By Isaac Espinosa
A lone robot awakens in a massive sandstorm, and it becomes your duty to bring the machine in the mountain back to life, and bring light back to the lonely town of Mirage. “Creature in The Well” is a hack-and-slash, pinball-inspired dungeon crawler developed and published by Flight School Studios and playable on my Switch (and other formats). So with introductions complete, let’s venture into the mountain, and uncover the secrets of “Creature in The Well.”
As your adventure begins, you wake as a BOT-C engineer. These are special robots who construct and monitor a machine capable of terminating the constant sandstorm surrounding Mirage. However, a dark creature lurking in the well of the town breaks the machine to prevent the sandstorm from being destroyed. Since you’re the last BOT-C engineer still operating, it’s your job to venture deep into the mountain where the contraption lies and restore it back to full power. All the while, the creature that haunts the mountain watches from the shadows and sets deadly traps to ensure that the machine is never turned back on.
“Creature in The Well” is unlike any other dungeon crawler. By combining hack-and-slash mechanics with pinball, the game creates many different puzzles in an unusual but very effective combination. For example, in some rooms, you slash a ball toward different nodes in order to bring power back to said room. Other rooms require you to reflect back electric balls toward enemy cannons which, when turned off, will activate the actual puzzle. And although most rooms do not combine these different elements of puzzle solving, the rooms switch between these designs in a way that allows for a good amount of variety in the puzzles that you come across.
One of my favorite things about “Creature in The Well” is the emotion it inspires within me. Stepping into the mountain and seeing the eyes of the creature looming in the darkness creates tension that you’d usually only experience watching your favorite horror movie. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, but not one that turns me off from the game. Rather, it makes me want to conquer this creature, and it makes me even more triumphant as I reactivate more parts of the machine. On the other hand, I feel like an insect when the creature throws me out of its well whenever I lose. This emotional involvement in “Creature in The Well” is what makes it so addictive. And the music, even though it has few notable tracks, definitely places me inside this environment and makes me feel isolated from the world around me.
The game also has its problems, like the difficulty curve. As you make your way toward reactivating the entire machine, the puzzles get more and more intense. Some of these new puzzles are simply very difficult (or even unnecessary, unless 100% completion is your goal), but others feel completely unfair. For example, some enemy nodes and cannons create special hazards that home in on your character. They can only be destroyed by slashing your ball towards them. When first introduced, these hazards are relatively harmless, since they’re not spawned at a frequent rate. However, in the later parts of the game, and even during the boss segments in which the creature will try to take you out personally, these hazards spawn practically all over the screen. This can be daunting to players who haven’t gotten used to the controls.
Despite this, “Creature in The Well” is a truly addictive and compelling game that combines atmospheric tension, innovative pinball and hack-and-slash puzzle solving. And even though the difficulty curves may prove to be too much for some to overcome, it’s definitely worth the effort in the end.
Isaac Espinosa is a New York Videogame Critics Circle intern. He’s the founder of the Lehman College Videogame Critics Circle.