Uh-oh, a bunch of little robots have gained sentience and begun marching out of their holding pen — right onto a treacherous course filled with lasers, hydraulic presses, giant buzz saws, and everything else you wouldn’t dare send anything cute into. Can you save the Sminis (Out Now, $0.99)?
Angry Rock Studio hit a great balance for a $0.99 game: it feels fresh, it couldn’t be easier to pick up and control, and its level of addictiveness lends it more weight than you’d expect from its simple premise. You get one virtual button to help the Sminis. Just one. It commands every little bot onscreen to march forth or stay put, the goal being to time their movements so they don’t get chewed up by all the threats in this deadly factory. Where things get interesting is the fact that more Sminis are always entering, and they’re in walking state by default; unless you time your marching orders just right, you’ll have some Sminis walking and others stopped, and your brain will struggle mightily with the unstable situation. Once you’ve mastered the art of controlling one Smini lineup, the game gives you two or three paths to handle at a time. And then come the floating platforms!
Luckily the player gets a series of timers – one for each pathway – that show when the next Sminis will enter. Keeping all your Sminis in sync would be a cinch if you could just glue your eyes on the timers, but the player’s natural inclination to keep assessing and re-assessing the traps creates a tug of war that’s unnervingly fun. Hanging just above the entrance timers are the level’s victory and defeat conditions — how many Sminis have to make it through to their exits versus how many you’re allowed to lose. Constant knowledge of where you stack up against the goal gives the game that “one more try” magic. It certainly kept me going no matter how many times I flunked a level.
Sminis‘ challenge varies pretty widely, spiking and dipping rather than building steadily. The boss levels, especially, can feel like victory laps. I rather appreciated this, as it’s nice to have a breather after particularly hair-raising levels. It also plays into the game’s subtle strategic aspect. Sminis lets the player bypass levels if they’re proving impossible, and its three-star system works ingeniously backwards: you choose how many stars you want to get, and the level requirements will vary accordingly. The two level sets beyond the first unlock at certain star thresholds, and the player can meet those goals by playing easier levels on hard difficulty, playing all levels on normal difficulty, or any number of ways.
You can also put hats on your Sminis if that happens to be your thing. The keen-eyed player picks these out in certain levels and assigns them in the game’s main menu. Otherwise there’s not a whole lot of evolution on the basic concept; the game reaches its greatest complexity in levels that serve up floating platforms, but rather than continue to up the ante from there Sminis devolves back to traps that feel little different from those introduced in the earliest levels. This is the only major consideration weighing the formula down. On the flipside, the sheer simplicity of Sminis could be a great thing if you’re looking for a game you can sink into immediately and repetition isn’t much of a concern. What all players will agree on is the annoyance of having to sit through the game’s 20-second intro video each time it’s fired up, so here’s hoping there will be a way to skip it in updates.
What do evolve nicely are the game’s environments, filled with distracting lights and whirring gizmos ready to shred your Sminis — all gorgeously cel shaded. If only there were some more music to listen to! The scratchy, repetitive electronica clips on offer are catchy in the short term but wear out their welcome with extended play.
iFanzine Verdict: The one-button control can leave Sminis feeling like a one-trick pony at times, but you’ll be surprised how quickly it reels you in and keeps you playing as long as you can deal with a repetitive style. Sminis is a casual gamer’s dream and the constant feedback it gives the player will be enough to hook many a diehard gamer as well.