Things have changed a lot since the 16-bit era. Games have gone from intimate single-player quests to full-scale, thousand-player services. While developers continually expand into new genres, some things inevitably fall by the wayside. In 2019, it’s rare for a new game to invoke the specific feelings brought on by CREATURE IN THE WELL. There’s the mystery of not knowing even the basic rules of a new world. The wonder of opening secret passages by accident. The feeling that you’re breaking the game and the realization that it’s all part of the plan. Creature in the Well beautifully evokes those feelings as it is a Sega Genesis game out of time, a simple relaxing Journey that everyone can appreciate.
Creature in the Well Review | Banking the shot
You start off the game as a robot in a vast desert and quickly find a pipe and an old cave filled with a vast network of machinery. Your instincts call you to you, and you begin switching everything back on. The only obstacle is the titular Creature in the Well, a gigantic monster that seemingly prevented your forebears from completing their work. As you crawl through this mechanical dungeon, you learn a bit about the world’s history and why your mission matters. The player never has story handed to them, making most of it optional. However, there’s plenty of lore to devour if your curiosity gets the best of you.
So, how do you restore life to the facility? Pinball bumpers. Everything you do in Creature of the Well comes back to smacking glowing balls against walls, generators, and other bumper-adjacent objects. Each hit generates energy, a currency you can use to open doors and venture further into each stage. Every major room has a puzzle to solve, but you don’t need to clear out every area to move forward. You just have to do enough to unlock all the doors on the way to the Creature. This Goliath waits at the end of each dungeon with a grueling set of challenges that put your skills to the test using its unique action-oriented pinball mechanics.
Creature in the Well Review | Climbing up the ramp
There’s excellent pacing to each dungeon as you venture inside. You usually have more power than you need to open the next door, but you always want to solve as much as possible. It’s impossible to know which rooms could lead to a hidden upgraded weapon. In fact, those weapons are a little too hidden, especially considering how vital they are in keeping things interesting. There’s an axe that can split balls into multiple shots, a hammer that stops time, and even a tool that creates chain lighting between your balls. Finding the right tool for each dungeon would typically be one of the main draws of a game like this, and you can’t do that if you can’t find the tools.
If you’re good and throwing the balls around, it’s easy to just charge forward and forgo picking up anything new. Playing like this is fine, but it doesn’t showcase the depth of the gameplay. Unfortunately, Creature of the Well is one of those cases where you can probably get by most situations mashing buttons. That was always going to be the case in a game like this. If you just keep launching pinballs in the general direction of your objective, some of them will eventually hit their target. You can play this game with finesse if you choose, but it should be a requirement.
Even if you’re just mashing on the attack button sending balls flying, Creature in the Well is both a fun time and fun to look at. The colorful world of Mirage and this giant machine dungeon feature striking detail. Many of the dungeons look the same, as each one features a certain number of palate swapped rooms but this isn’t a knock against it. It contributes to the whole vibe of playing Creature of the Well. It may be 2019, but, both in theme and in composition, this is a game firmly rooted in the past.
Creature in the Well Review | Exploring the playfield
This type of minimalism doesn’t always work — especially for those who prefer bombast and chaos in all forms of entertainment. But Creature in the Well challenges that notion. This is a game all about keeping things simple. The controls consist mainly of two buttons. Mechanics reveal themselves to players through action rather than detailed in a tutorial. The story is entirely optional and perfectly placed in the background. The soundtrack is atmospheric and incidental. It seems to sound the alarm for indie games that think doing less is indeed more. But this is not the case as it is all immaculately done and will challenge those who even typically don’t like experiences that spill all the beans.
Creature in the Well has a chill vibe that will keep surprising you and having you wanting more, even after a difficulty spike. Reliably getting better at every encounter, even when standing still could mean dying in seconds, is the same feeling a good retro game exudes. And it’s a feeling that isn’t quite prevalent in modern video games. Better yet, it doesn’t use the tropes of retro throwback to try to sell itself. From its unique art style to its simple complexity, Creature of the Well is a modern student of the masters that came before it. Despite some of its flaws, the few hours you’ll spend with Creature of the Well will be some of the most satisfying you’ll spend in all of gaming in 2019.
GameRevolution reviewed Creature of the Well on PC and Xbox One with copies provided by the developer.