The Creature has laid out a dozen traps, all of which can only be deactivated by the glowing ball carefully balanced on the tip of my sword. At a glance, I can tell it’s going to take an impressive display of geometry to bounce the ball into every target before an approaching laser cuts me in half. The Creature threatens that a worthless piece of trash like me has no place in its mountain before it disappears back into the shadows with a haughty growl, convinced that at least one of its pinball death machines will stop me. Unfortunately for me, this time around, it’s right, and the Creature smugly returns to pick my limp body off the floor and throw it out of its well. After muttering a few curses under my breath, I pick myself up, restructure my loadout, and head back into the monster’s home.
The best moments to test out these different playstyles are in Creature in the Well’s boss battles–each located at the end of a dungeon and all of which see you go up against the titular Creature. Each battle sees the Creature throw several waves of challenges at you that you must complete in a single run, with each consisting of a culmination of more difficult variations of the puzzles seen in that particular dungeon–further encouraging you to fully explore every area and experiment with multiple tool loadouts in each one. The boss battles are fast-paced and demand a higher level of tactical awareness than the rest of the game, as the Creature will also just randomly outright attack you as you’re trying to hit the nodes scattered throughout the arena. Whereas most of the dungeons allow you the time to dissect how a problem can be solved, the boss battles force you into piecing together the solution on the fly.
Though the abrupt change in pace between the slower dungeon puzzles and faster boss battles can be a little flustering, learning the different patterns of the Creature and overcoming them are gratifying challenges that require both careful aim and situational cognizance. Beating each boss rewards you with more dungeons to explore–and thus new challenges to tackle and tools to find–as well as lore-focused texts that further flesh out Creature in the Well’s history. Though most of this lore isn’t compelling enough to regularly be a fulfilling reward, the promise of more dungeons and new weapons eases away that disappointment.
Both Creature in the Well’s dungeons and boss battles are also improved via the portrayal of its antagonist. The Creature is terrifying, largely because you never actually see the entirety of it or learn its motivations. From start to finish, the Creature is a pair of glowing eyes and skeletal arms, most of its body covered in shadow. It growls, taunts, and even threatens you, but it never reveals what it is, remaining this demonic-like enigma that refuses to be understood or stopped. The Creature appears at seemingly random points in every dungeon, watching you from just out of your reach and cultivating this paranoia that it doesn’t even have a physical form for you to fight. So when you do actually win and manage to push the Creature back a little further into the mountain, the battle feels hard-won, a boss fight on par with one in a traditional dungeon crawler.
Creature in the Well manages to inject the geometry-focused experience of pinball into the frenzied gameplay loop of a dungeon crawler to craft a unique puzzle action game. On occasion, the game’s hands-off approach to conveying information is a hindrance, but the well-structured dungeons and monstrous antagonist more than make up for it–producing an engaging hack-and-slash experience that allows for satisfying experimentation.