If you’re drawn towards games that feel unique, Creature in the Well should be at the top of your wish list. I’ve been gaming for over 30 years, but I’m not sure I’ve ever played an amalgamation quite like this. 

Described as “a top-down, pinball-inspired, hack-and-slash dungeon crawler” Creature in the Well is more akin to Breakout/Arkanoid. That’s cool – I like those games too – but if you go in as a fan mainly looking for a pinball-esque experience this game probably won’t match your expectations, albeit while still offering a fun time.

Creature in the Well tasks you with restoring power to an ancient weather machine to save a small sandstorm-struck town, and you’ll need to engage in “Pinball with swords” to do so. This enables your BOT-C character to gather enough energy to unlock a multitude of doors and progress further into the mountainous dungeons before you inevitably encounter the ominous title creature. Bouncing the energy orbs into targets and deflecting firepower from the various threats might sound odd, but with a controller in hand, I think it’s pretty easy to come to grips with before long.

Easiness doesn’t last, though. Creature in the Well is one of the more challenging games I’ve played of late. And this brings both pros and cons. In a winning move, the development team at Flight School Studio has successfully (and surprisingly) managed to trump the desire to quit with “one more time” mentality, at least for me. In this way, the challenge reminds me of the best of NES games.

That said, a real downside is how the difficulty can often seem… cheap. Whether it’s strict time restrictions that mostly feel jarring, or bloated boss fights making what should be peak encounters lesser, Creature in the Well would benefit from more balance. At times I feel like a Padawan trying to fend off Clone Troopers executing Order 66! Do I want to succeed wondering how I managed to pull it off, or win with equal parts relief and satisfaction? I did beat the game, although my completion percentage is only 94%. The final boss encounter is obviously demanding, but I won’t spoil it. But I feel it’s just as much “luck” as it is my skill that I was able to see the game’s end. Then again, I suppose real pinball has that to some extent as well, right?

Going back to the boss fights, they’re focused on excessive waves of outside attacks rather than attacking the actual creature directly. As a result, they manage to feel somewhat repetitive, and a bit convoluted on occasion. I was stuck on one such encounter for several days. Returning to it after a while, the Creature withdrew quickly on my very first attempt! Is that for better, worse, or both? Again, this highlights my difficulty balance concerns with Creature in the Well. Thankfully the Creature itself still manages to leave an impression, through brief conversations you have with it throughout the game, and just seeing it from time to time lurking in the shadows while you explore.

In defense of a prime focus of mine, the challenge, after the initial goings, Creature in the Well becomes refreshingly non-linear. I can’t commend this decision enough – other devs, take note! It also means that I was likely playing dungeons out of the developers intended order. I’ll likely find on replay a much better progression of difficulty. I’d still like to see the game adjusted (patched) to offer some on-the-fly options to attract those intimidated by the difficulty.

Speaking of the dungeons, their hand-crafted design might be the main highlight. There’s not a whole lot in the tiny overworld, sadly, but this is a dungeon crawler at heart. The absence of procedural generation makes finding secret paths in Creature in the Well so exciting! They usually lead to either new weapons or capes. The latter doesn’t seem to change anything besides cosmetics, but the weapons are varied. Separated into “Strike” and “Charge” categories, you’ll find various enhancements. Dual Blades are super helpful as they let you see where you’re aiming, while the Focus Hammer slows things down ever so slightly, which is also helpful due to the frequent emphasis on speed. Seeing blank spots in my inventory makes me wonder what I’ve missed despite my high completion percentage.

Creature in the Well has a unique concept I cheer along with an eye-catching presentation. True, the execution can feel slightly mixed – certainly not disjointed per se, but jumbled at intervals. The difficulty, at times, is lacking in a balance that leads to consistently true satisfaction, and thus some marks were missed, or not fully realized. But when it comes to exploring the hand-crafted dungeons, finding secrets, and reading up to learn more about the mystery, Creature in the Well excels. It’s launching at $14.99, and considering I’ve sunk nearly a dozen hours into it, that price seems more than fair, even if the difficulty isn’t always.