It's impossible not to feel a large pang of sympathy for Vlambeer, the prominent two-man indie developer who's had to put up with two of their games being ripped off with App Store copies in the last year.
Such plagiarism is sad but not surprising - Vlambeer's lean, bite-sized gaming morsels are a natural fit for the iOS marketplace, and each game's effortless retro flair and jazzy soundtracks embody much of what makes the platform interesting to begin with. With the assistance of Halfbot the popular rage-inducing PC game Super Crate Box is now on iOS, which helps tip the App Store scales back in Vlambeer's favour.
An example of minimalistic design, Super Crate Box dumps you onto a single-screen arena and has you battling against endless waves of foes until you die - which will usually be in about 30 seconds, because the game is harder than playing Dark Souls with your hands tied to your feet. There are only three multi-tier maps to choose from, but each play out in surprisingly different ways that only really become apparent after you've been playing for utter yonks.
Vlambeer makes games that would have felt natural in the era when Atari was legendary, and Super Crate Box's objective is to gather crates while shooting the three different enemy types that endlessly spawn from the top of the screen and head to the bottom. At the bottom of each stage lies a pit of fire, which incinerates you but causes enemies that reach it to re-appear at the top of the screen in bigger, meaner and redder form.
The twist - and there has to be a twist - is that your weapon randomly switches as you pick up a crate. Just like people, the weapons are not equal; the potent revolver dispatches enemies with a satisfying bang, but quirkier killing utensils like the disc launcher bounce off walls and can quite easily shear the player in half.
It's an act of retro-infused tightrope walking, basically, and even perfect runs can go south because the game gives you the dual pistols at the wrong bloody moment. Therein lies its charm, of course, and it's also quite nice to see a ball-achingly hard score-running title on iOS that doesn't also feature a plodding opening designed to placate newbies.
But the iOS version falls down on its control scheme, both on the weenie iPhone/iPod and the luxurious iPad, and while Halfbot should be celebrated for incorporating perhaps one of the most responsive on-screen controls I've ever seen, it doesn't do much to put a smile on your face when the touchscreen direction buttons have caused you to die. Again.
Super Crate Box is a darling of a game, then, hindered somewhat by the platform it's on. It's absolutely impossible to not like it, but this version is easy not to love.
Played on iPad 2 and iPhone 4