In amongst all the announcements about next-generation consoles, cloud solutions, and blockbuster games at Microsoft's E3 2019 press conference, was the usual selection of indie games. It's always a refreshing sight when the "big guns" in the industry show their love for the smaller games, and Microsoft 2019 was no exception, with one game standing out in particular. That game was Creature in the Well, which intrigued everyone in attendance and left us wanting to know more. In fact, this new indie prompted us to rush to the Microsoft showcase minutes after the conference ended so we could take a closer look. But what is it? Well, Creature in the Well is a game that combines action-adventure and exploration with pinball-themed puzzles. At first glance, the premise feels obscure, even borderline absurd. Yet, after having tried the game for ourselves, something clicked.
The demo started on small platforms linked by bridges. Below the platforms, one could see the tentacles of a huge monster - hence the name of the game. As we gained control of the character and started exploring the environment, we quickly uncovered what seemed to be some sort of golf club. The club could be used to shoot glowing orbs at the pinball table-esque structures, which in turn charged a power meter that's used to open different portals.
As the demo went on, the main character encountered a magic sword. Contrary to the golf club, the sword is not used to inflict damage or charge power and is instead a means to stop enemy projectiles or fire more orbs in one go. At the core of the gameplay Flight School's title is the ability to stop enemy attacks with your sword and counter with energy-charging moves. It is simple and very effective, and it's clear that the developers aren't aiming to create a complicated or even a particularly diverse game - instead, they're dedicated to perfecting a small, yet innovative gameplay formula.
In regards to the main character, we weren't given a lot of information about the general story or the main character's motivation for engaging with the mystical creature so it will be exciting to discover more about this part of the game and whether it will live up to the original nature of the concept.
At the end of the demo, a boss fight ensued against the titular monster. Rarely has a fight juxtaposed puzzle gameplay and an atmosphere of intense survival so well. Without ever hurting the enemy, the player instead has to complete a series of pinball challenges while dodging attacks from the enemy. Once again, merely mentioning a non-lethal boss fight where a robot plays pinball with a giant sword shooting orbs at weird machines while facing a huge demon, sounds nothing short of crazy. Still, the developers manage to pull it off flawlessly. Since the name of the game refers to the creature itself, we are assuming it to be a recurring event, and that it will become more and more challenging as the game progresses.
From a visual perspective, Creature in the Well not only feels unique but likewise is marvellous to look at. It doesn't conform to the classical notion of beautiful aesthetic design with its simple colour scheme and minimalistic level design, yet the devil is in the detail and after playing for a short period of time, we discovered how the developers have perfectly blended the mechanics and visuals together in a beautiful symbiosis. Depending on the length of the final game, however, we might want to see some more visual variety, since it could become a bit too repetitive.
Overall, we really enjoyed our time with Creature in the Well. The innovative gameplay, interesting design, and insane concept make it one game to keep an eye out for in the future. It made us think of the old saying that indie games are "the lifeblood of the industry", that they give birth to true innovation and pioneering mechanics. If Flight School can deliver on the premise of this E3 demo and if more variation can be added in terms of its visual design, this could be one of those games that give weight that old saying.