’s great camerawork. The camera is constantly rotating and following the player around in an attempt to highlight what needs to be seen in each individual room, all while remaining as smooth as possible. It does have a few issues (which I’ll discuss later), but for the most part, the camera and art style provide for a pretty visually-striking experience.
Interesting gameplay mechanics. While the aesthetic may be the reason why I was first interested in the game, the unique gameplay is where Creature in the Well really shines. This is because the game attempts to combine two very different genres: dungeon crawling and pinball. Much like last year’s Yoku’s Island Express, it somehow manages to take these two and provide a very unique gameplay experience with them. Instead of flippers, you’re given two weapons, one that charges balls and one that actually launches them.
By charging, I mean electrically, as one of the key components to the game is solving puzzles and such using these electrically charged pinballs. There’s areas that have you use these pinballs to open doors, destroy lasers, earn electricity to upgrade yourself, and yes, even kill bosses. In fact, the boss fights really bring together all of these mechanics, testing your speed, aim, and game knowledge all at once.
And speaking of game knowledge, Creature in the Well is a game that really doesn’t have a tutorial, so you’ll be doing a lot of the learning yourself. However, the early game is set up in such a way as to not overload you and slowly introduces you to the various gameplay mechanics, giving you plenty of time to get used to each one. It’s a much better approach than the popup tutorials we see in most game if anything.
Cool weapon upgrades. To go along with the interesting gameplay mechanics are a variety of cool weapons to take advantage of them. You have weapons that cause chain lightning on impact, split balls into additional orbs, make you immune to flinching, and even provide a line to see where your shot will land. All of these can be found by exploring the game’s dungeons, usually tucked away somewhere behind a hidden passage.
They all provide some pretty neat effects and can be swapped out at any time. I found that some were more useful than others in certain situations, so I was swapping them out as needed. It was great to have this choice and was always fun to stumble upon a new weapon.
Overly repetitive level design. For a game that barely lasts three hours, Creature in the Well has some rather repetitive level design. It doesn’t even take an hour before you start noticing the same room layouts, same puzzle setups, and even the same sequence of rooms across multiple dungeons. It felt like I was running into the same type of room every ten minutes or so, it definitely grew old quick.
What makes it worse is that this is a game that encourages exploration for new weapons and such, so having this lack of variety really kills a lot of the excitement there. There are some dungeons where this is a bit better, but for the most part, the game is sorely lacking in level variety.
Fluctuating difficulty. While the level design may be similar between dungeons, the difficulty oftentimes is the exact opposite. I found that the early game was incredibly easy, but after the first few dungeons, the difficulty spiked up for a bit before dropping again. Then the difficulty spiked again during the endgame, it was really all over the place.
This was really noticeable in the boss fights, where I was able to steamroll the first couple, then get stuck for a bit, then steamroll again, then get stuck, and repeat until the final boss where I was stuck for significantly longer due to its much higher difficulty. Normally, I would expect a game to get progressively more difficult over the course of its runtime, but Creature in the Well never really got that memo. Some may not even have a problem with this, but I felt that it made the experience feel a bit disjointed.
Some technical issues. Unfortunately, Creature in the Well also suffers from a variety of technical issues. Some more severe than others, but all of which could definitely use some patching. One such issue is with the game’s movement. I would oftentimes find myself getting stuck moving against an invisible wall in areas where such a wall should not be present. This is easily demonstrated with the bridge outside of the main temple, where I ran into this problem multiple times.
A more major issue I ran into was the game getting stuck on an infinite loading screen. The next area had loaded and I could hear myself moving around and attacking, but I could not actually see what I was doing because a loading screen was slapped over it. Aside from that, I did run into some areas where the camera wasn’t totally reliable (usually hiding me behind some object), but these instances were quickly fixed by moving around a bit, so nothing too major. Regardless, these are all technical issues that need to be patched, especially the loading screen one that required me to quit the game to fix.
Creature in the Well is a pretty decent indie game, full of interesting gameplay mechanics, cool weapon upgrades, and some good art. However, it doesn’t take long before you start noticing the repetitive nature of its level design, which combined with the oddly fluctuating difficulty, really brings down the experience at times. Of course, there’s also the technical issues, but at least those can be patched. Regardless, although it may not be the best in the genre, it is a fun experience for the short three hours that it lasts and one that I would recommend, especially for those into these types of indie games.
You can buy Creature in the Well on Steam here.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.