Just when you thought the Umbrella Corporation was the stupidest company around, along comes Creature in the Well.
That’s not a slight on Creature’s creators, rather the in-game idiots who designed the massive subterranean machine you’re charged with reactivating. Sure, Resident Evil might have had you crafting keys in various weird and wonderful shapes, but Creature in the Well’s machine is built around the principles of pinball. Forget about flipping a switch; here you’re bouncing a glowing ball of plasma off conveniently bumper-shaped components. As you do.
There is a nobler goal behind these ball-whacking shenanigans. Creature in the Well’s world, beautifully cel-shaded as it is, is dying and unless your robotic avatar can reactivate the machine, Health and Safety inspections will be the least of anyone’s worries. Cue several eye-friendly levels of pinball action (and a heaping helping of lore) as you descend deeper into the machine.
Creature in the Well is, more often than not, a lot of fun. The game’s store page describes it as part hack-and-slash, part pinball game and while there are dungeoneering elements here, you won’t be poking anyone in the eye with an overly-elaborate sword. You can swap out your ‘weapons’ but whichever item you’re toting, you’re always smacking spherical objects about. There are occasions when you’ll wander into a room and find a turret firing you at you but, with no real monsters about (apart from the titular Creature, who observes and periodically impedes your progress) you’re given time to assess your surroundings.
Once you start firing balls, all hell may break loose because some of Creature in the Well’s targets have the nasty habit of firing back. So aside from hitting a ball around, with the aim of getting enough energy (points, basically) to open the next door, you’re dodging return fire.
It’s a smart if slightly sadistic twist that forces you to employ a degree of restraint. One minute you’re launching three balls at once (thinking you’re going to steamroller the room), the next you’re fleeing a hail of electrical bolts. Like real pinball, you never have absolute control over each ball’s trajectory; only an arrow telling you which direction your ball will go. The difference with Creature in the Well is that you’re in not resting your drink on the table; you’re roaming between the bumpers and, if you take enough damage, you’ll be unceremoniously hurled out of the machine.
The more you play Creature in the Well, the more you’ll come to grips with the game’s mechanics, pushing deeper and deeper into the machine each time you play. It doesn’t force you to 100% each room, but you’ll be fist-pumping the first few times you do, maxing out the bumpers until they disappear into the floor. Equally satisfying is learning to ricochet projectiles round corners, taking out multiple targets with a single ball. And, thanks to some sharp writing, the prospect of uncovering the mysteries behind the machine, and restoring life to this visually distinctive world, is a huge draw in itself.
The snag is that Creature in the Well can become repetitive, particularly when you’re farming side-rooms for the points required to access the game’s more complex and more entertaining chambers. Exploration does at least offer more tangible rewards such as additional weapons, one of which saved my synthetic bacon on several occasions. But the third time you encounter the same tightly-packed matrix of bumpers, you’ll feel less enthusiastic about pinging them for points.
The boss battles would also benefit from more variety; the Creature’s M.O. is to fire slowly moving energy stars at you, while you attempt to bash more bumpers. The fifth battle throws something new into the mix, but up until that point you’re just going through the motions, unable to attack the Creature directly which disappears when you’ve cleared three or four mini challenges. Games don’t have to feature bosses but when they do, they should act as a dramatic conclusion to a level. That’s not the case here. While I understand the decision to make the Creature mysterious (you only usually see its arms), you rarely get a sense of satisfaction from beating it.
Thankfully, it’s not enough of a complaint to sink the game. Creature in the Well has more staying power than the pinball machines that inspired it, and that’s even before you consider its distinctive visual style and entertaining story. It won’t turn you into a pinball wizard, but it will provide you with several hours of unique entertainment.