A small red figure stands in a shop like place with a large multiple eyed purple creature.

Chasing Pinballs Through the Earth

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  • Creature in the Well is a sly title that purports that everything’s all been laid out—you’re going in a dank hole to suss out the story behind this mysterious and titular critter. That might be enough, if developer Flight School was content to paint this techno-fantasy world in bold colors and give us plenty of adventure game history coattails to grasp at.

    But most developers aren’t satisfied with running off the fumes of other works—they’d rather sprinkle in bits from other games, media, and life ideally, all in service of refining a fresh flavor. Flight School is similarly ambitious with this title, attempting to cross-pollinate Zelda, Hyper Light Drifter, and pinball into a dungeon puzzler that requires a lot of placement, timing, and reflex.

    The two-person team behind this saturated amalgamation has been developing it for a little more than a year and are expecting to release this summer. It’s the first larger game for the multimedia-focused company, and the feel of Creature in the Well wasn’t satisfying to the team until they nailed the feel of the ball. They looked towards Rocket League and breakout-style games to guide the player into appreciating an entire screen’s worth of possibilities and angles through which to smash one or more balls into various pegs, pillars, walls, and more in order to create the ideal chain that lets you move along. Eight sprawling dungeons host these puzzles, and are joined by a hub world through three acts and potentially six hours of gorgeous exploration while the Creature whispers to you and the story of this abandoned structure is peeled down.

    Another refreshing element to Creature in the Well is the lack of rogue-like elements—puzzles stack on puzzles, but they’re being meticulously whittled into existence rather than conjured on sight before the player. This approach delivers a serpentine quality to the way these spaces unwind, and each room is filled with just enough pulsation and ball-slamming blasts of light and tactile feedback as you are slowly guided into setting up Rube Goldberg-like drives of swings and effects. Flight School says that drilling into on the mechanics of this ball has been the bulk of their efforts and it shows. You’re in a maze of pinballs, swinging and leaping to reposition yourself in order to maintain the chain.

    All of this is built on a Mike Mignola-esque world of cyber-decayed cell-shading that is lovely to parade through. There are more than twenty weapons that can be upgraded and capes to suit a variety of style needs, so there’s no single solution to a lot of the puzzles. As you delve further and further down the Creature reveals itself on occasion, bridging the brain-teasers with increasingly heightened boss battles. The PAX East demo indicates a well-wound and rich microbiome to explore—not an overstuffed open world but a densely packed corner. The well teaches you how to play, and the creature dares you to survive.

    But it all lives and dies on the combination of swings, movement, and reading the geometry of the room and your targets while dashing between positions. Creature in the Well wouldn’t be half as satisfying if the weapons, the balls, and the environments didn’t vibrate and teem with the intermingled kinetic energy of pinball and top-down action games, proving that there’s some real potential here, crackling with a color-blasted grace.

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