The game Smelter comes to Nintendo Switch from developer X PLUS and publisher Dangen Entertainment as an attempt to essentially fuse SNES’s ActRaiser and Mega Man X. Half of the game is a top-down strategy simulation about expanding your empire, and the other half is platforming action involving using rotating sets of powers. It doesn’t ultimately add up to a perfectly smooth experience, but there are enough good ideas here that a sequel would be welcome.
He who smelt it
The premise of Smelter is that an explosion rocks the world, separating silent protagonist Eve from her friend Adam and sending Eve plummeting to another world. She soon meets and frees a godlike creature named Smelter, who physically bonds with her to give her the special powers she needs to both find Adam and expand Smelter’s empire for him.
It’s a simple setup, and that’s all a game like Smelter needs. Unfortunately, the writing tries way too hard right from the outset to be funny, and it becomes annoying pretty quickly. There are a few exceptions, but by and large, the dialogue works against the game.
A simple and fun simulation experience
The simulation half of Smelter is simple but still entertaining and satisfying. You fly around a world map as Smelter himself, without Eve, and you can build settlements over a designated lot of land or shoot fireballs at encroaching enemies in 360 degrees with the right thumbstick. There are four basic structures you can build: homes for workers, structures for growing apples that feed all workers, bases for strong melee soldiers who can fight land enemies, and bases for archer soldiers who can fight anything. You must always have at least as many apples as you have workers, and you send workers from their homes to take up arms at the bases.
Monsters emerge and attack periodically according to where you are at in a given story segment, and if they destroy a structure, you’ll have to build it again. The resource used to build structures is constantly self-replenishing though, so building is effectively free. However, over the course of gameplay, you will unlock three magical elements with their own currencies that are accumulated from platforming levels. You can spend these currencies to give soldiers specific elemental powers to make them more effective against certain types of enemies; I honestly didn’t realize this until almost two-thirds of the way into the game, which shows how simple the difficulty is to start out.
Smelter could do a better job of explaining and reiterating its mechanics in general, as there were several things it explained once at the very beginning that I forgot and had to re-learn later. Still, the simulation gameplay is a breezy, fun time overall, and you will engage in unique challenges to access certain areas, such as guarding towers against hordes of enemies for a set length of time, that put a nice cap on it all.
A so-so Mega Man X riff
Mega Man X has fantastic level design and maybe the tightest controls of any game ever, and Smelter clearly wants to be like that in its platforming levels that are accessed from the world map. Unfortunately, it’s a far cry off from that, but there is redeeming value. As aforementioned, you acquire three magical elements early in the game, and each one provides Eve a different set of attacks and mobility options. One is great for melee damage and double jumps. One is great for ranged damage and floating. And one is a not-so-great in-between option.
Eve can swap between the three sets at any time, allowing for a terrific range of improvised combat strategies, and you can keep unlocking new and improved abilities by exploring the world map. However, these unlocks require a currency obtained from completing “Trials,” short challenge levels with unique requirements like “don’t get hit” or a race against the clock. Trials are mostly well designed, but there are three of them hidden in nearly every level — and it completely ruins the game’s pacing.
It’s hard to stay in the groove or appreciate any given level design in Smelter because you know you’re never more than 10 minutes away from your next optional-but-not-really Trial level. Plus, navigation is sometimes slightly harder than it needs to be because jumping is a little floaty and wall sliding has an annoying bit of startup lag.
I’m not sure if it’s strictly because of the Trials or if it’s because the visuals feel similar from area to area, but the level design in general wasn’t particularly memorable for me. Even though most levels are designed to encourage you to use certain elements in certain places, and there is a respectable amount of different obstacles and a semi-decent amount of enemy types, it all just blurs together in my memory already. It’s not shoddily designed and it’s all perfectly functional, but I just seldom had much fun with the platforming for some reason, in spite of how clever the element system is. Some of the final levels offer an exception though, with viciously challenging design that will destroy you if you don’t fully grasp Smelter’s mechanics.
The same can be said of the game’s infrequent boss fights. When they occur, they often bring a sizable challenge, especially at the end of the game — and they’re terrific across the board. If the game’s level design were as memorable as the boss fights, Smelter would be an instant classic.
Smelter is a good game with the potential to become more
With enjoyable sim gameplay, an engaging element combat system, and excellent boss fights, Smelter is a game with a lot of good pieces across 12-15 hours of play. Unfortunately, it never becomes more than the whole of its parts. The platforming level design feels a bit unremarkable, and the Trials ruin the pacing. Still, if you love ActRaiser or Mega Man X, there’s enough to make Smelter worth recommending.
A review code was provided by the publisher.