Creature in the Well thrives on desperation, close calls and precision. This dungeon crawler with a weird, comedic heart is about a robot who ventures into dungeons to, more or less, play pinball. Players are tasked with venturing into eight different dungeons to restore power to an ancient facility deep within some arid desert mountain—a mountain that turns out to be haunted by a large, seemingly desperate creature. The player character, Bot-C, is often taunted and toyed with by the large bony creature that always seems to be watching Bot-C’s endeavors. These endeavors consist of entering electrified rooms that are top-down pinball puzzles that play like a cross between Diablo, brick breakers, and traditional pinball. As Bot-C’s dungeon-crawling progresses, the creature often quips at the robot, curses it, and tries to scare it into leaving. Sometimes it will pull Bot-C into its dark layer and the player will have to fend off attacks until the creature gets tired or bored.
Through its puzzles and subtle worldbuilding, Creature in the Well’s heart is powered by the allure of questions. Who is Bot-C? What is this creature doing here? Why did the power turn off in the first place? These are but a few questions posed by Creature in the Well and, as one plays, these questions are often answered in satisfying ways. And if they aren’t answered, then those gaps are left for a reason. Not every game-world needs to be filled out. Obfuscation can be a beautiful, enduring thing (just look at Control).
In a game where the core command is “do pinball,” Creature in the Well continues to impress and bewilder as the dungeons and puzzles harden. Though after a few hours, some of the puzzles start to grow stale. But where pinball is concerned, I am no expert nor do I even consider myself a big fan. I grew up playing pinball at what was left of arcades in the early 2000s and at my hometown’s local, not very good, and long gone pizza buffet. Creature in the Well’s gameplay brought me back to that greasy, grotesquely lit charnel house of microwave-nuked pizzas. I could feel my fingers tapping on the well-worn flipper buttons of the old Batman pinball machine there, and, well, I think Creature in the Well is helping me re-litigate my feelings on pinball. I think I really dig it.
Creature in the Well’s originality extends beyond its gameplay. The dark and slyly comedic narrative is more interesting than one would expect in a puzzle-based dungeon crawler, and the desire to see that story through continued to pull me along once the puzzles lost their luster. One thing that never grows old, though, is the game’s gorgeous art style. It is seemingly cel-shaded with an emphasis on dark edges and harsh outlines. It grabs the eye in unique ways and visually explains the puzzles with simplistic gusto.
Creature in the Well went under many folks’ radars in 2019, and hopefully more people will check it out in 2020. It is fun to play on the Nintendo Switch with one caveat—the Switch’s stubby analog sticks push against the player in that it is hard to be as accurate as Creature in the Well demands with those awful nubs. That being said, it’s also on Xbox Game Pass. Nothing can match the actual physical sensation of playing pinball, but then real pinball can’t replicate the puzzles, structure or storytelling of Creature in the Well. Whether you’re a fan of the ball or not, this game will entrance you.
Cole Henry is a freelancer writer and an avid taco enthusiast. You can follow him on Twitter @colehenry19