My experience with Super Crate Box, #5 on Gamasutra's top 10 indie games of the year, is unusual. I downloaded the game and played through the tutorial. A few tries later I thought the game was alright. All of a sudden, 3 hours had passed and I anticipated playing the next day. Fast forward to now, after 6 hours of play time I'm just about done with this super fun game. It's fast paced, challenging, and it only gets harder the longer you survive.... or so I thought. Imagine my surprise when I watched the video below of a high scoring run.
Do you see the fire at the bottom and the hole it sits in? For some reason (probably because I play on a netbook) this is cut off in my screen view. I played without view of the bottom level, the pit, and the fire. So I didn't know that when enemies fall in the pit, they come back at the top even stronger. Never mind the fact that the Gamasutra description explains this explicitly. I only skimmed the description to avoid spoilers.
So without knowing all the rules or being able to see all of the game, I managed to score 40+ points on all 3 stages, and have unlocked ambushed mode. Now, I think coping with these drawbacks actually made the game more action packed for me. My matches are certainly more interesting to watch and play than the gameplay in the video. But that's just my opinion.
Regardless, the follow are my thoughts in a box...
- I do not agree with the design decision of the repeated JUMP function when holding the JUMP button. For reasons which I'll expound upon soon, it's generally best to make each button press of a function like this equate to a single action.
- Likewise, the entire speed of the game is slightly too fast. To simplify a complex explanation, based on the way humans work (perceiving the world and executing actions), setting a high speed for a game doesn't make the game any "faster" in many ways. To an extent, we augment our DKART skills with knowledge (which is acquired over time) to cope with our inability to react and act. The idea is, increasing the speed in this way merely shuffles the skill spectrum around putting more weight on knowledge skills, an area that can be reduced to create lower learning barriers. After all, the complexities in games like Super Crate Box naturally far outweigh the other stressed DKART skills.
- Furthermore, because of the high game speed, it's more difficult to judge the hitboxes and other interactions in the game. Sometimes I thought that I dodged an enemy, but I died. Other times I survived without being able to see how. And because the game doesn't pause (even slightly) when you die (like in Super Mario Bros or DKCR), sometimes the exact cause of your death is mysterious. Or my difficulty in understanding the interactions could be due to the way the hitboxes are designed. Either way, I feel that something should be tweaked.
- Excellently tuned weapons with an excellent coverage of the design space. Nice sound effects and unique feel created by screen shaking and other visual effects.
- The 3 enemies and their speed upgrades create just enough contrary motion that layers together nicely to create varied challenges.
- The levels are surprisingly unique despite looking nearly identical.
- The most impressive part of Super Crate Box is the forced adaptation. The only way to increase your score is by picking up crates. Touch one and another randomly drops into the stage. With every crate you pick up, the weapon you're carrying automatically and randomly changes. Adjusting on the fly and mastering all the weapons allows you to play like a super action hero (like in this awesome fight scene).
- I initially thought Super Crate Box would be a tactical game rather than a strategic one; the tactic being "just keep moving and shooting to get the job done." To my surprise and enjoyment, there is a significant amount of planning and strategy involved with every weapon. Certainly this tends to be the case when one pushes their performance in any game. It's just that with Super Crate Box, the tactical play dropped out more quickly than I expected.
The game is great. Not much to it, but to do it.