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Smilemo Review: Frustrating & Punishing Platformer

Smilemo gives a subtle, yet punishing challenge for players by putting a high price on failure. The platforming is challenging as your movements need to be precise, with a lot of trial-and-error. Unfortunately, the challenge is all that the game can offer, with everything else sacrificed to make the game as hard as it can be.

Smilemo Review: Frustrating & Punishing Platformer

What would happen if Dark Souls met a 2D platformer? Being punished for failure and having to learn by trial-and-error is normal for video games. But when it becomes a crucial part of the gameplay, you get Smilemo. While trying to save your computer from a foreign virus, the main character will have to journey through code in order to fix everything.

The main appeal of Smilemo is the challenge, as you will fail to pass obstacles several times. While the price of failure is minimal, you will repeatedly fail as you experiment in order to bypass obstacles and navigate the level. Restarting has a high price, as failing can reverse your hard work easily. While this will appeal to those who are looking for a challenge, the high learning curve can discourage players who might be looking for something more casual.

Smilemo is currently available on PC for USD 8.99.

Steam 『Smilemo』 Official Launch Trailer

Story – Saving Your Computer From Viruses

Smilemo has a basic story, in that your computer runs afoul of a virus (whose origin isn’t said) that crashes your system. The main character is a smiling emoji shown during an error message, who dislodges itself from said error message when things start reaching a critical mass.

When the emoji gets its bearings, it is contacted by a mysterious voice who is trying to save the computer from the virus. The emoji is tasked with traveling across different sets of code to assemble a program that is capable of driving out the virus.

The world is inside a computer.

The world is inside a computer.

The story is minimalistic as the focus is mostly on the gameplay. It’s similar to games such as Super Mario 3D All Stars, where players will barely pay attention to the story. To Smilemo’s credit, it was never a game that was going to have a complex story or a game that was going to touch your heart. Instead, Smilemo aims to be memorable because it is a difficult platformer that requires a mix of reflexes, experimentation, and the willingness to have your progress undone by mistakes.

Gameplay – Getting Thrown Back Repeatedly

The platforming in Smilemo is not complicated at the beginning. You are able to jump over obstacles and control the height of your jump, as well as move left and right. As you progress through the different stages, you will gain new skills such as running to gain speed.

The real challenge comes from avoiding the red spikes that you see throughout the level. If you run into them or land on one, you are pushed back a short distance. If you are unlucky, you will be dealt a “Critical”, which pushes you back a further distance than usual.

The good news is that there is no conventional “Game Over”; the emoji doesn’t really take damage if they are hit by the red spikes. You can continually try again without worrying about running out of lives. This is also true of obstacles like viruses, which are capable of eating you. If that happens, you will just return back to the start of your encounter with the virus. You will never be in a position where death will force you to start at the beginning.

You will start getting used to failing repeatedly.

You will start getting used to failing repeatedly.

The difficulty of the game is that the red spikes are scattered throughout the level in ways that they work together to push you back as far as possible. This means that running into the red spikes is capable of throwing you back a greater distance than you expect. It is not uncommon for you to be thrown back to the beginning of the stage when you make a mistake at the midpoint.

Avoiding moving objects, jumping over blocks, and dodging small red beings will be some of the challenges you have to overcome. These obstacles will require you to time your movements, make precise jumps, and learn their behaviours. Unfortunately, your experimentation will result in making a lot of mistakes, which will result in you being pushed back several times.

While failing in a 2D side-scrolling platformer should not be unexpected, most games do not punish you as much as Smilemo. You can take several minutes to make it past an obstacle, only to have your progress undone in a few seconds. You can even be thrown back to the beginning of the map, forcing yourself to work your way back to your previous position.

There are save points that serve as checkpoints, allowing you to restart your progress from that point. It will also save your position if you close the game and come back, instead of starting from the beginning. Those are your only methods of saving your position, and the game is capable of pushing you back farther.

When you see a save point, you will be very relieved.

When you see a save point, you will be very relieved.

Experimenting to try and get past the obstacles is fun at first, but the fun quickly turns into frustration. You will have to spend time in order to get past obstacles, only to have an accidental movement potentially undo your hard work. Criticals will push you farther back, undoing your hard work even further. As you make your way back, you are still capable of making more mistakes, which prevent you from moving forward.

Surpassing this challenge is the appeal of Smilemo, but for casual gamers, this will be a large turn-off. Only hardcore 2D platformer players will find the fun in experimenting, finally getting to the finish line after hours of hard work. Casual players will quickly become frustrated as the effort necessary to advance becomes greater, and will likely discourage them from continuing.

Smilemo also has little replay value; you don’t earn any rewards for completing stages (the powers you “gain” are necessary for future stages). After completing a level, you would have to rely primarily on nostalgia if you want to replay the game again.

Audio & Visuals – Simple Graphics & Peaceful Audio

Smilemo has simple graphics, as you might expect of a 2D platformer. The stages are simply designed at first, though the backgrounds and obstacles become more intricate as you proceed. The game doesn’t need impressive graphics to challenge you, and what you see is good enough.

The graphics are simple, and it works to the game's advantage.

The graphics are simple, and it works to the game’s advantage.

The soundtrack in the game is peaceful and relaxing. The sound begins to drop in volume and become slurred when you hit a red spike, but it quickly regains its cheerful sound when you try again. It contrasts the challenges that you face, but it never loses its ability to cheer you up.

This review for Smilemo was played on Steam with a key provided by CFK Co. Ltd.

Smilemo is primarily a game about challenging yourself to get past difficult obstacles. You will spend hours trying to complete stages, making small steps of progress. Your work can easily be undone by a few mistakes, and this will be frustrating for casual players. If you are looking for a challenging 2D platformer that will test the limits of your patience, this is the game for you. If you are a casual player looking for a fun game to relax, it would be better to look elsewhere.
  • You want to try overcoming the challenges at first
  • Simple gameplay is easy to learn
  • Music is soothing and relaxing
  • The punishment for making mistakes is painful
  • Fun quickly turns into frustration as you will fail
  • Almost no replay value
  • Not suited for casual gameplay

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