Well, Well, Well.
There are many Pinball games on the Switch eShop with wildly different degrees of quality. Then there are games like Yoku’s Island Express, doing an excellent job of integrating pinball into a platformer. Creature of the Well is another game looking to get in on that space, combining dungeon crawling and pinball, or pinball with swords!
An engineer BOT-C awakens to find itself in a sandstorm. In the eye of the storm is a town called Mirage, right near an ominous mountain. The mountain houses machinery that has the power to control the weather and stop the sandstorm, but something is keeping it from being activated. Hidden in the depths is a creature that seems to be responsible for the town’s situation, as well as keeping any engineer bots from repairing the machine. As the only Bot remaining, it’s up to you to fix the machine and confront the ‘creature in the Well’. They aren’t going to make it easy for you as they lurk and threaten. The creature is ominous and threatening even though you don’t see most of it. With giant skeletal hands and eyes looking out of the darkness, it’s very effective.
To save Mirage, BOT-C needs to restore power to the different sections of the machine. Each ‘dungeon’ is visually different and to a degree thematically different. Some dungeons focus more on certain obstacles, culminating in tougher puzzles in the last part of the dungeon as the creature actively tries to stop you. Not only is each dungeon distinct from each other, but the visual style that ties it all together is also really nice too. I’m not sure if I’d call it cel-shading, but the visuals and differently themed dungeons and vivid colours help keep each area interesting.
It’s not exactly pinball, there isn’t any flippers for starters, but your bot carries a weapon to deflect energy balls that work in a similar fashion. Each room requires you to hit the energy balls into bumpers, giving you the power to transfer into the doors. Every room brings you one step closer to a showdown with the creature hidden in the depths. There are two different kinds of weapons to handle the energy, one being a Strike Tool and the other being a Charge Tool. The Strike Tool you start with is just a pipe, these tools are used for hitting the energy. The Charge Tool helps bring the energy balls closer, giving them a charge before you strike them. Using these two types of tools you have all you need for some precision puzzle solving.
There’s also an element of tennis here, as you’re running around to hit the rebounding energy to keep it moving, or catching it to give it another charge. As you play it’s easy to see Pinball elements, but some rooms also feel reminiscent of games like Breakout (one of the influences cited by the team). What is really useful, and very easy to forget, is that if you have enough power stored you can use it to open any of the doors. Which means if you’re getting stuck on any rooms you can always open the door and come back to it later. The map is good at indicating what rooms haven’t been cleared if you want to return to them later. If all of this sounds a bit confusing it makes much more sense when seeing it, or better yet doing it.
The Creature in the Well isn’t an easy-going experience, it’s not something you can button mash and hope you’ll eventually hit the bumpers. Throughout the dungeons are no shortage of obstacles to stop you. It could be the energy launchers that hurt you if you don’t catch the energy they fire out. There are also bumpers on timers, homing projectiles, pillars that send out deadly energy waves, and just some old-fashioned well-placed walls. Clearing the room is a great feeling, once the final bumper is hit.
While I had to redo sections, it wasn’t until the second to last creature encounter that brought the game to a near standstill. Up until then, there were frustrating areas, the worst part being when you’re knocked out you are dumped back into town by the Well. This means you’ve got to run through town, across a bridge, through an entrance, don’t forget to stand in the healing pool, and then traipse back through the dungeon to where you were. About halfway you unlock a shortcut, but I’m unsure why you’re still forced to heal yourself after every attempt. The more upgraded you are the more health and the longer you have to wait there healing. Thankfully, you can make a checkpoint just before the final section of the dungeon so you don’t have to run through the whole thing again.
It’s not that the game is too hard, it’s more than a handful of the challenges are kind of unfair. Rooms that involve the poles that send out energy waves when hit, or bumpers that fire out energy beams. Sometimes there’s not enough time to react or nowhere to retreat to, and there often isn’t a chance to recover and then start the process again. While it does suck these things happen, they don’t ruin the game by any means. It definitely sours the mood.
There are secret paths hidden throughout, no false walls or anything sneaky. When you clear some rooms, it opens up a secret room which leads to new weapons or an extra core for upgrading. When you find a core you can take it back into town for Danielle who appears to be some kind of Crocodile Dragon. This allows you to level up, essentially giving you a health boost. At least that’s what I think is happening, the game isn’t clear. Finding these secret paths are important for your health, but also for the weapons hidden away too. Some are helpful if you’re having trouble aiming your shots, one causes power to chain through nearby bumpers. It’s never a case of a regular upgrade in weapons, each has their pros and cons and you’ll quickly learn which ones work best. In most cases, in the game, the trial and error approach works well, but there is also information that just isn’t shared. Going back to the using old cores to upgrade BOT-C, it’s never explained what it does, is it just health? Are you getting more powerful? The game is never clear.
Creature in the Well is a pleasant change to the usual dungeon crawler formula. While it can be punishing at times, its challenges can be overcome. If you enjoy Pinball, Breakout, Tennis or even games like Windjammers and would like to try a different spin on them, Creature in the Well is for you. There are at least five hours of fun genre mash-up here, that happens to have a really nice art style too. I’d love to see more like this from developer Flight School Studio in the future.
Charlie Day as Luigi is exceptional.
Now that's a patch notes.