Previewed on PC
Creating a fusion between game mechanics is never easy work, even when you are working with two proven and versatile mechanics, it can result in disaster, just like in cooking. Sometimes merging two established concepts can result in something brilliant like the charming rhythm-based roguelike of Crypt of the NecroDancer, or a delicious pineapple pizza. Equally possible is something disastrous which fails at being both things at once, like the tonally confused Hitman Absolution or the horrors of a pineapple pizza.
While pinball seems to be an endlessly versatile medium, with there being cabinets for every event and occasion, you wouldn’t think that it would work seamlessly as a hack and slash. Usually if you try beating your way to success on a pinball machine, you’ll find yourself being thrown out of the arcade rather quickly. Creature in the Well, however, proves that a pinball hack and slash is not only possible but its brilliant, when you’re playing as the paddle.
As the paddle, its your job to hit things, and while you’re free to swing your bat at anything, specifically you’ll be hitting glowing balls of energy into bumpers and buttons to charge them. To maximise your paddle potential, you can use two different tools to help with charging. The first is a striking tool that lets you hit or redirect balls in any direction, while the other is a charge tool that increases the power of balls to fire off as accurate energy shots.
With the power to hit things, it’s up to you to turn back on the machine in the mountain, resurrecting its dormant systems as you progress through a dungeon crawl of devious rooms while fending off against the titular creature in the well. As in pinball, to succeed you’ll need to be strategic with how you hit your shots. The strategy you’ll need changes with each section of the machine, as each distinct dungeon has its own theme and mechanics on offer.
At first, you’ll just need to simply hit balls accumulate power, however as you progress different areas will need you to be accurate, time your shots precisely, or avoid hitting specific bumpers entirely. Because the dungeons focus on different mechanics individually -at first- no part overstays it’s welcome, even when being brought back later with more complexity. Every dungeon you enter feels like its own idea to be fully explored, with specific tools inside to help, and challenging rooms to unlock secrets or collectables, each one feeling distinct and like its own specifically designed level.
Each of the skills you learn as you progress are not just applicable to the specific dungeon thankfully, so no matter the order you approach the dungeons in, you won’t feel like the last dungeon was a waste. Instead you’ll always be using your skills and knowledge that you’ve gained in how to play, to tackle the harder sections of the game as the difficultly curves up and returning mechanics get brought back in with more complexity.
Across all the dungeons that Creature in the Well has to offer, it remains a joy to play, thanks to its fluidity, and tight movement that allows you to play precisely as demanded by the game’s challenges. The successful merging between two established genres continues to prove interesting as you learn the intricacies of the mechanics and interactions on offer, without anything growing dull over the game’s short playtime.
While physically Creature in the Well feels great, it’s the sound the sells every action that makes the overall experience feel fantastic. Every tool has their own specific sound that feels perfect for them based off their design and animations. Heavy striking tools sound sublime when they thwack off a volley of balls across a room after a long slow swing. The charge tools swish and dance through the air when you use them, although each one has their own cadence that’s informed by how they look and their animations, them making them feel real. There’s also a cooking pan as a striker and it sounds absolutely pantastic.
On top of sounding incredible, Creature in the Well also looks it. Each dungeon has its own colour pallet that pops against the greys and blacks of the mountain machinery, giving every level its own unique feel to go along with the change of mechanics. The aesthetic itself of the natural mountain being twisted through by this great machine is wonderful and strengthened by the brilliant bold use of colour that gives the world it’s life and depth.
While it looks great enough in stills, its on another level when in motion, thanks to the fantastic camera work which sells the scope of the world. Every move feels cinematic and dynamic as it frames the next moment of the game like a scene to unfold. As with any fixed camera it can suffer from the occasional wonkiness as you figure out level geometry, but it’s a small price to pay for movie grade camera work which makes the mountain and the machine inside feel truly massive.
Creature in the Well doesn’t do a lot beyond its premise fusing pinball mechanics with hack and slash design, but what it does do it does outstandingly. It’s far from a long game, taking only 3 hours to near 100% it, however, it never gets old during its stay as it maintains its focus. Its uniqueness likely won’t be for everyone, but if you’re even slightly interested then its worth your time as Creature in the Well is fantastic.