The Creature has laid out a dozen traps, all of which can only be deactivated by the glowing ball carefully balanced on the tip of my sword. At a glance, I can tell it’s going to take an impressive display of geometry to bounce the ball into every target before an approaching laser cuts me in half. The Creature threatens that a worthless piece of trash like me has no place in its mountain before it disappears back into the shadows with a haughty growl, convinced that at least one of its pinball death machines will stop me. Unfortunately for me, this time around, it’s right, and the Creature smugly returns to pick my limp body off the floor and throw it out of its well. After muttering a few curses under my breath, I pick myself up, restructure my loadout, and head back into the monster’s home.
In Creature in the Well, you play as BOT-C, a robotic engineer tasked with maintaining a weather machine that’s built into a mountain and designed to dispel the constant sandstorms that blanket the town of Mirage. Angry at the townsfolk for encroaching on its home and “worshiping” a machine for protection against the storms, the Creature that lives in the town well breaks the contraption. You set out to undo the damage only to learn that the Creature has filled the caverns of its home with deadly traps to stop you.
Developer Flight School Studio refers to Creature in the Well as a “pinbrawler,” a term coined by the studio to describe a top-down hack-and-slash dungeon crawler that utilizes pinball-inspired mechanics. It just so happens that the Creature’s traps transform every room in the mountain into a giant pinball machine, allowing you to siphon energy from the bumper-like nodes that power the Creature’s inventions by flipping balls into them. The energy you absorb can be used to unlock doors that lead further into the mountain.
This fairly straightforward concept of hitting balls into bumpers evolves into more difficult puzzles as you delve into the areas beyond the first dungeon. Additional concepts are introduced at a steady pace, building new types of enjoyable challenges on what the game has already established so you’re not blindsided by whatever you’re up against next. Early on, the game only really tasks you with learning how to bank your shot, presenting puzzles where you need to angle the ball off of walls to hit nodes in a certain order. But then Creature in the Well starts adding cannons that shoot at you, lasers that disintegrate you, and other types of threats that need to be deactivated or dodged while you’re also trying to position for your next shot.
Few of the challenges in Creature in the Well are an equal combination of pinball and hack-and-slash. Instead, they fluctuate between the two to curate welcome variety in its dungeon-crawler gameplay. One room may not have a ball for you to use so you’ll need to time your attack and use a shot from an enemy cannon as your ball, for instance, while another may task you with figuring out how it’s possible to hit every node in a room within a specific time limit. Most of these challenges lean into the hack-and-slash inspirations and are more enjoyable as a result–largely because the flurry of frantically dashing between enemy traps as you try to calculate the trajectory of all the balls bouncing around the room produces the same thrill as battling your way through a difficult mob in a typical dungeon crawler.
The pinball-focused rooms are designed to be a test of your intellect, but none of them are overly difficult. As a result, they mostly just stand out in stark contrast to the more plentiful hack-and-slash rooms as the handful of moments in Creature in the Well when the action slows down. They’re still good, but Creature in the Well is just better as a pinball-inspired action game than a geometry-focused puzzle one, as its hack-and-slash mechanics better lend themselves to quickly overcoming obstacles through good reaction and precision instead of repeated trial-and-error. Though Creature in the Well does occasionally repeat puzzles, these duplicates rarely show up and they’re typically only after the game has given you a chance to expand your arsenal or encouraged you to learn a new strategy. Tackling these recurrent puzzles with newfound efficiency each time helps reinforce that you are getting better (plus, it’s really fun).
Creature in the Well doesn’t have much in the way of tutorials, but the game is fairly well-structured and teaches you most of what you need to know without exposition. The game never tells you that each room is optional, for example, but it provides enough opportunities at the start of the first dungeon to earn a surplus of energy so that you can try opening a few doors in the early areas without completing every puzzle. Likewise, almost as if it assumes most players will try, regardless, to complete every room at the start of the game anyway, Creature in the Well hides its first secret area relatively…