There’s been an abundance of indie games with quirky gameplay mechanics over the past few years. The latest, Flight School Studios’ Creature in the Well, has been on my radar ever since I got to try it out in June this year, at the Indie Media Exchange. Its mix of pinball and combat is fairly unique in its delivery, which differently from last year’s Yoku Island Express makes use of some notions straight out of billiards, since you don’t play as the ball per se, but as an analog of the paddle.
In a world taken over by the sands of an ever-growing desert, you wake up as an Engineer, one of the last of your kind of robots designed to maintain a machine built inside a mountain. Unfortunately for the denizens of the village that depend on that piece of technology, it’s long been deactivated, ever since a mysterious monster has taken residence in that mountain. As the lone survivor of your species, you have the means to fix that machine and discover what happened, as you are constantly accosted by the creature at every point during your quest.
The first thing that you’ll probably notice when you start playing Creature in the Well is just how striking it looks. The limited color palette serves to the game’s benefit and really strikes a chord at making every area you explore feel singular, even though their visual design isn’t necessarily varied at all. The flavor of every area you explore manages to be striking thanks to contrasting colors, usually two-toned. The few characters you run across are also simply displayed, but manage to be quite personable.
At the outset, you can only explore a single section of the huge underground structure as the game slowly eases you in how it works. You have two basic attacks you can use: one gathers energy balls from generators you run across, and the other launches them towards wherever you aim them at. You can freely move when you’re not gathering any orbs, but as long as you start drawing them in, you’re locked in place until you launch them, which helps at aiming them, while at the same time leaving you exposed to attacks.
There are a few different threats throughout Creature in the Well, and a lot of them can be dispatched or turned to your side. Orange-colored elements can damage you, while white ones can feed you orbs in order to complete whatever challenge you find yourself in. Turrets can be converted to white by hitting them once, but pylons cannot, and their shockwaves are by far the most dangerous traps in the game. It’s up to you whether or not you want to partake on every combat scenario: all of the sections of the machine are split into rooms that pose a challenge that can give you a certain amount of energy, and that energy powers up the doors that lead you further in.
As long as you have enough power to open doors, you can keep progressing towards the console that powers and reactivates the individual parts of the machine, but not before facing off against the monster, as it grabs the platform you’re standing in, forcing you to climb back up by facing a retread of the mechanics introduced in that particular section of the game. These can be quite tough at spots, with one in particular that feels completely broken and that left me stuck for quite a while. Another sticking point with these confrontations against the titular creature is that a few of them are timed, and get really demanding because of that. Still, it’s kind of cool to be “tested” on established gimmicks like bosses used to do in old school games, for as flawed as some of these fights can be.
Creature in the Well is surprisingly elegant about the way it delivers story. You get bits of it via notes as you get to the aforementioned machine consoles, but it’s through the creature itself that you get most of the exposition in regards as to why everything happened the way it did, as it creeply alludes to the villagers’ wishes and dreams standing in the way of its living about its life inside the mountain. This style of delivery serves as a way to make you somewhat more sympathetic towards the apparent monster that has doomed a number of people that depended on the machine, and it’s really neat getting to peel away the layers of the story thanks to this delivery method.
There are no progression locks throughout Creature in the Well, outside of having enough energy to power your way through its numerous doors. You can pick up a number of different weapon variations along the way, with some of them sporting unique bonuses, like being able to heal you the more you combo off of a power sphere, or having a line pointing where your next shot will land, but none of them are specially required to beat the game, only to make it slightly more manageable. And if you explore the map and go off the beaten path, you can even get to find some hidden cosmetic trinkets for your Engineer.
It’s ironically quite fresh to see an indie game that doesn’t ‘genre-type-that-shall-not-be-named’ that’s been so overused for the past decade, which ultimately makes Creature in the Well more linear. There’s no reason to backtrack to places you visited, unless you left puzzles undone, or want to be a map completionist. The game shouldn’t take you more than six or seven hours to complete.
Even though I ended up not nearly as impressed as I was with it when I initially saw it earlier this year, I can’t say I did not enjoy my time playing Creature in the Well. It’s just that its overall design doesn’t feel as tight as it could’ve been, and the few hurdles that I ended up getting stuck on proved to be a little too annoying for the game’s good. Still, taking into account all the elements that make up Creature in the Well, it’s a flavorful package that’s still worth looking into if not only thanks its cool visuals and story.