The dungeon crawler genre is a familiar one to most gamers at this point and it's a popular genre at that. So popular in fact, that a lot of games can easily start to blur together, using similar mechanics and design elements. Flight School has, with the release of Creature in the Well, altered the genre somewhat to get away from the familiarity by mish-mashing other, unexpected elements into it to create something new and unique.
Here you take control over a solitary remaining BOT-C unit tasked with venturing into a mountain deep in the desert to free the city of Mirage from a devastating sandstorm. The city serves as a hub of sorts, and you'll find yourself back within its walls when the dangers of the mountain dungeons chew you up and spit you out. The action, however, takes place solely in the many dungeons after passing the threshold of the mysterious mountain.
You're greeted by what seems to be a caretaker of sorts who doesn't give you much information, before setting out to right the environmental wrongs surrounding the area by powering up a weather-calming machine, and you do this by flinging conveniently placed pinballs of sorts with your weapon of choice (of which there are many to find, each with different uses) onto various different glowing pins, bumpers, and walls to fill an energy meter that you can then use to open doors, getting you further into the mountain.
Each bumper requires you to hit them a set number of times, filling a gauge before they're depleted of energy, and some rooms require you to fill all gauges within a set time limit, which can sometimes be challenging, but not to the point of frustration, as it's all about positioning. Some rooms also hold a core bumper which spawns after the rest have been depleted, and this "inhales" the balls you throw at it like a centrifuge, granting more power than the average bumpers without the hassle.
The game is set up in a very simple way and you won't have any trouble familiarising yourself with the mechanics. Respawning pinballs are placed in specific spots in each room and you simply have to either swing them directly onto the pinball bumpers by pressing Y, or hold X to collect multiple pinballs and sling them in any direction, dealing more "damage" to your mechanical targets. Once you get a bit further in, you'll come across various different threats like lasers, turrets, hovering enemy machines, and bumpers that send off shockwaves when hit, which is where the dash button comes in handy.
Eventually, you'll come across a boss battle chamber where a massive creature (who follows you as you go through the eight dungeons) resides to make your life a lot harder, shooting flaming orbs at you while you're flinging pinballs at your targets, and once all targets are hit with the right amount of pinballs, you'll win the battle, powering up a new area and thus granting you the option to open up a new dungeon at the mountain base.
If you feel like a room is too challenging, you're able to essentially just skip it and move on to a different room through opening up the door to proceed, given you've accumulated enough power. To do that you can simply "farm" power in some of the simpler rooms, or move to a room ahead directly. The boss rooms, however, can not be skipped and, as some of the boss chamber battles may contain the same obstacle that you skipped before, we recommend that you try to master as many of the rooms as possible.
If you get through a dungeon and die at any point, be it to a turret in a boss arena or a shockwave in a regular room, you'll respawn in the city you're trying hard to save, meaning you'll have to head back into the mountain and into the dungeon once again. If you happened to die during a boss battle, you'll be able to "fast travel" to that room through a portal at the start of the dungeon, but if you died in a regular room, you'll have to traverse through the rooms you had completed up to that point. Thankfully, you don't lose your progress within the dungeon, but it gets a bit tedious to walk all the way back after each death.
If you explore the dungeon enough, you might find upgraded weapons, secrets, or gear to help you on your journey, or even healing rooms, where you can heal up by standing in a fountain of sorts before continuing. If you're not sure where you've been, you can just check your map as completed rooms get checked with a completion symbol.
Apart from finding new helpful gadgets within the mountain, there is also an aspect of progression within the game in the form of upgrading your character, who gets stronger by using upgrade orbs that you'll find throughout the dungeon. You won't find an endless upgrade system but in the game's simplicity, they're a very welcome addition, helping you complete rooms that you previously thought to be impossible.
Creature in the Well is a very straightforward experience and this same simplicity translates to the design as well. We found it to be charming, but also felt as though the environments lacked variation. A lot of the rooms look the same, with tweaks to colour and the enemies within being the only notable differences between one dungeon and the next. However, the action-packed, almost frantic gameplay adds to the experience in such a way that you won't really focus on your surroundings' design elements too much. The soundtrack, however, co-exists with the flow of the game in a great way, be it the occasional tunes or the sounds of the action itself.
You'll experience a lot of trial and error instances and you'll most likely die more times than you'd like, but the freedom you have regarding exploration and problem solving as a player makes the game more than just a dungeon crawler. Getting through the tougher parts of a dungeon and making your way through the mountain is a joy, and we highly recommend that you check the game out if you're a fan of intense action, puzzle-solving, or even pinball in its simplest form.
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