Creature in the Well Review – Pinball with a Plot

    Title: Creature in the Well
    Developer: Flight School Studio
    Release Date: March 27, 2020
    Reviewed On: PS4
    Publisher: Flight School Studio
    Genre: Pinball/Dungeon Crawler

When one thinks of pinball, innovation probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.  While we have seen some unique pinball inspired experiences over the years, not much has changed within the genre. Well, not until the developer Flight School Studio had the idea to merge pinball elements with the dungeon crawler genre, which birthed Creature in the Well. However, like an actual pinball machine, there’s still some repetition here.

Creature in the Well’s story can be challenging to piece together. Following a short cutscene with two voiceless texts talking about how there is nothing outside of “the storm,” a robot wakes up in the desert. This robot is an “engineer,” one of a long-dead group that used to take care of a machine nestled inside a mountain. Through events that are not initially explained, all of the engineers disappeared, and a strange creature took over the machine, plunging the world into a never-ending sandstorm. You, as the last surviving engineer, must restart the machine to rid the world of the sandstorm and the Creature.

Not much of this plot is divulged to players directly. Outside of the initial cutscene, everything else is entirely missable or can be skipped. Like many traditional pinball games, this is most enjoyable when played in small doses. Pretty much every time I picked it up, I wasn’t in the mood for a massive story; I just wanted some pinball action. So while the lore that the game gives players is well written, and many might find it interesting, I was glad I could overlook it without missing much.

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Creature in the Well’s world is overflowing with atmosphere. Everything about it feels unsettling. This is most true in the soundtrack. Whether you are merely walking through the peaceful (yet strangely empty) town or fighting the Creature during a stressful boss fight, the music makes everything feel just a little off.

The art design even furthers the atmosphere. The cell-shaded art style works incredibly well, leading to some beautiful scenery. What little characters there are here are also well designed and memorable, the “creature” in particular. You never get a full look at it; all you see are its eyes and arms. As it sits in the shadows, it taunts you, staring into your soul and occasionally attacking you. Sometimes, less is more with horror, as our imaginations are usually far worse than anything that we could actually see. This rings true for the Creature as its mystery was intimidating.

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Seeing as how Creature in the Well is, at its roots, a pinball game, most will be playing for the gameplay. Luckily, it plays amazingly, putting a whole new spin on pinball. The game is divided into multiple levels, each made up of several rooms you need to clear. To progress from room to room, players must build up enough energy to open each door. However, I should add that after a few rooms, the game does feel a bit repetitive in nature.

Most of the game is completed by, well, playing pinball. Each room is made up of different styles of bumpers that can be hit multiple times before disappearing. Doing this builds up differing amounts of energy. While initially you’ll simply be required to clear each room of all of its bumpers, things begin to ramp up and become more challenging as you progress.

Throughout the levels, you’ll be faced with bumpers that shoot laser walls, charged balls, and drones that can destroy the engineer if he takes too much damage. The only way to stop these obstacles is by clearing them like you would any other bumper. Some of the later levels can be incredibly challenging, with countless obstacles being thrown your way. The last few boss fights, in particular, took me a number of tries to finish.

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The most efficient way to build up energy is to charge your balls by hitting them multiple times and then shooting them out at bumpers. Though you start out with “charge tools” and “strike tools,” you can unlock more complex skills by clearing specific rooms at each level. Taking the time to unlock these extra tools (as well as upgrading your engineer’s “core”) makes levels easier to finish and add a little spice into the gameplay loop.

Creature in the Well is a relatively short game, especially if you don’t get stuck on any levels. It should only take around five hours to not only 100% but also get all of the trophies/achievements (as evidenced by the high percentage of people that have the platinum trophy). The game is only $15 and, though it isn’t the most difficult thing I’ve played this year, I really enjoyed being able to completely finish it in a short amount of time and move on to the next experience.

That being said, Creature in the Well doesn’t really have that much replay value. Chances are you’ll do pretty much everything just trying to beat the main quest. Sure, you might still have a few rooms to complete, items to collect, or trophies to get, but these tasks probably won’t take you more than an hour to do.

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Creature in the Well is a fun way to revisit pinball with a dungeon-crawling twist, but after completion, there’s very little reason to return to it. Furthermore, the gameplay loop of clearing levels is enjoyable in short bursts, but marathoning through it takes a toll on its atmosphere. Sure, I could have used additional modes, but what I got was a unique experience that other Pinball games just can’t provide.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Jake Yoder

Lover of all things gaming, anime, film and theatre. Shonen anime/manga enthusiast.