I have recently become a mobile gamer. With almost a half-hour commute to and from the office every day, I’ve got a solid hour of interrupted game time on my hands. Some mornings I need something a little more involved — that’s where I’ll run Imaginary Range or Mage Gauntlet. But there are also those days where I’ve left my coffee thermos on the kitchen counter, or I rolled out of bed without enough time to apply mascara, and I just need something to occupy my brain for the time it takes me to get from my front door to desk chair. This is where the iOS port of Super Crate Box comes in.
This game is crack.
The charm of Super Crate Box lies in its roots; it plays like an old-school arcade game, and quite frankly I’m surprised that something this elegant didn’t find its way into our hands sooner than 2010. Its maps are tight and challenging, with enemies trickling it at just the right pace to keep you on your toes. Players must navigate these maps without running into these baddies — a single touch and bam, it’s game over. This requires some quick thinking and deep breathing as you attempt to collect crates that pop up around the map. Each randomly-spawned crate grants use of a new weapon — everything from dual pistols to land mines to lasers and even a katana — for use against these enemies.
To review: the first rule of Super Crate Box is to collect crates; the second rule is not to die.
While you don’t score any points for killing enemies, you do score for every crate you collect. Collecting a certain number will unlock new levels and characters. There are three maps to choose from, each with some platforms and holes to jump around in, as well as a big ol’ fire pit in the bottom center. As enemies plod or float slowly down the platforms, leaving them be ultimately results in their demise in the fire pit. From there they re-emerge at the top of the screen — this time, faster. The green ones are mostly drones, while the red ones move faster than the player can. The white ones are the ones to avoid, as they have the ability to seek out and follow the player.
Players who are most about chasing a high score than level progression will find endless amusement; there is always room to do more, to earn more, to shoot more bouncing skulls and acquire more weapons. The formula isn’t grandiose, but it’s one that has withstood the test of time — and in its own particular case, the jump from PC keyboard controls to an iOS touch screen.
Super Crate Box is an intense, shining example of the “less-is-more” approach to gaming. Yes, it’s simple, but it simply works. This is the kind of arcade game you would keep feeding quarters, promising yourself just one more game, until suddenly you’ve been at it for hours and your eyes are bugging out of your skull. I missed my train stop while embroiled in this game, and startled a few passengers when a rouge menace — a frantic floating red skull — killed me and I screeched at the top of my lungs like a crazy person. A middle-aged couple even got up and moved away from me. That kind of intense.
There is a calculated risk in scoring a crate, and that is the randomization of available weapons. You could find yourself in the center of an onslaught and suddenly find yourself with dual pistols or a flamethrowers. Or you could be drowning in bouncing skulls and get a landmine, which means choosing a lesser of two sad, sad ways to die. It’s cruel, it makes your palms sweat, and it’s exactly that game developer Vlambeer wants to play with you. It’s quite brilliant, actually, how Vlambeer manipulates players of Super Crate Box to accept these risks, many of them borderline unfair, and yet keep them tapping the “Play” button for hours on end.
That’s not all Vlambeer has done to screw with you. Each weapon has its own weakness, which you must figure out as you unlock them. For example, the laser rifle can torch an entire platform full of goobers, but it takes for-e-ver to charge. The katana is useless unless you’re close-range to an enemy, but then they’re already so close you die anyway. The flamethrower sets your feet on fire and for a split second –and all split seconds are crucial in this game — you lose control of your character. The game moves fast enough that a swift death in not a hindrance to the patient player.
Super Crate Box is one of the best casual games out there for iOS, Bejeweled and Angry Birds be damned. The design is flawless, the gameplay tight and controlled, a paragon of gorgeous simplicity. The only drawback on porting it to iOS is that players with wider fingertips or longer fingernails playing on the iPhone will have a hard time moving and shooting. Other than that, the game is superbly well done, providing endless replay value and encouraging room for score improvement.