A shoot-em-up game without guns is like a library without books, or an office chair without wheels. Sure they might have some other purpose, but what fun are they without these essential little elements? Fortunately, Super Crate Box from indie developer Vlambeer is a free retro-styled platform shooter that has more guns than you can shake a stick at in the time it takes to play. (Or a katana.)
The object of Super Crate Box is to jump, shoot, and scramble your way across the level to reach randomly-placed crates. Use the [arrow] keys to move, [Z] to jump, and [X] to shoot. Each crate contains a different gun, and picking up a crate automatically switches your weapon to whatever you pick up. You start out with a single pistol,but you might pick up a powerful revolver, a slow-loading bazooka, or a so-much-recoil-you're-pinned-to-the-wall minigun.
However, the trick to this game does not lie in the weapons themselves, but in the random crates. Your score is not determined by how long you can stay alive or by how many enemies you can kill, but rather, by how many crates you pick up. Or, how many weapon switches you make. So while enemies (big, small, and floating) scamper down the screen in lemming-like paths, you've got to dodge their movements and blast them off the screen as efficiently as possible before they fall into a fire pit. If not, doing so only becomes harder as they later respawn at the top of the screen, moving twice as quickly as before since "fire makes enemies angry".
Analysis: What Super Crate Box provides for us is an interesting dichotemy in terms of what one wants to do in a shoot-em-up game, and the clash it provides against the actual goal of the game. As one plays through this game, it might be easy to become attached to a certain weapon. Perhaps it's the ease with which one can eliminate all of the enemies on the screen that provides a sense of attraction, or perhaps it is the allure of setting up the perfect shot and waiting for the right moment to pull the trigger. In either case, the goal is not to cherish the weapons you discover, but to constantly swap them out in order to capture the elusive crates, increasing one's score. Thus, the game relies less on the ability to wield the weapons properly, but more on how to wield them effectively in the time that they are alloted to you.
Oh, who are we kidding, it's a game about rapid-fire bullet-slinging and general mayhem.
One somewhat impressive thing about Super Crate Box is the wide range of weapons to receive, and how well-balanced the weapons are with themselves (though not necessarily with each other). For example, more powerful weapons like the bazooka and the grenade launcher can make large explosions that can clear out clusters of enemies in one shot, but they also take more time to reload. The machine gun and minigun have unlimited firing abilities, but also have a bit (or a ton) of recoil that could push you into danger if not used carefully. Undoubtedly you'll find that some weapons might be more useful than others, but that's part of the challenge. If you get a less-than-amazing gun, you've still got to figure out a way to get to the next crate so you can abandon it. Every move requires a split-second decision to get you to your prize and let you take out your opponents before they take you out.
There are only three levels in Super Crate Box, and it may feel like there isn't much variety to the gameplay (despite constant randomness), but you will hardly notice it at all. Each round can last as few as fifteen seconds and as long as five minutes, if you've really got the skills to manage it. Without even realizing it, you'll find yourself constantly replaying this game just to try to beat your high score from last time. With new weapons unlocked periodically and new characters unlocked with temptingly low (but still difficult) score targets, it's incredibly easy to get sucked into the action of this game. When JohnB first mentioned this game in our Weekend Download segment, he compared it to pumping in quarters at an arcade trying to get the high score. It's a slightly unsettling comparison, because when you finally stop playing half an hour later, you realize that you should have lost seven or eight bucks mindlessly buying more plays of the game. (Thank goodness it's free!)
While Super Crate Box lacks an amazing amount of variety, it more than makes up for it in its easy replayability and unique twist of forcing you to constantly change your plan of attack. Think you can beat your own high score? Sure, give it a shot. We'll check back in on you in an hour or two to see how you're doing.
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