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Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Dangen Entertainment
Developer: X Plus
Release Date: April 22, 2021


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PC Review - 'Smelter'

by Cody Medellin on Nov. 23, 2021 @ 1:31 a.m. PST

Smelter combines 2D shooting-infused real time strategy with explosive side-scrolling action stages.

ActRaiser on the SNES was deceptive. The presentation showed off the power of Nintendo's new system quite well, and the opening level showcased side-scrolling action. Beat that level, and the game surprisingly adds a city-building element. Despite it being a memorable cult that spawned spin-offs and sequels, very few modern titles have tried to emulate that game. Smelter is one of the few that tries its hand at emulating Square Enix's SNES launch title, and the results are good but nowhere near perfect.

The story starts off in the well-known Biblical book of Genesis but with a big twist. The forbidden fruit has fallen from the apple tree, and Adam takes a bite of it first. Instead of realizing shame and trying to hide from God, there's a giant explosion in the distance, and Eve falls into a chasm. After regaining consciousness and wandering through a cave, she encounters a creature named Smelter that can act as a symbiote and provide her with armor and increased fighting ability. In exchange for helping Eve find Adam, Smelter asks for her help in regaining the kingdom that he has lost.

The opening narrative twist is refreshing, but the narrative focus turns away from Eve and to Smelter; she becomes a bystander, even though Smelter isn't a particularly interesting character. You get a taste of his snarky persona in the first few moments of the game, but it doesn't go beyond that. The side characters also fit one-note roles that don't give anyone a chance to grow, and while the dialogue often calls for humor, it falls flat on execution. It doesn't help that the story is rather predictable, and you can see the twists coming the moment you boot up the game. In short, the narrative exists, but there's not much to keep you invested.

Initially, Smelter is presented as an action-packed, side-scrolling platformer. When you take on the role of Smelter, you gain the ability to perform combo attacks, cling to walls, perform wall jumps, and dash on the ground. One of your more important abilities has you reaching out with Smelter's long hand to activate switches and initiate a final blow on enemies that glow green. You can also use Smelter to unleash a devastating blade attack if you've built up enough energy for it. Throughout the adventure, you'll perform elemental abilities, such as donning rock armor and possessing an electrical whip.

The platforming sections of the game are quite good. The platforming can feel a touch floaty, but there are only a few times when that leads you down a pit or into a bed of one-hit kill spikes. Boss fights have readable patterns, and there are enough spots in the world where you can get upgrades to keep things fresh. If there's one complaint, it would be that the extra challenge rooms feel less optional and more mandatory. Since they're the source for coins that provide some really good upgrades, you'll feel the need to perfect these areas to stand a chance later on in the game.

The platforming makes up roughly half of the game. The other half changes into a strategy title where you play as Smelter without using Eve as your host. Smelter acts as a living cursor, as you need to fly him to an area to start building things. The game takes on some basics from the genre, such as building homes for your minions and planting apple orchards to feed them. In an attempt to simplify things, you don't need to worry about economy too much or commanding your troops to attack, but you can issue general commands to occupy buildings. These sections of the game are also treated like twin-stick shooters; you can directly attack enemy troops with fireballs so you don't have to rely on your minions.

The strategy portion of Smelter feels rather tedious. The tasks boil down to defeating invading forces or protecting certain buildings while waiting for a timer to expire. Your attacks are decent against some enemies but terrible against obstacles; for example, clearing out low-level rocks to make room for another settlement takes longer than it should. Since you have no control over the minions, you have no idea who is alert enough to respond to threats, and there are times when minions come to the rescue from far away, even though the ones standing nearby aren't doing anything. For a game with a strategy portion that is simple enough to invite genre newcomers, the execution doesn't retain the interest of those who want to explore unfamiliar genres.

The result of this fusion of different gameplay types is an uneven experience. The action comes in at the right pace, but the strategy slows things down. If you're an action fan, you'll like half of the game but tolerate the other half because you want to return to the side-scrolling parts. If you're a strategy fan, the strategy portions aren't too interesting. The game offers up different difficulty levels for action fans who want to replay the journey, since there are no other modes available.

Like the game itself, there are good and below-average parts to the presentation. Eve and Smelter look wonderful in the side-scrolling portions, and the animations look rather awesome. With the exception of the bosses, the enemy designs are fine, but the backgrounds are detailed but bland due to a limited color palette. The overhead portions of the game fare a bit worse, as it can be difficult to see both ally and enemy troops against a similarly colored field. Meanwhile, the music in both areas is outstanding and can easily pass as something from the 16-bit era.

Smelter is an average title. The side-scrolling action is rather well done and, taken on its own, makes for a strong platformer. The strategy portions lack depth, and when combined with your overall weak state, it makes the experience a bit of a slog. The title is ambitious, and those willing to forgive the strategy portion should check it out.

Score: 6.5/10

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