Creature in the Well – Playstation 4 Review

A few years back my friend Sam was really into pinball. My twin and I would meet up with Sam at a bar, grab a pitcher of beer and take turns playing the one pinball machine around. I’m very fond of those memories and it even led me to tracking down pinball machines in my own city. I’m terrible at them, but I love the timing, the skill shots, and the fun kind of stress that pinball machines bring. 

So when I saw a trailer for Flight School Studio’s pinball inspired game Creature in the Well, I was definitely intrigued! Pinball video games can be fun under the right circumstances, but getting the feel of an actual machine is hard to digitally translate (unless we are talking about Full Tilt 2). But if the machine itself is hard to translate, perhaps the feel behind playing a pinball game could still make a great video game.  

There’s a lot of action, but it’s easy to track on screen. (Credit: Flight School)

Think about the frenzy caused by a multi ball in pinball. Creature in the Well nails that feeling by having you juggle multiple balls at the same time and striking them toward bumpers to either gain power or turn off hazards. Dropping a ball in pinball is awful, but this game continuously generates new balls for you to hit, either from a spot on the ground or stealing them from corrupted turrets. To me, this game is a great mashup of pinball and Breakout

You play as a BOT-C robot, reawakening inside of a massive sandstorm that has enveloped the world around you. Your goal is to dive into a massive mountain and restore power to the various machines embedded inside, which should clear the storm. Unfortunately for you, the mysterious creature inside the mountain will try and prevent you from accomplishing that task. 

The game’s namesake and villain: Creature in the Well (Credit: Flight School)

Every area of the mountain provides a branching path, letting you explore the different sections searching for secrets. You’ll definitely want to dig around in this mountain because the side paths and secret rooms reveal some great weapon upgrades. While you can find Old Cores to level up your character, the game never actually explains the benefit of doing so. I had to Google the point of leveling up (it allows you to add more charge to balls before striking them), which could have been solved with a quick description in-game. 

Creature in the Well features serene music to accompany its sci-fi theme. This is a nice way to balance the constant swiping as you swing your weapon to charge and all of the pinging of bumpers and balls bouncing everywhere. The graphics are smooth and I love the different colors for every section of the mountain. Unfortunately, I ran into a consistent visual glitch while playing on Playstation 4 which caused a strobing effect on some textures. At first I thought it might have been an artistic choice, it almost looked like a spinning fan overhead, but once I looked at some streams of the game I knew I encountered a bug. I also downloaded the game on Xbox One since it is included with Game Pass and the graphics were great there, no visual bug to be found. 

Dying in this game is a little unfortunate. While you don’t lose any progress, the creature throws you out of the well in town and you have to first run back into the mountain to heal. Then, you have to trek all the way back to where you died through the twisting turns and branching paths just pick up where you left off. I’m not sure why the antagonist of the game is reviving you in the first place, and the backtracking becomes pretty tedious. I also didn’t find the game overly difficult except for one fight in particular. Through the majority of the game I had only died 14 times, but this one battle killed me an additional eight times. 

Each pillar represents a section of the mountain to explore. (Credit: Flight School)

For anyone interested in playing Creature in the Well, I want to give you two tips to make the game much easier on your thumb. First, you can hold the charge button (square) to continuously charge up balls before striking them. I spent the first two hours or so of the game mashing square like I was getting tortured in Metal Gear Solid and my entire hand hurt about 45 minutes in. Second, remap the strike button (triangle). Since you are going to be holding down square to juggle balls, it’s much easier to change up the way you strike the ball by adding a different button. I used L2 and it gave my right thumb a much needed break. 

I finished the game in a little under five hours at 96%, and it took another 30 minutes to hit 100% with the Platinum trophy. I certainly enjoyed Creature in the Well, and for $15, I think the game nails the feel of a pinball table, while providing something fresh. Especially at a time where you can’t go out to a bar and get your pinball fix, Creature in the Well can scratch that itch. 

Note: While Creature in the Well was released in September 2019, it landed on Playstation 4 on March 27th. I was provided a review code of Creature in the Well for Playstation 4.

Bloodroots Review

I play a lot of video games, but when i’m not gaming I do have a day job: I teach public speaking at the collegiate level. One of the types of speeches that I teach is impromptu. Certainly terrifying to those with speech anxiety, impromptu speeches are given with little preparation and rely on a speaker’s instinct and gut reactions. The speech won’t be perfect, but given the circumstances, they are an efficient way of communicating a message. 

The traits of an impromptu speech were stuck in my mind while recently playing through the game Bloodroots. In it you help Mr. Wolf exact his revenge by tearing through stages, picking up anything you can use as a weapon and improvising along the way. The game was designed by Canadian developers Paper Cult, and was released on February 28th for the Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, and the Epic Games Store.  

The world is indeed your weapon in Bloodroots (Credit: Paper Cult Games)

There are obvious comparisons to make between Bloodroots and Hotline Miami. The fast-paced action is very similar, having you carve your way through sections of a level filled with enemies and quickly swapping out weapons as you kill. You can use swords and axes sure, but you can also use ladders, fence posts, and even carrots! Your character dies in one hit, and a quick reload is all that stands in your way before you try again. Perfect the area by defeating all of the enemies and you get to move on.  

Where Bloodroots shines is in the level design, giving players plenty of freedom in how they approach each section of every stage. There are no random weapon drops or enemy spawns, so getting a lay of the land is crucial as you figure out the best way to tackle every challenge. Multiple routes, buildings and cliffs to provide elevation, and an abundance of weapons give the game levels a unique feel which keeps evolving as you play. I normally groan a bit when I see ice used in video games, but I liked the added challenge as I tried to weave my way through the soon-to-be corpses.

The art is stylish and a bit gory (Credit: Paper Cult Games)

While you are running your way through the varied levels, be sure to slow down from time to time to appreciate the clean art style. This definitely isn’t 80’s neon and pixel, but a smooth looking game fit for 2020. The story is fairly straightforward, and pinning your actions on “revenge” helps explain Mr. Wolf’s willingness to slaughter so many people, while not really providing a lot of ground to challenge his motivations beyond calling the main characters “Beasts”. 

Once teaching you the controls, Bloodroots takes off the training wheels pretty quickly. The first few enemies you face are basically punching bags dressed up as humans, but they build up from there. Some enemies take two hits to defeat, which can be tough if you have a weapon that you can only use once or one that’s about to break. Some enemies cannot be killed with a melee weapon, others are immune to ranged damage. Some are gunners, shooting at you from a distance, some use area of effect attacks, or simply spin at you. Tackle each one individually, or cleave through several at a time. But don’t stop moving if there are bad guys near, or else you will die.

Use whatever you find to kill your enemies. (Credit: Paper Cult Games)

For the most part, I felt like Bloodroots’ difficulty curve was pretty accurate to continually challenge me as I progressed through the game. Unfortunately, there were certainly a few frustrating parts that I described to my dog as “bullshitty sections.” I know, not the kindest of terms, but only a small section of the game felt a bit cheap, including a platforming section that I wasn’t prepared for in Act 2. 

At times, there are so many items on the ground that it’s pretty tough to pick up the one you want. Specifically, some ranged weapons require you to reload with ammo like a bow and arrow or nerf gun. For some reason Mr. Wolf prioritized other weapons instead of refilling the ammo and even after dropping an item a ways away, he would snap jump to a weapon I didn’t want. However, pulling off a string of bow and arrow kills, it’s extremely satisfying. Being able to pull the arrows out of the air and seamlessly fire into the next enemy feels great. 

On top of the action, Bloodroots’ Beasts all wear different animal hats, which reminds me a lot of Hotline Miami’s animal masks. You can also unlock new hats as you progress through the game, which give you a slight power boost like a dash punch or starting an area with a gun. However, the hat powers are only available when replaying a previous level, so the game sets itself apart a bit here. 

I didn’t get a lot of “S” rankings, but I’ll take Top 5 in the world for one stage.

Bloodroots’ offers a lot of replayability since you earn points for every stage based on a set of factors including the variety of weapons you used, how mobile you were, and how well you maintained your combo of kills. I don’t think I’ll go back to replay too many of the stages, but it sets up completionists with a tangible target: hitting an S ranking on every stage. There are also collectible hidden wolves to pet and additional animal hats to earn, giving you something more to chase once the story is finished. 

I had a blast with Bloodroots, and if what I have described sounds interesting, it’s absolutely worth the $20. You don’t have to be a good impromptu speaker to excel at Bloodroots, but trusting your instincts will help you improvise your way through a challenging and fun game.  

Note: I was provided a review code of Bloodroots for PC.

Budget Gaming: Guitar Hero Live Bundle for $25

guitar-hero-live

Fans of Guitar Hero and Rock Band can rejoice this week, as Walmart is selling the latest entry in the Guitar Hero series at a nice low price. The Guitar Hero Live bundle comes with the game and guitar and is only $24.96 with an in-store pickup option.

Guitar Hero Live Bundle PS4

Guitar Hero Live Bundle Xbox One

Reviews seem to be generally positive with a Metascore of 80. I love playing the fake guitar in Rock Band, but it’s always hard finding and maintaining the instruments on Xbox 360.  Having a cheap way to get a new guitar and access to new songs on my Playstation 4 was just too good of a deal to pass up.

Becoming a Gungeoneer – Enter the Gungeon Review – PS4

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Fans of both top-down shooters as well as dungeon crawlers can now rejoice, as April 5th brought us the release of a fusion of these two genres: Enter the Gungeon.

Enter the Gungeon is a twin-stick shooter developed by DodgeRoll Games. The developer’s name is a great indicator of what players will be doing a lot of besides shooting: dodging bullets by rolling around. The action and flow of the combat feels fast and fresh, and many of the guns you pick up are a wild mix of deadly, fun, and creative. Fans of games featuring inventive gunplay like Ratchet and Clank will love to test out some of the game’s nearly 180 different guns. Some of my favorites include the hilariously quick T-Shirt Cannon, or the effective Scrambler which shoots out eggs that crack into tiny homing bullets.

The goal is simple: choose 1 of 4 starting characters and begin descending a dungeon filled with enemies, guns, and loot. Each floor has a variety of randomly generated rooms, as well as a boss. Ideally, players need to make it to the bottom of the “Gungeon”, where a gun that can kill the past awaits. When a player dies, they lose all progress, guns, as well as items, and are sent back to the top to start over. There are shortcuts, allowing players to start on deeper floors than the first, but they are difficult to earn.

This game is full of smart development choices. As you enter a new room, the minimap fades from the top right corner to maximize your view of the action. After all of the enemies have been wiped out, the minimap returns to show you where you can head next. Backtracking is also smooth, as every floor has a handful of teleporters to allow you to quickly jump between rooms that you have already cleared.

However, the game lacks clear explanations on exactly what a player should do following the excellent tutorial. Starting the main portion of the game, I knew that I needed to descend to the bottom of the Gungeon. I also knew Enter the Gungeon is a roguelike game before I started. But when you actually launch the game, there is no indication that your progress will reset until you die for the first time. Knowing what items, if any, carried over after death would have been helpful to direct players starting out. If I kill one of the three bosses that I’ve seen at the end of the first floor, will they be dead forever?

In addition, the game is marketed as having the ability to be played cooperatively, but players are not given much information on how that feature is accessed. Having so many unanswered questions, I felt lost in my first few hours of playtime. I was not sure how to progress because the game does not explain a lot of core concepts. As much as loading screen tips could be ignored by gamers, Enter the Gungeon could use these to give players a short roadmap for how portions of the game function.

When it comes to visual design, the retro feel with the graphics is very clean and polished. At times, having a shootout in a library with pages flying everywhere makes it a little difficult to tell where your character is, but it ultimately adds to the frenzied action. The music is far more subtle than one might expect with a game using this graphic design. The soundtrack won’t blow you away like the music for Shovel Knight did, but the music successfully steers clear of becoming monotonous for the procedurally generated maps.

Finally, while I have enjoyed my fair share of roguelike games, Enter the Gungeon seems excessively punishing due to the randomness in which you acquire your guns. For example, Rogue Legacy and Darkest Dungeon are difficult roguelike games, but every failed attempt can potentially give the player incremental progress. In Enter the Gungeon, there were numerous runs that made me feel powerless because I felt like I had wasted my time after I died.

Overall, Enter the Gungeon has a lot of really creative pieces of a game. However, without showing players the overall trajectory for the game, many players could get lost and frustrated in the early hours of a playthrough. With brutal difficulty, many players will enjoy it for a time, only to never finish it.