Developer: X PLUS Company Limited
Release Date: April 22, 2021
Reviewed On: Switch
Publisher: DANGEN Entertainment
Genre: 2D Platformer
The library of platformers inspired by hits of the past is remarkably vast and varied. While not every attempt hearkens back to the retro-era lands, the sheer amount and degree of effort employed by numerous developers show that there’s a sense of magic derived from these classics.
Smelter is a bold endeavor as a platformer with classic systems but with the incorporation of a real-time strategy feature. While the strategical implementations felt out of place at first, they flowed nicely with the steller platforming segments.
Smelter focuses on the protagonists Eve and the titular character who calls himself Smelter. After Eve’s significant other, Adam, falls victim to the fruit of temptation, he ends up vanishing without a trace.
After wandering for a short while, Eve encounters a talking warmer who introduces himself as Smelter. The two end up choosing to work together, and Smelter becomes a piece of armor that Eve can wear to boost her combative and exploratory prowess’. Eve desires to find her beloved Adam, while Smelter seeks to expand his overall reign and influence across the land.
Gameplay in Smelter is split between two components; platforming and strategical expansion. The platforming is simple enough to parse and is arguably where you will be spending most of your time. Players traverse several stages that all evoke varying atmospheres and produce unique enemies, challenges, and more.
First and foremost, it is vital to point out that this is a challenging title that echoes the difficulty many classic games are known for. In particular, Smelter heavily reminds me of the Megaman X series when it comes to movement. There are a fair amount of skills unlocked through story progression that all serve to enhance Eve’s movement options or combat capabilities. Platforming is highly dependent on proper timing. There are checkpoints scattered throughout the stages, which each progress smoothly to avoid any awkward inputs.
The stages all require patience, but the difficulty never becomes obscenely overwhelming. While I would certainly not describe this title as accessible to beginners of the genre as a whole, it presents just the right degree of challenge for those who are starting to step up to more punishing platformers.
There is a more action-oriented direction to the stages, as there are many moments that require either avoidance or negation of projectiles. There is also combat, but it is quite straightforward and not at all contrived in execution. Rather than being a centerpiece attraction for progression, it is more of a lite add-on to the platforming proper.
Throughout stages, there are collectibles to find called Apple Cores and Moxie deposits which are used for various gameplay-related upgrades. The true fun lies in finding them, which can sometimes be tricky, though their placements rarely ever felt overly obtuse. The majority of these collectibles simply require remembering which pathways you haven’t taken, which can sometimes be easily overlooked.
Trials also adorn the stages, and these are platforming challenges that can be retried infinitely until the player succeeds. The Trials were honestly amongst the gameplay’s highlights as the tension they emitted provided a thrill the rest of the game simply did not have. Enemies occasionally spew out projectiles in these Trials, which is unfortunate as I would have liked pure platforming sequences, but they were still fun.
The other gameplay component I have neglected to discuss is the strategic expansion that occurs when you play as Smelter on the map. These sequences are incredibly overwhelming when first introduced. There was tutorial after tutorial to the point where I felt unsure about my own capabilities in managing these systems. The game directly guides the player’s actions a bit too long for my liking instead of letting the player experiment and figure out the mechanics independently.
Truthfully speaking, I find the tutorials, and mostly the frequency of them at the beginning to needlessly overcomplicate what players have to do. When it comes down to it, these sequences on the map are simply about upkeeping built facilities, combatting invaders, and growing your area of influence.
The UI can be a tad muddling to comprehend at points, thanks to the font type and size. However, while the strategical expansion is not arduous to deal with after playing around with it for a little while, I definitely would have vastly preferred the game to be a platformer entirely. This gameplay divide is certainly unique, and it no doubt gives the title a stronger sense of identity and dual appeal, but it can very well do just the opposite. Rather than hone in on one genre or the other, it creates this clash that I didn’t quite find to fit.
The map’s art style is charming and nostalgic. However, aside from general appearances, this was still too much of a genre clash for me to really be on board with, especially considering that the platforming sequences are really what I was playing for.
Other players may feel differently and find the strategic component here to be a breath of fresh air, but I found it to be a bit needless in the grand scheme of things. None of this is to say its implementation is objectively bad or anything of the sort; it merely comes down to taste. These sections still flowed nicely from the platforming segments as breaks from potential tedium, but its overall efficacy relies on the player’s receptivity.
In regards to aspects concerning the narrative, I was extremely entertained. The game consistently cracks jokes and makes jabs at the predicaments it presents to characters. This tone did not serve to hinder the game’s confidence in itself either, since the ambiance of the experience as a whole was serious to an extent without fully relying on tongue-in-cheek comedy.
The soundtrack is also stellar as it does a truly wonderful job of whisking players back to the era of 16-bit era platformers. Many intense, exceptional tracks only amplified the enthusiasm I felt in each of the levels. Performance was consistent and smooth, too, while both docked and undocked. There was the occasional frame drop when on a stage, but they rarely impeded upon the experience.
Smelter scratched any itch I had to play a new and fulfilling platformer. Through its tight and responsive controls, challenging level design, and non-intrusive combat, this is a must-play title for any who desire a new experience in this genre. The strategy elements can either be a turn-off or further enhancement depending on the player, but I still think the game is worth playing with that risk in mind.
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