Platform: Xbox One
Creature in the Well Preview - E3 2019
An action dungeon crawler with a twist
The action dungeon crawler is having a sneaky little golden age right under our noses. We’ve seen so many games over the last few years with levels that feel like they were traced out on grid paper alongside tight combat - titles like Enter the Gungeon and Hyper Light Drifter, both featuring gameplay that just feels so good. And the feel is everything when it comes to a game like Creature in the Well. The weight of the weapon, the quickness of the attack animation, the distance of the dash, it all needs to be just right. And it’s quite stunning how much of Creature in the Well really does feel like that - just right.
That’s important because that responsiveness comes in handy with the second aspect of Creature in the Well’s gameplay. This isn’t just an action game, it’s an action pinball game. That means that each level consists of a series of white balls that can be struck and sent bouncing around the screen. You need to hit panels and circular bumpers in order to get points that you use to progress through the level.
Sometimes when you sit down to play E3 demos, someone is quickly at your side, explaining the mechanics and making sure that you feel comfortable. There was none of that for Creature in the Well - and I loved it. Even on the start screen, I was left to my own devices, pressing buttons and hoping that something would trigger before realizing that I could move around the screen and had to move next to a stake the ground to begin the demo.
Experimentation was definitely the name of the game early on. I quickly found a pipe and was able to start hitting the nearest ball; then found a room with a series of panels that was I able to lower, gaining enough points to the open the door to the next room. There I found a sword. The sword added another element to the gameplay. Now I could hold the “X” button on my Xbox controller to charge up the pinballs and aim them. When they struck bumpers, the charged up balls would be worth more points.
The drip of gameplay, mechanics and level design is really good. It’s hard to say how this will expand and grow over the full game, but as I played through the dungeon, things kept slowly evolving and getting more complicated. In the next room, turrets would shoot wide lasers that had to be avoided - the only way to deactivate the turrets was the hit them with balls, the more charged up the balls, the more damage they would do.
Then there were turrets that would fire pinballs at you that you had to deflect back at them. Meaning that you were having to catch pinballs, charge them up, then shoot them back - and it was never just one at a time. While the actual gameplay is tight and finely tuned, the design of the level is chaotic and frantic. I was constantly dodging, avoiding pinballs and lasers, trying to catch and reflect them back at the turrets.
After progressing through a few rooms, I found a secret chamber that led off to the side. There I was able to upgrade my sword to double-swords. This allowed me to charge up the pinballs faster before firing them back at the bumpers.
I would need it, too. Shortly after, I experienced the first boss fight in the game as the titular creature shot floating red orbs at me that can’t be deflected - only dodged. Now there are even more things to worry about. I was dodging lasers, catching and reflecting pinballs, and avoiding these floating red balls. It was a breathless experience that had me constantly moving around the small circular platform, desperately trying to simply stay alive.
Finally, I’d beaten the stage and the text on the screen informed me that the creature had retreated, but I felt certain it would be back.
Creature in the Well is the kind of arcade-y action game that has become something of a staple in the indie scene these days. The kind of game that taxes skill and focus, demanding your ability to master and understand the mechanics. I always love finding games at E3 that blast their way onto my radar and Creature in the Well has definitely done that.
Creature in the Well is coming Summer 2019 on Nintendo Switch, PC, and Xbox One.