You read that title right. Creature In The Well is indeed the most beautiful game we played at E3.
Yes, we're aware of the shiny, toy-box wonderland that is the Link’s Awakening remake. We all know Cyberpunk 2077 is next level. Mosaic, the upcoming, multi-platform indie game that transforms pure banality into hypnotizing symmetry still ain’t as pretty. Even Luigi’s Mansion 3, the cartoonish ghost game that is ironically alive with detail, isn’t as downright fun to gawk at as Creature In The Well.
Led by two developers from Flight School Studio, Creature In The Well is an isometric adventure game that somewhat defies genre. Sure, it’s an action-adventure title at heart, but is it actually a little bit of a Metroidvania? There are multiple paths with secrets to be had, after all. Is it a dungeon-crawler? The dev told us that, in fact, there are eight dungeons to explore. But how do you ignore the fact that everyone who plays this game immediately remarks that it’s a pinball title? Yet you combine that pinballing with all the ducking and dodging you’ll be doing and what you’re left with is a bullet-hell, “shmup” sort of experience.
Whatever. Here’s what we do know: this game is super freaking cool.
In Creature In The Well, you play as “the last remaining BOT-C unit” that’s spelunking into an ancient, unpowered facility. You’re swinging – literally – to restore power to this left-for-dead place, all the while a massive, shadowy creature the size of half your television screen sneaks ominous peaks at you. It will also occasionally reach down and grab at you or the ground you walk on. Watch out, by the way.
There’s a story in there somewhere. What we could play at E3 instead focused on the gameplay. Let’s elaborate on the graphics to start because they’re worth talking about; we asked Adam Volker, the title’s art director, who or what his inspiration was. It turns out to be heavily inspired by Mike Mignola, iconic illustrator of the Hellboy comics, and that comparison makes sense. Every part of this game is drawn with thick, black lines and alternating colour palettes stacked around or on top of each other, producing this sort of flat-but-deep, comic book effect. Take a look at the screenshots if you don’t get it. It’s going to look gorgeous on the Switch’s handheld mode, but do yourself a favour and play this game at least once on the nicest, largest TV screen you’ve got.
What exactly do you do in this game, though? Well, you’ve got a sword, and it sucks up projectiles from enemies and turns them into little orbs of white – or – you walk into a room and find the white orbs where you can get them and shoot them towards objects in the room that need triggering. The gameplay lies in the interplay between the energy your weapon charges and your ability to bounce it back and forth towards enemies, bumpers, or stuff needing hit in the correct order. With every successful enemy and bumper flattened, you gain (electrical?) energy, which allows you to open doors. Hold down “R” at every doorway and a bar fills up. Collect enough energy to open it, and on you go.
It sounds a little bit confusing. It plays a little bit confusing, at first. “Why not just let me hack-and-slash pinballs everywhere without all this charging stuff?”, we thought, to which the developers keenly explained that in that scenario, the levels would play themselves with you sitting in the corner.
But once you sharpen your skills a little bit, you begin to morph into a running-and-gunning conductor, your symphony the pinball mayhem you reign down on the world. Every room is just a little bit different than the last, and the camera often shifts enough to give new perspectives on similar layouts. The sound effects are also neat, growling, clanking, and reverbing along with the buzz of your sword. The game is still a touch unpolished yet, but the overall experience is very fresh and satisfying. Did we mention it’s fun to look at?
No word on how long (or short) this game is. Again, by the numbers: there are eight dungeons with 20 weapons and various secret paths. In the demo, dying just meant you tried again from where you stood, but we were told the final version will force you to use your in-game currency to maintain your hard-earned progression, which is probably where the pinball analogy is most apt; you’ll probably spend the most time just trying to survive, then starting over and over again.
Creature In The Well comes out on Nintendo Switch, PC, and XBox One this summer. Keep an eye on Nintendo Life for our final review.