I think there’s often a misconception about what makes a game entertaining. It often feels like we spend ages talking about nothing besides combat as the core system that drives most games forward; Sure, there’s story and visuals, compelling level design and player progression, but more often than not those are spoken about in tangent to the combat system seen in so many games.
It’s become more and more infrequent as the industry has slowly become more dominated by corporations looking to make exorbitant amounts of money, but a compelling combat system is so frequently hailed as one of the main selling points of games these days. There are plenty of genres that don’t require combat to be praised for their intuitive design, but let’s be real, do those ever get the same amount of universal adoration? It’s with this in mind that I’d like you to approach Creature in the Well, because despite the game having the aesthetic and genre of something especially combat-heavy, you don’t kill a single enemy and it’s one of the freshest most interesting breaths of air I’ve taken all year.
Creature in the Well is pinball dungeon crawler. Please, hold your questions, I’ll cover them in due time. You play as an engineering robot required to restart a weather machine that can remove the constantly swirling dust storm that’s entrapped the local town. Only problem, the machine is inhabited by a monstrous creature that wants nothing more to stand in your way. So you should fight it, right? Nope, that’s not your protocol. You’re an engineer droid, you wouldn’t know how to take down a shadowy monster by yourself, so you do what you were designed to do. Start the machine back up whether it likes it or not.
To do that you’ll need to restore power to the various segments of the laboratory, taking charged balls of energy and launching them around the various rooms with some specialised equipment. Precision is key as orbs will often need to be bounced off specific points to chain together a series of buttons and devices to unlock the next room. That’s how to explore this dungeon, not slaughtering enemies and picking up loot, buy restoring a great invention to how it should have been before it was destroyed. When I say there’s no combat, I’m lying a little because the Creature does challenge you throughout the various levels of the dungeon, but you never actually hit it. Instead, it throws you into a broken, dangerously dilapidated part of the machine, ramping up the intensity of the puzzles with traps that require precise movement as accuracy to both avoid and reactivate the system. Yet despite the lack of actual fighting, it might just be the most empowered I’ve felt all year.
There’s a quiet skill to Creature in the Well. It doesn’t boast about how challenging it is or about you need to upgrade your bot to progress further. In fact, there’re hardly any upgrades at all, something I initially took fault with but I’ve decided is clearly by design. Rather than giving you better equipment to progress through the different floors, it’s up to you to figure out to best solve every puzzle and not rely on the fact that you can just grind up enough Energy to spend on a new weapon. Equipment can be found throughout the dungeons in secret rooms, but none of these make your play better, just…different. It’s a dungeon crawler where the grind isn’t towards some fancy new piece of armour to make you last longer, it’s towards learning the requirements of the puzzles thrown at you. It’s entirely possible to finish Creature in the Well without dying once, something almost unheard of in traditional dungeon crawlers, but is so happily replaced by the feeling of overcoming through learning and patience rather than brute force.
Despite the preview’s admittedly brief run time, I’m glad the experience it provided was distilled and specific. There’re only so many ways you can make pinball-esque mechanics interesting and Creature in the Well doesn’t outstay it’s welcome but expands on the ideas just enough to keep the gameplay fresh and exciting throughout. The game is dripping with style, the isometric cell-shaded graphics are beautifully unique, showing off the scale of the creature and machine to great effect while always keeping all the important areas bright and infused with unique colours. For a game set in a desert and abandoned laboratory, it’s a wonder that the colours used to express the different themes found throughout the levels pop so vibrantly.
I’m a sucker for experimental games and Creature in the Well just ticks that box so perfectly for me. It’s a bold idea, stripping away combat from a genre that’s so often soaked in the blood of hundreds of slain enemies and instead replacing it with a unique mechanic that challenges players of precision and positioning above all else. While there are some mechanics that don’t take advantage of the game’s unique gameplay enough, the vast majority of Creature in the Well is a unique puzzle-dungeon crawler with a truly beautiful art style that deserves your attention.
Creature in the Well is a brief but exciting mix of exploration and pinball that manages to create a compelling gameplay loop with accessible yet increasingly challenging puzzles while being perhaps one of the most stylish games of the year. It’s coming to PC, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch on September 6.
Last Updated: August 20, 2019