Indie-cent Exposure #3: Super Deconstructive Box

November 9, 2010

Hello? Hello! This week I wrote about the marvellous Super Crate Box, the mind-bouncing ROM Check Fail and the deconstructive use of indie games.

I know it’s been a little while so I’ll ease you into it. C’mon, we’ll sing the first part together:

What does the term ‘Super Crate Box’ mean to you, reader? Maybe it’s a setting in Team 17’s new Worms Apocalypse 4 3D Arcade 2D Edition. It might be your affectionate, Neanderthal way of referring to your GameCube. Could be. Or perhaps your thoughts turn to that delicious hamper of sweet fruit and crisp breads that your dear mother sends you each Christmas. Mmm.

Whilst all of these and more are valid answers, to me Super Crate Box means only one thing. Go on, don’t be shy. Take a look. Download it. Drink it in. Then come back.

Done? Utterly brilliant, is it not?

If you’re grinning sheepishly right now and nodding like drunk Pinocchio, it’ll be because you’ve foolhardily ignored my link, despite my insistence. I imagine you expect me to use words to persuade you. Hey-ho, let’s GO.

Super Crate Box is the original Mario Bros., weaponised. It takes place in a space exactly the same size as your screen. Crates equal score, and your on-screen critter leaps between platforms of varying levels, collecting them. Each crate switches out your current weapon for a new one, which would be of little consequence if it weren’t for the enemies bumping their way down the screen from top to bottom, dead set on fatal collision with you. Let them pass and they’ll pop straight back out the top again, irate and bloody fast.

And the game really is about crates. Developers Vlambeer have managed to resist the obvious temptation of awarding kills with points, meaning the crates are the only driving factor behind every slicing, dicing and burning; the enemies a wave of death keeping you from what you really-fucking-need-just-let-me-get-to-the-SODDING-CRATES-YOU-FUCKS.

When I say ‘wave of death’, don’t mistake me for some wishy-washy romantic. Have a closer look at the character models of those baddies.

Skulls, on legs. The literal walking dead. It’s as if Vlambeer are having a bit of a chuckle at the endlessly redesigned aliens and terrorists we’re normally pitted against. What does it matter what they look like, so long as they mean to end you?

The game’s masterstroke, though, comes in the decision to force you to change weapons from second to second. Modern shooters tend to claim dozens of gun types – Borderlands claimed thousands – facilitating hundreds of new ways to kill people. They forget to provide us with a reason to make use of them; even when the weapon types start numbering in the millions, you can bet I’ll still be exclusively pretending to be a sniper and saving my grenade launcher ammo for a rainy day.

Super Crate Box makes that potential variety an imposed reality. It hands you one weapon at a time, asking you to adapt your tactics constantly and master each in turn.  Enjoying that minigun? Here are some mines.

This is, crucially, fun, due in no small part to the tender loving care clearly dedicated by Vlambeer to every weapon placed in front of you. The aforementioned minigun features recoil that will hurl you across the map like a plastic cup in a storm. The laser rifle charges up with a whine, incinerates everything in its path before settling back down to nothing, gurgling happily. Even those mines feature the most satisfying CLICK – BLEEP imaginable.

It’s all fantastic, and I came out of it realising that what made Mario Bros. similarly fantastic had almost nothing to do with the squat plumber whose face launched a thousand later games. It was essentially a game about whacking moles, trying to stay calm as you lose control in the face of overwhelming odds. It was also about throwing your hands in the air and roaring with frustration, simultaneously wearing the grin of a shit-eater. I know this now, because Super Crate Box is about the same things.

We’re touching on something interesting here: the potential for indie games to be deconstructive. Vlambeer have taken apart something we know so well we barely even notice it anymore, stuck bits of it on the canvas and sent it back to us as something entirely different. And suddenly we can see the ideas that made it tick in the first place.

Blind respect for games isn’t useful. We need more people to stop talking about ‘Classics’ and start ripping them up create something else.

And, y’know, it’s exactly this kind of batshit crazy thinking that’s responsible for the existence of ROM CHECK FAIL.

Click for video.

ROM CHECK FAIL takes the concept of the mash-up and applies it to gaming ‘Classics’. Every few seconds as you play, everything changes. The character you control; the enemies you are fighting; the level you are navigating; all swap around unpredictably. You might become Link, swinging at asteroids in the Mushroom Kingdom.  Or Pac-Man, gobbling Space Invaders in Gauntlet’s gauntlet. More importantly – and this bit’s the most batshit of all – every time a switch happens, the gameplay rules applied to each element of the game change with them. This is why your brain will explode.

Post-brain explosion, you’ll end up playing a kind of meta-game, preparing for the next switch; making sure you’re not flying your ship above an enemy in case you morph into Mario, with all the gravity he implies.

Further than that, you might be able to work out what makes Asteroids or The Legend of Zelda so appealing, piece by piece.

The end. Next week: more INDIE-CENT EXPOSURE!

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