A robot walks through a sandstorm and climbs into a long-abandoned mountain in order to awaken the magical power locked inside and save a sleepy town entombed by the swirling sands and a dark creature who taunts you from the depths of the darkness. This is our review for Creature in the Well on Nintendo Switch.
While Creature in the Dark’s creators tout this game as a “top-down, pinball-inspired, hack-and-slash dungeon crawler”, it’s very little of any one real thing. The only thing this game has in common with pinball is the idea of bouncing a ball off of bumpers. If anything, this game is Breakout (or maybe Arkanoid if you’re a little bit younger), where instead of having a moving platform to rebound your ball on, you have a fully functional character who can instead hit the balls to propel them in the direction of whatever obstacle you aim at.
This player character is named BOT-C, which is a terribly forgettable name, and his objective is to somehow restore the defenses inside this mountain which will, in turn, remove the sandstorm that’s surrounding the sleepy village of Mirage. I got this info directly from the press sheet because aside from someone referring to the bot by name (which I didn’t even realize was its name) there’s basically no mention of anything that’s actually going on. There’s a story, but it’s painfully thin and horribly thrown together for the sake of simply saying that the game includes a narrative instead of just selling the gorgeous art style or the clever glitch-inspired soundtrack.
The first thing I noticed about Creature in the Well was the art style. It’s got a similar feel to games like Journey before it, but it’s aesthetically pleasing and nice to look at. The colors are just enough to feel good and not washed out or too busy to distract from the gameplay, which is good since the pinballs are mainly either white, blue, or orange. One thing you’ll notice is that often the game will give you hints on each room in the form of lines or boxes which you’ll want to stand in to make sure the trajectory of the balls is sure to hit every target before time elapses. While I can appreciate a clever subtle hint, I don’t find myself all that interested when the puzzles are essentially a whole lot of the same thing over and over, but with more of a new mechanic added on top of what you’ve already learned.
What I mean by this is that you’re first introduced to something like an orange turret, and you bounce a ball off the turret to stop it from being able to imbue the balls with the evil orange power. Once you’ve got that down, some bumpers start to shoot floor covering laser beams that you’ll need to dodge. Then comes the annoying pillars that shoot out a white ring that explodes everything within its radius if not dodged within a very short window. As you’re introduced to something new, you’re continually given more and more of what you’ve seen – and while I can appreciate their attempt at turning Breakout into a bullet hell dodge and shooter, the mechanics struggle to keep up with the gameplay.
Speaking of the gameplay, on the surface, it’s pretty solid. You use a charging weapon to pull balls in close for shots, imbue them, or use whatever gimmick the weapon has, and then you strike them to send them flying. Each weapon, both striking and charging, can have their own gimmick, and this creates new combinations in order to make certain elements you might struggle with easier. For example, you could use a sword that imbues with lightning as a charging weapon, while using a giant hammer that slows downtime if you hold the button before you strike, allowing you to line a shot up a little more easily. These are great ideas as core mechanics, but being tied to a weapon that really serves no purpose other than to be hidden items is a pretty big misstep.
While hiding capes and power cores completely make sense, because the power cores upgrade how much “damage” you do with each ball, the capes don’t really seem to do anything other than offer a color piece of cloth to cover your back. What would make this game far more interesting would be if the power cores allow you to buy different powers with the energy you earn and each core would allow you to add an ability to each one, you’d have an easier time feeling like you’re progressing by farming rooms you’ve already cleared for energy, while exploring and looking for side rooms in order to unlock new cosmetics. I found the gimmicks tied to the weapons to be helpful but ultimately felt that they serve little purpose except trying to extend the playtime of an already short game if you’re alright at lining up your shots.
I personally haven’t enjoyed my time with Creature in the Well as much as I would have liked to, and that’s okay – because some people are going to love the marriage of dungeon crawling and high action rebounding – but I found it far more frustrating than intriguing. Why bother adding a dash button if you can hold it permanently to run faster? Why do you have to have dual swords to use an actual line type aim instead of that goofy little triangle? Who thought it was a good idea to put charge and default right next to each other in the controls, so you’d often hit the wrong button unless you’re someone who plays with your thumb on both? I have to be honest – some of these design choices just don’t make a lot of sense.
Plays like: Breakout/Arkanoid, but with a robot wildly swinging around with weapons that don’t do any damage since only the balls seem to matter.
A Nintendo Switch code was provided for the purpose of review.