Smelter Review

Smelter is aptly named, as this is a video game that smelts together two very different video game genres. Metroidvania and Real Time Strategy have been nailed together to try and create something entirely new and fresh. The thing is, while fusing together random things sometimes creates something new and incredible, other times you inadvertently end up with a Frankenstein’s Monster-like abomination. Sadly it’s the latter that has occurred with X PLUS Company Limited’s latest. Best grab the flaming torch and pitchforks for this review.

You know the story of Adam and Eve, right? But do you know the version where it’s Adam who picks the forbidden apple, sending him and Eve plummeting into a black void? The proto humans are separated in the fall, with Adam nowhere to be seen. This prompts Eve to team up with the eponymous Smelter. This little fella can best be summed up as an overly sarcastic green winged demon thing. Not my best description, I’ll give you that, but in my defence, there’s so little character development and so much random nonsense in this game’s plot that after way too many hours I still can’t tell you who or what Smelter is.

The problem is that Smelter – the game, not the demon – plays it too tongue-in-cheek, trying too hard to be a parody of fantasy games. It doesn’t manage to be very funny. The world of Smelter feels like it was invented in an afternoon, with the eclectic collection of names given to the various creatures, races and locations so random that it suggests they were the first words that popped into someone’s head. Reams of dialogue seemingly consisting of nothing more than talking heads banging on about Zirms, rumbly lands, the sacred halls of Valenos, Nutoro Doma Stones and Eremagu shockwards. That, and the script’s overuse of exclamation marks, ensured the text boxes were skipped through as quickly as possible. There’s parody and then there’s just being lazy, the story and world of Smelter certainly falls into the latter.

Gameplay wise, Smelter is a real mixed bag. The 2D Metroidvania segments sees Eve – and Smelter, donned as armour – plunge through the standard selection of pixelated environments doing all the things you’ve done in a 2D action platformer a hundred times or more. There’s a host of elemental abilities to unlock, some of which are more successful than others. Smacking enemies about with Earth Powers never fails to satisfy, but the weedy laser blasts offered by later elements fail to excite. You’ll explore some fairly liner levels, returning once you’ve gained new abilities to uncover new areas. There’s nothing particularly bad about the gameplay here, it’s just not particularly inspiring or compelling.

Proceedings are certainly further hampered by the visual style. Normally, I love 16-bit graphics, filled as they are with nostalgic memories, but Smelter’s visuals are just a bit, well, ugly. Enemies and bosses lack charm and personality. They are far too often a hodgepodge collection of blobs, spikes and mouths. Whilst Eve certainly has more detail and presence, her scantily clad appearance and exaggerated boob bounce animation feel entirely unnecessary. Environments are often dreary, with a colour palette that is brown and drab, leading to every new area you visit looking very similar to the last.

Then there’s the RTS Tower Defence segments. If the platforming left me uncertain of how I felt about Smelter, the lacklustre strategising affirmed for me that I didn’t like it. Looking like an uninspired Warcraft DLC, Smelter flaps about the environment building houses and farms for his Zirm forces. You can’t control the Zirms, and instead have to construct fortifications for the Zirms to inhabit. When enemies approach, the Zirms automatically wander out and engage in a bout of fisticuffs before returning to their bases.

The gameplay in these segments amounts to little more than having to defend a location whilst enemy forces endlessly spawn in an effort to stop you. Build enough fortifications and have enough Zirms and you’ll probably win. I say probably as the game often seems to force a fail state upon you, claiming the building you’ve tried to defend has been destroyed despite barely being touched by an enemy. I guess I can’t blame the game for being confused, I was too. The top-down chaos of Zirms, baddies and health bars prove near impossible to follow. There’s no strategy or tactics required to best this element of Smelter, just a great deal of patience. Grit your teeth and have another go – sooner or later the game will decide you win, even if you did nothing different to the previous twenty-three attempts.

Smelter's opening cutscene got me very pumped for what was to follow, but what did follow left me despondent. I’d been set up and felt ready for an awesome 16-bit experience that, thanks to its promised smelting of genres, would feel genuinely fresh. The game that followed wasn’t fresh, it was past its sell by date and starting to smell like feet.
  • Awesome opening cut-scene and theme music
  • Metroidvania inspired adventuring is fine, if uninspired
  • RTS segments are a real slog with arbitrary failures
  • Mostly ugly visuals disappoint
  • Plot is an unfunny mess