Creature in the Well Review – Indie Insights

Please see below for a transcript of the review video that’s above:

Pinball with the machine’s dings, clacking sounds and their flashing lights was always a seminal part in holiday trips I used to take when I was younger with my sister and parents.

Aside from a dank, wet and wholly unenjoyable two weeks in the Black Forest, we would typically head over to the August heat of the south of France. Back then in the late 80’s and early 90s, the trip down from Calais or St Malo took a good 7 hours in a car without AC so perhaps you can imagine these journeys were down right tedious hot and sweaty affairs to be endured rather than enjoyed.

By the time we’d reach our destination, usually a dusty campsite close to a small provincial French town or village, we we’re all tired, hungry and grumpy with the family game boy’s battery having gone flat mere hours into the trip.

One of the upsides of all of this travel educed annoyance was the hard as cast iron guarantee the campsite would have a little bar so my parents could enjoy what they call and I still do today, the first drink of the holiday and for me, I just knew there’d be an aging, because they were never new, pinball machine tucked away in a little corner somewhere.  And that was me, pretty much set of the holiday.

When not out and about getting sun burnt or stupidly laughing at the prospect of eating snails, which with a little bit of garlic and butter are quite delicious, I could be found in the bar playing away at whatever table was there. And this was only something I really did on holiday.

As a kid I didn’t go to places or have access to pin ball tables – they just weren’t to be found in British youth clubs or other places I’d socialise with friends so this was always a little treat and honestly something to look forward to.

Fast forward 30 or so years and while I still don’t play pin ball, I don’t think I’ve seen a table anywhere since moving to the Netherlands, I am partial to a video game equivalent. Yoko’s Island Express from last year with it’s metriodvania gameplay mixed with pin balling elements was one of 2018’s hidden gems and in Creature of the Well, we have something with pin balling elements but a whole lot more besides.

It’s really best to think of creature in the well is an isometric mash up mix of a overhead view dungeon crawler with elements of hack and slashers, bullet hell shoot em ups and more than a nod to Metroidvanias for good measure with all of this gelled together with pinballing mechanics and to tell you truthfully, it mix of differing genres really is quite something. But is it special? Well I’ll come on to that in a bit.

Coming from the two person team and Flight School Studio has you play as BOT C, the last of a group of robot engineers as you head deep into a desert mountain to restore the power to an ancient facility in which a huge creature, sometimes half the size of your monitor has taken residence. It’s been a busy not so little monster too having filled the place with all sorts of traps, mines and enemies that are keen to prevent you going about restore power to the facility. You do this by smacking around electrical orbs into objects that need to be hit, often within a specific order.

As you make your way room by room polishing off what are essentially reflex and perception based puzzles, you earn a form of currency or energy which you spend to open doors to widen the playing arena further.  Some of the rooms open secret paths in which you can find new weapons or upgrades for your BOT – C unit.

Now here’s the thing.  I found Creature in the Well to be devilishly difficult and while I’d like to blame much of the lack of skill shown in plenty of the game to having lost a decent amount of motor control in my left thumb earlier in the year, I’m kinda thinking I’d still be a bit rubbish at this even without the thumb issue.

Creature in the Well on a difficulty level perspective is up their with say Celeste, Cup Head and Sekiro. If From Software were ever to put out such a top down dungeon crawler with pin ball mechanics, then this is preciously the type of difficulty we would see in their offering.  Now I like a fair challenge as much as the next man and as I’ve already mentioned the vast majority of my many, many deaths were simply down to a lack of precision and timing although at times it felt I failed as I was unlucky in how the orbs bounced around a particular section.

Some of the boss fights were utterly hideous in their difficulty  although thankfully here you have a quick access back into the fight once you die. In all other cases the creature collects your battered bot and then flings it from the mountain in what is a delicious piece of animation but still, having done so you need to go back into the facility and zip though the all of the rooms you’ve already unlocked which is time consuming, adds little value in the wider sense of things and towards the end game felt somewhat tiresome.

I’m drawn to thinking Creature in the Well is by design a game that relishes in the challenge and yes, there is a huge sense of reward once you see off certain sections and your blood pressure and heart rate can return to something vaguely normal.

To be fair, there’s also plenty of great things going on here, I can’t fault the beautiful art direction, the animations and the soundscape which the background humming, the clanking, the swooshing and of course the sounds associated with the buzzers and other pinballing elements are superb.

I’d have enjoyed myself more if Creature in the Well had used certain accessibility options and I’d be looking at celeste for the types of things that could have been implemented to make it a more open experience for folks like me who lack the skill to finish the game with finesse and style. The ability to lengthen the puzzle timers, to reduce the number of enemy projectiles or have them disappear lets say a shorter period rather than lasting forever would have been welcomed. As would many other little pointers to make the game, well to make it easier to play.

The whole accessibility issue is as we’ve seen of late with discussions on games such as the aforementioned cup head and sekiro is clearly a tough challenge for any game developer.  That said I’m firmly in the camp that adding and making use of Celeste style options does not in anyway compromise the overall artistic vision. If anything such additions allow a wider and greater audience to engage with the vision and in this way, more people can have fun and enjoy playing it.

So any way that’s Creature in the well.  I hope and suspect Creature in the Well will find it’s place and will appeal to those wanting a supremely tough challenge and here, I’m more than happy to recommend such folks to pick it up. However I can’t and clearly haven’t ignored the difficulty which for some will simply be too hard for them to get the most of what it offers.

Creature in the well was reviewed on full launch software on the Xbox One with a copy of the game having been given to me for review purposes.  The game launches September 6thon PC, Switch and Xbox One where it will feature as part of their Gamepass series.

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