Better Than Cheap: Super Crate Box

(A feature in which I highlight free PC games.  There are many high-quality and innovative games out there that cost nothing, but are sadly restricted to their niche.  I think they’re worth your time.)

There’s a division in the gaming community right now over what can be considered a ‘game’. The increasing focus on cinematic sequences, combined with games asking less and less of player interaction has led to a backlash against what we once viewed as that ideal of video games: the interactive movie.

Oh, how we used to dream of them. Razor-sharp 3D graphics, massive in scale, fluid animation, and preferably lots of action involving planes and car chases and explosions and kung-fu. You know, the stuff that little boys like. Except, now that it’s here (and we’re no longer little boys), we’ve found that it’s kind of dull to press three or four buttons and watch a choreographed sequence play out, the artifice almost dripping out of the screen. You used to memorise the Fatality combos in Mortal Kombat, and usually fail. Now, you press X then O and the character will act out a long chain of moves. You’re not involved. It’s been said that it feels like the game doesn’t really want you there.

The opposite of this “interactive movie” direction is a simple game with one defined goal. Space Invaders is hardly a complex game, but the central mechanic (shoot the little shapes that fall from above) is easy enough to grasp and, therefore, able to be mastered once you start experimenting with strategy. Same goes for Tetris, a masterpiece of game design. It can be learned in less than a minute, but millions of people play Tetris to this day, still trying to improve on their performance. Sure, you could spend days trying to master one facet of modern games, but what’s the point? It’s not like we have high scores any more.

In recent times, some have reacted by creating games that concentrate solely on mechanics, and the mastery thereof. Enter Super Crate Box.

Super Crate Box is a tiny gem. The goal is simple: collect boxes while you avoid being hit. When you collect a box, your weapon changes, and so must your survival strategy. Learning how to maximize each weapon’s potential is key, because if you don’t know how to use the bazooka when it inevitably turns up in the rotation, you’re going to have a real hard time getting to the next box.

Enemies fall from the top of the screen at a brisk pace, and make their way to the bottom. If they reach the pit at the bottom, they reappear at the top of the screen, but angrier. Faster. Technically speaking, you could play the entire game without killing a single enemy, but if you don’t manage the numbers effectively, you’ll find yourself quickly overwhelmed.

It’s unrelenting, unforgiving, and you’ll fail to break 10 points for a while, but you’ll improve. It’s a lean, mean game that revels in its medium and makes no concessions to needless fat like story, characters and themes.

Super Crate Box is available as a free download  for PC and Mac, and for handheld iOS devices for £1.49.

(My high score is 130.  The gauntlet has been thrown down.)

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