Every once in a while I am surprised by how effectively a game onboards a player and seamlessly integrates introducing story and gameplay. Starting up with an anime intro and a great theme song, Smelter quickly ingratiates itself before you even start your adventure. Brought to us by Dangen Entertainment is a fresh look at the “strategy action-platformer” genre inspired by 16-bit classics like Actraiser. Mixing tight gameplay, awesome tunes, and some humorous writing, Smelter could be that hidden gem you’ve been looking for.
Opening to a scene of Adam eating an apple that fell off a hastily taped branch in the Garden of Eden, I wasn’t sure where this game was headed initially. However, the resulting world ending explosion that comically rains down from the heavens erased my doubts almost immediately. Following the detonation we find Eve falling through the darkness, eventually landing in an underground cavern. She meets and releases a being that calls itself Smelter, and he reassures Eve that he is a very good angel. To flee the underground and continue the search for Adam, the two magically combine and Eve gains many new powers.
Succeeding in their escape, Eve and Smelter arrive in the Rumbly Lands. This world map doubles as the game’s strategy component and is broken up into four main continents.Here you will spend your time expanding your empire by creating roads, managing your population’s housing and food, and building defensive structures to fight off enemies. Surprisingly, this gameplay shift fits well into the tone of the game while simultaneously delivering amusing narrative and helpful tutorials. Progressing far enough in any direction usually results in a battle oriented challenge that will unlock powerful character upgrades and new platforming levels.
That brings us to the best part of Smelter: the action. Each time you visit a new continent, a new form is forged into Smelter. Eventually, you have three forms to switch between while navigating levels; allowing for interesting gameplay choices and approaches to encounters. For example, one form offers a double jump and melee attacks while another can glide and do ranged blaster shots. Between switching forms and the incredibly tight controls, Smelter often feels like a Megaman X successor.
I cannot name drop such an important game without a little more justification, so here goes.
Boss encounters top off almost every mission and are a delightful array of gameplay challenges and goofy characters. They push your platforming skills and are exciting to overcome. While intelligently mixing in the narrative with the fight, defeating a boss always pushes forward the story and has meaning. An important note is that boss fights don’t often force you to use any specific form, giving the player choice of how they approach the fight, deal damage, and avoid deadly attacks. Each major encounter feels unique both graphically and from a gameplay perspective.
Levels themselves contain hidden collectables that are genuinely fun to find, and a challenge to earn. Some are locked inside optional trials that offer a unique test for the form forged in that continent. Eve is locked to that form while racing to the exit. Trials range from time attacks, survival missions, to simply not taking damage. They start off easy to accomplish, but by the end of the game some of these trials took me more than ten attempts to finish.
From the action to the writing, Smelter surprised me in many ways. Drawing inspiration from some of the best 16-bit classics (like Actraiser and Megaman) definitely earned it some kudos from me, especially when those inspirations come together to create such an enjoyable game. While the story was fun and entertaining, it didn’t stick the landing as I was hoping. I never found myself laughing out loud throughout the 10-15 hours of overall gameplay, but I will admit to a few chuckles and many big smiles. With that said, the incredible controls, groovy soundtrack, tough trials, and exciting boss fights made this title one I won’t soon forget (and one I definitely recommend).