REVIEW: Smatter

Past the visuals, which show off environments comprised entirely of hexagons, Smatter (80 MSP) reminds me specifically of radiangames’ Inferno. Both are twin-stick shooters with an affinity for circles, both employ a sparse yet evocative style, but they also contain a similar idea; working fast and aggressively to take down larger enemies to avoid being overwhelmed by the smaller ones they spawn. A Tactical Shooter, in other words, instead of simply shooting everything in frame. 

Levels (13 in all) are more maze-like than straightforward, and can be obtuse to start, shrouded mostly in darkness until you approach and ‘feel out’ the boundaries. Every stage contains a number of individual cells, closed off areas accessible only through warp gates or locked doors. A minimap in the top left corner greatly improves that navigation, showing you said warp points and enemy threats, big and small. Despite the implied complexity, though, you’ll follow a mostly linear path. Clear the way, then move on. Bombs, EMPs, health, and keys can be discovered along the way in hidden rooms, provided you punch the corresponding switch. Some of those are found out in the open, others hidden behind enemy spawners. This is where the ‘twin-stick’ comes in.

Part of the beauty in Smatter is that you can play in two different styles— the ‘slow and steady wins the race’ way, hoarding your health, or the more rigid, challenging line to the exit that rewards tactical elimination of the ‘spawners’, placing them above the far more numerous ‘smatter’ they create. Call this style Mind over Smatter, and chuckle at your own invented cleverness. I did. And it’s more than a (s)matter of tactics. Yes, your survival (and progression) depends on the elimination of everything within a given stage, though real ‘progression’ is determined via a novel (and confusing, after you’ve read my explanation) ‘combo system’ for handling the scoring.

The basic gist is how many smaller enemies are destroyed between ‘spawner’ kills, and in keeping their numbers low in that interim. The counter below your total score represents a multiplier. The higher the number, the better you’re doing. Biding time and wiping out too many ‘smatter’ will decrease that number. Thus, being aggressive is generally the way to go, as killing anything gives you energy to use a focused or wide fire to quickly dispatch the stragglers and / or miniboss types, before they can overtake you or reduce your multiplier to zero. Doing so raises your score and awards badges at the end of the level (only used as a visual distinction on the leaderboard, higher scores still determine your placement).

Smatter - Screen

Hard to tell in a still shot, but this is you winning.

It’s all in knowing where to strike first, moving from one ‘spawner’ to the next, opening up passages where applicable to restock and heal. Using bombs and EMPs also come down to timing and the situation, often the difference between a high score and merely a passable one. Replaying previous stages is encouraged to familiarize yourself with the layout / most optimal run, and results in improved scores, which will of course make you the bigger man in the eyes of the global leaderboard.

Thanks to an intelligent scoring system and smart design that favors finesse and demands skill, Smatter gives more meaning to the twin-stick genre than you’d expect. Its controls are spot on, the visuals polished to a sheen, with no real faults to speak of. Well worth your time and currency.

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16 thoughts on “REVIEW: Smatter”

  1. Will definitely be checking this one out. The awesome music on the trailer and the mere mention of Inferno are enough to have piqued my interest. Plus, you always seem to pick out the best twin stick shooters

    1. I had already set to download the demo the next time I start up my Xbox and I did so without watching the trailer. Thanks for pointing out the great music in the trailer. It prompt me to watch it and you are correct. Being a uber fan of Twin Stick Shooters I just had to try it but I must say I am not a fan of Inferno but I can see why others are.

    2. I’m glad you liked the music too! I can’t wait to try the game and see what the rest of the soundtrack is like.

    3. Hate to burst both your bubbles, (as I like the music from the trailer as well), but I do not believe it is in the actual game. It’s still good, just more an uptempo game / music pairing.

      Bah, you’ll be busy shooting stuff anyway. You’re hardly notice / mind it.

      @Edgar: Thanks for the compliment. I’ve certainly played enough twin-stick types, so I just measure its worth by whether or not I’m having fun with it.

      @David: ‘Inferno’ is an acquired taste, I’ll give you that, but it combines everything great about twin-stickers -and- adds RPG-style leveling up, with skills that can be turned on and refunded at will. New Game+, strategy… best of all possible worlds!

    4. Yea but they ain’t no Grid Space Shooter. LOL

      I’ve been hooked on that ever since your review on it. 🙂

  2. I was ignoring this because yet another twin-stick shooter just makes me sigh and roll my eyes these days, but you’ve made it sound interesting. Whether it will live up to the expectation is a different matter, but you’ve sold me on giving it a try, at least.

    1. I’ll take a partial sale 🙂

      I’m with you on shooter fatigue (zombie wave shooters, in particular), though it remains one of my favorite genres. Easy to get into, difficult to master (when they’re done right). It helps whenever there’s a unique angle or a comparison to other games I’ve enjoyed, and the leaderboard aspect allows me to flex my scoring muscles.

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