Smelter is an indie that has been on my radar for some time now as it brings together elements of platforming and top-down strategy in a way I hadn't before seen. It's also wrapped up in some gorgeous 16-bit pixel art and has a curious narrative at its core that takes inspiration from the bible. The ingredients for a unique game are certainly all present, but does it result in a worthwhile experience?
As I touched upon previously, Smelter's story takes influence from the bible and it sees you take control of Eve (you know, the first woman to have ever existed). The opening cutscenes sees Adam disappear within a flash of white light after eating the forbidden fruit and then it's up to you to go and find him. Eve soon stumbles upon a strange green creature known as Smelter, who joins her on her journey and fuses with her to give her access to a range of different abilities. The story here isn't anything too special, but the writing is witty and I never felt inclined to skip the dialogue.
The platforming within Smelter is very action-orientated and it reminded me a lot of the Mega Man X series. Similar to more traditional platformers, you'll need to make some precise jumps, dash your way across gaps, and bounce between walls to reach higher heights, but you can't just defeat your enemies simply by jumping on their heads like Mario. The action is similar to Ori and the Blind Forest in that you need to pummel your foes to death with a string of melee attacks and there's even powerful insta-kill abilities that you can unleash once you've built up a glowing pink meter.
Within the separate top-down strategy sections, you'll receive objectives such as invading different parts of the map and you'll also need to ensure that your territory is safe from attacking invaders. In order to survive, you'll need to manage the number of your troops by building houses and ensuring that they are fed by maintaining a sufficient supply of apples. Keeping on top of repairs is also important to prevent you from being at a disadvantage and having to build new structures from scratch.
The two contrasting gameplay styles I found to feel pretty jarring when moving between them, as there was little in common besides the visual style to help them feel cohesive. It was also a pain to have to sit through tutorials and effectively learn how to play two different games at the very same time. Of the two though, it's the platforming that I certainly like the most. It has depth with several different skill trees of abilities for you to learn, and there are also collectibles hidden in hard to reach places that require you to be observant and put your platforming skills to the test. The strategy sections feel pretty sluggish by comparison as troops move painfully slow on the battlefield and attacking enemies can feel never ending.
Along with these complaints about the strategy aspects, there were also several other issues that ended up hampering my enjoyment of the game. It might seem like I'm being a little overly critically here but something that I found irritating was that the B button is used to select items and the A button is used for cancelling (something which is pretty much the opposite within all other games on Xbox). I also found it frustrating that when I clicked new game by accident on the main menu it completely erased my save file without giving the option to use a different slot. This was pretty curious as there are different selectable slots present when you go to load your game.
Smelter certainly sounded like an interesting idea on paper, but the execution of bringing both its contrasting gameplay styles together was admittedly not the smoothest. It felt tiring to have to effectively learn two games in one and the strategy elements in particular felt pretty sluggish. Despite these criticisms though, I did find some enjoyment out of the platforming sections as there is a whole bunch of upgrades present and many collectibles to find.