How Metroidvania is it? Low Fit. Three sections of the game have a Metroidvania feel to it, with some ability gating, but the emphasis is definitely on the 2D Shooter element rather than the exploration and powering up.
Primary Challenge: Ranged Combat
Time to beat: ~13 hours
Review Info: The Steam review code for Smelted Kin was provided by the developer.
Buy Smelted Kin if you like…
- Nail-Biting Survival Style Difficulty
- Quiet lonely atmosphere
- Anxiety Game Systems
- Upgrading through Exploration
- Heavy Platforming
▼ Review continues below ▼
Smelted Kin is advertised as a 2D Shooter with Metroidvania and Platformer elements, and describing those other features as “elements” I think is fairly accurate. For about half of the game you will be following a fairly engaging pattern of exploring the unknown, searching in the dark for a way to turn the power back on, and collecting important gear to move forward. Afterward the game discards that design for a more linear gauntlet of enemies, which highlights some of the frustrations of the engine. The game wasn’t without its issues from the outset, but as I got used to things I actually found it quite enjoyable. Unfortunately the payoff isn’t very good, with disappointments mounting up all the way to its incomprehensible ending. I think Smelted Kin was an excellent effort, and at times it clearly highlights the strengths of a talented developer, but looking at the game as just another product it’s difficult to recommend.
The opening cutscene of Smelted Kin depicts a research facility that is apparently very difficult to gain access to. One spaceship tries to land by it and is promptly destroyed, then it is followed by a second ship which we can only presume is our protagonist’s ship. After a brief introductory level, you’re thrown into a hub area where you can meet your quest-giving android NPC who basically tells you what to do next. Unfortunately this NPC will only tell you once, so you better take mental notes and pay attention. It is very easy to forget what to do and get lost. In spite of a seemingly detailed tutorial there are a lot of aspects to this game that aren’t properly conveyed, such as what the symbols on the map screen are, or how to even get a map in the first place. Through some perseverance and experimentation though, figuring out how things work wasn’t some impenetrable wall. It’s just unintuitive enough that I suspect that most players won’t have the kind of tenacity required to push past the frustration.
One of the reasons the game starts off in such a confusing way is because you have to find a map for each area before you can even access the option in your menu. There are two locations you can go to from the hub area, one of which is the game’s final level, inviting you to get lost in the worst place possible. The true first level will have you wandering without any way to keep track of where you’ve been. The tutorial really should have included the game’s initial patterns as part of what it had to teach, because once I figured out how things worked I started to have a lot of fun.
For three of the game’s five areas you follow a three-step pattern. First you have to turn the power back on in that section so that you can access elevators. Then, you have to find a distribution center so you can buy a map and know where the heck you’re supposed to go. Finally you need to collect whatever gear the NPC android tells you to – which is usually hidden just behind a boss. The android’s location is marked on the map in whatever area you’re supposed to be completing, and it’s your job to route a path through the maze without falling to your death or dying to one of the many security robots swarming the area.
The routing by itself is probably the best part of the game, and the anxiety system accentuates that challenge in a delightful way by making it unpredictable. The higher your anxiety the more likely you’re going to be attacked by the titular Smelted Kin which is sort of like a cloned double of yourself. Everything could be going well when suddenly this jerk shows up and shoots missiles in your direction. She isn’t so powerful that her presence is overwhelming – those missiles aren’t going to kill you unless you were already in trouble – but it can mess up your plans. She’s a fun way to keep the metroidvania part of the game engaging even after you think you’ve conquered the area, and there are drugs that reduce your anxiety if you want to invest in those instead. She’s just another way the game uses tension to create an engaging experience.
Killing robots and opening boxes gives you ore that you can spend on upgrading your character or buying health packs and ammunition. Death causes you to lose 10% of whatever ore you’re carrying, so you’re incentivized to empty your pockets before venturing into the unknown. More expensive items include permanent and cumulative 1% decreases to the damage you take or an upgrade to how much your health packs heal when you use them. As with any game that has similar death consequences, this adds tension to exploring around, making you want to avoid death at all costs. However near the end of the game this is more so you don’t have to grind for health and ammo and less because you want to upgrade your character.
The kind of tension the death consequences create is great when the game is working well. Manipulating robot AI, angling your gun to land that perfect hit, and avoiding traps is fun and rewarding. The further you get from the last checkpoint makes the stakes even higher as you meticulously fight your way through to the next. Unfortunately the game doesn’t always seem to work that well, and dying to something that feels unfair makes Smelted Kin a danger to the health of your controller. There are enemies that explode or shoot grenades at you – which also explode – that seem like they can one-shot you even when you’re at full health and shields. Their attacks can be dodged but you kind of have to already know where they are in order to react to them appropriately. You don’t have any kind of panic button to avoid attacks, so positioning is everything, but you’re also heavy and slow. Inching around, scrolling a little bit of the path forward onto the screen at a time, is really the only way to stop yourself from being caught off guard.
The worst offender for unfair deaths is the platforming. Your protagonist can’t jump very high, but you’re often tasked with jumping onto things anyway. You have some long distance jumping capability, but every time I made a jump – every time – I curled my toes in anticipation of things going south. Part of the reason for that is that if you don’t get a running start on a jump, you lose distance. Even with the extra distance if you don’t jump right at the edge of the cliff, you may still come up short. Come up short and you take fall damage, usually lethal. Especially in the final areas where there’s a desperate need for more checkpoints, falling to my death had me screaming and lamenting the progress I lost.
The last two areas highlight these shortcomings like a floodlight in a room full of roaches. In these areas, on top of the easy ways to die you also have lots and lots of slow and painful mechanics that you must repeat in their entirety if you fail. In the second to last section this comes in the form of elevators that follow that annoying trope of dumping enemies on you while you wait for it to arrive at its destination. Without exaggeration I think there are at least 10 elevators/gondolas in this area, many of which take several minutes to complete their path and even make multiple stops along the way. This area also never has any map, so it’s easy to get lost or miss a save point along the way, compounding the possible progress lost if you do happen to die.
What kept me going through the hours-long elevator section – besides my rule that I have to beat a game before reviewing it – was the anticipation of building and riding a robot vehicle for the game’s final section, as advertised on Smelted Kin’s steam page. Boarding that robot tank was possibly the most disappointing thing I’ve experienced all year. It’s slow, it’s lumbering, and you have no control over its only useful attack. It also has limited fuel preventing you from exploiting its only unique feature, which is its ability to fly (slowly). Before I figured out that you could use repair kits like health packs, I found it was easier to disembark the tank and clear out all the enemies in the path before getting back into it to fly across pits as it can only do. After several failed attempts I went and grinded out a bunch of ore to buy repair kits, then I drip fed HP into my tank as I arduously worked my way through far too many hallways until the final door mercifully set me free. The final section wasn’t nearly as annoying as the elevators, but it was also a very poor payoff for the amount of effort it took to get there.
I never enjoy writing negative criticism because I understand the perils of game development. It’s even harder here since the developer is actually very responsive and eager to address issues with the game. In my playthrough I had a few game breaking bugs along the way which were fixed in a matter of hours, and this is a phenomenal demonstration of the passion the team has. I definitely encourage Microbat to keep at it, there’s great potential in this studio. About half the game might have gotten a 3.5 out of 5 from me if the entire experience kept up the same level of quality until the end. I loved how the “metroidvania” aspects of the game combined with the core mechanics. The difficulty it takes to get into the experience and the disappointing payoff of the second half unfortunately makes it impossible for me to give this one a general recommendation. I think it’s worth checking out if you’re okay with stopping partway through, but if you’re at all a completionist, you may want to give this one a skip, unless it’s patched extensively at some point in the future.
Shooting and managing enemy attacks is engaging, but the encounters aren't heavily varied and get old after a while. Also sometimes attacks can surprise you with little warning.
When the game requires you to platform it keeps you on the edge of your seat. Not because it's fun and exciting, but because falling means instant death, and your character's weighty movement is difficult to get used to.
There are some significant rewards hidden in the game world, but moving around the architecture is always slow and dangerous and the map isn't always helpful in showing you where you haven't been - when the map is even available.
There really aren't any puzzles in the game. There are mechanics you have to experiment with to understand, but no real ''puzzles''.
The story is fairly difficult to follow, which can make it more interesting if you enjoy interpreting things
Overall the graphics are pleasant to look at, however some animations are higher quality than others
The game is actually at its best when there is no music. The music that is there is decent, but it's implemented in weird ways sometimes, like rocking out when an elevator is moving and abruptly stopping when it's not
In spite of the openness of the early areas, there is really only one true path. It's not likely going to provide much variability on subsequent playthroughs
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