Super Crate Box

I thought that a broken gaming PC would leave me with nothing to play this weekend, but I was wrong this time, since just about any computer on Earth can run Super Crate Box, the latest retro game to be made by Vlambeer, an indie studio that seems to cater to anyone with broken consoles and is marooned on 2 GB of RAM, indefinitely.

I half expected the game to play much like Realm of The Mad God in that I pick it up, play for an hour, then get back to playing Diablo II. My assumptions were completely true in those regards: I played the game for 54 minutes and unlocked every stage and weapon therein, but the difference between Super Crate Box and Realm of The Mad God is that I actually had fun playing the former, and it turned out to be worth reviewing.

Essentially the game is Mario Bros but the POW Block is replaced with guns, and while this sounds like it would just make the game easier, things are kept interesting through two mechanics: The Crates & The Enemies. Your score is measured in the number of crates you grab, each one giving you a random weapon (some more helpful than others), and while there are only two enemies, a challenge is maintained by the sheer volume of enemies that get tossed into a level, and if any of them reach the fire pit at the bottom, they only come back faster than before.

While some weapons are a bit more powerful than others (like the revolver, that kills any enemy in 1 or 2 shots, and has no ammo limit, like all the others), the beauty behind the mechanics is that if you want to increase your score (and unlock more weapons, stages, and characters) is to keep getting crates, and ultimately ditch your favorite weapon and learning to effectively use another (and another, and another). This keeps the game moving at a fast, varied pace, and the score necessary to unlock items is well measured so that you’ll often be ‘oh, so close’ and keep coming back to try again. The graphics are charming, the guns are fun to use (one of my favorites being the disk gun that ricochets off of walls and cuts enemies in half, but can also do the same to you if you’re not careful), and the design itself is mathematically sound. Speaking of which, the music is also very enjoyable and does not get old, with each track complimenting its respective stage very well. The stages themselves are also very well designed in that while they use the same mechanics as every other stage, each progressively unlocked one is more challenging than the last, showing a very attentive level of design.

There is not much to dislike at all, really. If anything, it is a bit on the small side, as Vlambeer is a studio that often develops in flash; Super Crate Box only features three stages (though one can expect to spend a while on each), and once you unlock the last weapon, the gameplay does not change at all, meriting very little replay value. While the focus of the game is on beating high scores on each stage, the level and scoring design I mentioned before is calibrated so that the player is not expected to get anywhere beyond 15 crates (10 crates being the number required for each unlockable item, for that very reason), and given that you die and respawn so quickly, it is incredibly easy to get into a rut of performing the same routine every time, hoping that by chance you make a crate or two further than before.

However, the game is free and it downloads in less than a minute, so as a casual pick-me-up, it fulfills its purpose rather well. Being on Steam, the game certainly gets a bit more exposure than Vlambeer’s other titles, so we may very well see this little gem taken to greater heights. It has got some golden mechanics though, and if there were more content, I would certainly still be playing it now, however Diablo’s evil hoards need tending at the moment.

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