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.
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.
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.
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.