Developer: Joseph J.
Release Date: Early Access - 2022
By Chris Picone, 30 November 2021
Smoothcade is Joseph J.’s debut game, a platformer that looks and sounds like it’s made for small children but – and I can’t stress this enough – is really a super game for all ages. Joseph claims the game has been inspired by such games as Bubble Bobble, Ice Climbers, and Solomon’s Key. I’ve only played Bubble Bobble out of that lot, and I can definitely see the similarities in terms of both gameplay and aesthetics, but Smoothcade is very modern, highly polished, and super sleek. It’s also got a very strong ‘arcade’ feel to it. Interestingly, the game involves no scrolling at all – each levels fits on a single screen. But there’s over a hundred levels so plenty of game for your buck.
There’s no real story, just the classic excuse for a story typical of any platforming game. A golden blender went missing so a bunch of cute farm animals have gone to find it, armed with the ability to shoot clouds that somehow “captures” enemy critters. If you expected anything different, you’ve never played a retro arcade game.
I was initially put off by the graphics. Not because they’re bad; they aren’t. They’re deceptively detailed, heavily stylised but highly polished. Perfect for small children but a little off-putting for an aging gamer like me. They grow on you though. Once you get stuck into the game, it doesn’t take long before you’re hanging to kill the cute little bastards.
The music’s great, a nice bopping soundtrack that fits the game perfectly. There’s a narrative voice though, at the start of each level: “Ready? … Go!” that sounds like it’s straight out of a spelling game my kid used to play when they were about three years old. But, like the graphics, it didn’t take long for me to get hooked on the game, and mimicking the voice at the start of each level even turned into a bit of a family game around the house every time someone was about to do something.
Like any good arcade/retro platformer, the gameplay’s super simple. There’s a jump button, a shoot button, and a ‘karma’ button which changes your clouds so they either float up or drop down. The goal changes for each level; on some you have to kill all the enemies, on others you have to pop a bunch of balloons, and sometimes you’re collecting fruit. The enemies are easy to kill for the most part but the clouds don’t shoot far which means you have to get quite close to them and that opens up room for error. There’s a huge range of enemies. Some just stroll around – fairly harmless but spiky so if you try to jump an obstacle and accidentally land on one you get hurt. Others shoot at you, others chase you, others teleport around, some launch themselves at you from off the screen, some drop fire... There’s never a dull moment. The level design’s where the magic’s at though. Anywhere the screen ends, if there isn’t a wall, you come out the other side – horizontally or vertically. You also need to jump around from platform to platform, over obstacles, through portals, and hit switches to move blocks around. There are also environmental challenges; all the normal platformer tropes like rising lava, underwater worlds where you need to collect bubbles, that sort of thing. The game’s a bit funny – you don’t shoot far, or jump high, or move quickly, but somehow it’s got a really fast pace to it and you just find the game pulling you along. Blast a few baddies, pop a few balloons, and the next thing you know you’ve just beaten twenty levels and it’s dinner time.
It's also worth mentioning that the game boasts a few nice modern features such as a speedrun play mode and, thankfully, a multiplayer system that supports up to four players. I started playing by myself but it wasn’t long before first one then another child would come and join and the whole family would be playing together. Good times.
Fun Factor / Replayability
As I mentioned earlier, there’s over a hundred levels, so there’s quite a few hours of gameplay before you need to worry about replaying it. At the moment there doesn’t seem to be a level select feature but maybe there’s one coming (the game’s still in Early Access, after all). Even with so many levels the game never feels grindy. There are ten worlds to explore, every level’s set up very differently from one to the next, and I lost count of all the different enemies. And if that’s not enough there’s unlockable characters and a speedrun mode.
I’m telling you as someone in my thirties that this is a fantastic game for all ages. My kids love it, I love it. Multiplayer games with the whole family are even better. If you’re a fan of retro and arcade platformers, embrace the cuteness, grab Smoothcade and have some fun.