A fun and innovative approach to a hack-and-slash action game.
When Creature in the Well released last year, I wound up 100%-ing the title on the Nintendo Switch and on the Xbox One via Game Pass. But we hadn’t launched That Nerdy Site yet so it didn’t get a proper review at the time and apart from a blurb in my Top Games of 2019 write-up I didn’t get to really gush about the game so its recent release on PlayStation 4 is giving me a chance to do just that.
In Creature in the Well, you are a resurrected BOT-C robot that sets about restoring a weather machine buried within a mountain. The world around you has been covered by a sandstorm for years and your creators built you with the intent of operating the machine in the hopes that it would clear the storm. But an ominous creature was unleashed and prevented the completion of the machine before it was operational, killing off all of your fellow maintenance robots and threatening the scientists and locals of the small adjacent village. After years of being terrorized by the creature (who is also able to threaten the village via its well, hence the title) and the never-ending sandstorm, the survivors hide in their homes from the outside world.
This leaves you free to set about restoring power to the machine through the game’s primary mechanic: best described as hack-and-slash pinball. Each level of the machine consists of a series of rooms, filled with energy balls and pinball-esque bumpers. You have a pair of weapons: a tool that can charge the energy ball and hold it in place while you aim, and a tool that can strike the ball off into the bumpers. Hitting the bumpers will provide you with the electric charge needed to open doors throughout the facility. Occasional timed challenges will open up secret paths if completed within the time limit and grant access to additional weapons, each with a unique trait that might come in handy in approaching certain challenges. I was particularly partial to a pair of knives that allowed me to better see the direction I was aiming by presenting a laser guideline.
To add a challenge, some bumpers will shoot energy balls at you that will damage you if they are not neutralized. Additionally, some rooms will have some explosive bumpers that will detonate if hit by an energy ball, doing significant damage if you are caught in the blast radius. Each level of the game focuses on introducing a new obstacle or mechanic like this in preparation for the final chamber of the level, a multi-stage elevator where the Creature itself will attack or try to prevent you from eliminating the bumpers that will restore the elevator and cause the Creature to withdraw, allowing you to turn on the part of the machine at the end of each level. The final levels of the game do an admirable job of building upon each other, increasing the challenge by directing you to use all you’ve learned in the earlier levels, working in tandem.
One of the elements the game doesn’t really direct you toward is the notion that you can upgrade your BOT-C. Hidden throughout the levels you will find Old Cores from other broken-down robots. One of the citizens in the town outside the machine can combine these Cores and a bit of energy to upgrade you.This becomes essential as you progress through the game or try to tackle some of the timed challenges because these upgrades allow you to store more energy when charging up an energy ball, allowing them to do more damage to the bumpers and eliminate them with fewer hits. In my first time playing the game back on the Nintendo Switch, I did not discover this ability to upgrade until about halfway through the game. I had been collecting the Cores and saw from their description that I could use them to upgrade but I ended up stumbling into the actual process for doing so after getting frustrated and wandering around what I thought to be the empty town outside the machine. This discovery, and the five or six levels I was able to upgrade in that moment, made the remainder of my time significantly more bearable. In future playthroughs on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, upgrading as I progressed did a great job smoothing out the difficulty as well.
One last note: when playing through the recent PlayStation 4 version of the game, I encountered a very minor graphical issue where random layers of the foreground environment would flicker throughout. It by no means affected the minute-to-minute gameplay but it occasionally distracted from the map design. I never encountered this issue on the Nintendo Switch or Xbox One versions of the game. And even revisiting the PlayStation 4 version again as I wrote this review, the issue did not appear when starting a new game, but it felt worth mentioning.
Over the course of the 5-7 hour campaign, some of the rooms will feel repetitive but there’s always another challenge right around the corner that will explore a new obstacle to keep the pace moving. A variety of different weapons and collectible cosmetic cloaks that will change BOT-C’s appearance serve as the rewards for players interested in seeking out all of the game’s secrets or completing its most difficult optional challenges. The hack-and-slash pinball gameplay at the core of Creature in the Well is an enjoyably fresh approach that sets it apart from a more traditional action brawler. It doesn’t necessarily present a whole lot more outside of that unique mechanic but it does that one thing very well.
7.5 / 10
That Good Game
- Innovative hack-and-slash pinball combat
- A bit repetitive at times
- Could better explain its upgrade system
Creature in the Well was reviewed on a PlayStation 4 Pro unit through a code provided by the developer’s PR partner with additional time spent on a Nintendo Switch copy of the game purchased digitally and an Xbox One copy of the game on a Base Xbox One played via Game Pass. That Nerdy Site’s Review Scoring rubric can be found here.