Super Crate Box is a dangerous game. Previously released on Flash, iOS, and Steam, it's a twitch platformer-cum-shooter that preys on compulsion. If you dare to open the box on a lazy day, don't expect to close it again for an hour. And developer Vlambeer knows it.
You run about a single screen level trying to grab as many crates as possible, each one collected adding a single point to your score, while avoiding the monsters that tumble in from the top of the screen and bustle towards the bottom. Get hit just once and it's game over. If an enemy reaches the fire pits at the stage's base, it'll fall in and then return through the top of the screen harder, redder, faster, angrier.
The only way to stop this is to shoot them down before they reach the fiery depths. You start off with a pathetic pea shooter of a gun, but each crate contains a new random weapon. In essence, every time you want to increase your score you have to trade off your current firearm and hope that you're given something useful enough to make it to the next box. You split your time equally between blasting enemies off-screen before they reach the bottom and making mad dashes for the crates that appear at random around the screen.
It's ridiculously difficult. The flow of monsters rarely ebbs, and the only way to survive is to get yourself into a pattern: take down a few beasts while edging towards the next crate with carefully timed jumps and silly runs, grab a crate, cheer or lament whatever weapon you've acquired, rinse and repeat. Vita's D-Pad is perfect for the swift movements required.
Towards the beginning of a game you might get the chance to run around and grab a couple of boxes before the chaos really kicks off, but the unlock conditions for new stages and characters are quite telling. To get the next stage you need just 10 crates; a new character 25, 30 or 35, a separate difficulty 40. There are people who can score in the thousands after practice; for most, those apparently low numbers will be a great height to overcome. It almost feels like a playful mockery of other arcade-style high score games.
The collection of weapons is small at first, encompassing shotguns, rocket launchers, and dual pistols, but quickly expands to bring katanas, mines, and more thanks to the clever unlock system. Opening up a new level might require you to get 10 boxes in a single session, but your arsenal can expand whether you collect one or 31 as weaponry is added to rotation based on a rolling total of all crates collected across each attempt. Even when you're failing miserably and know it, Super Crate Box earnestly gives the impression that you're doing alright really, offering constant reward and encouraging you to hit the next milestone.
This ensures that, for that first 40 minutes while you're acclimatising and – frankly – being rubbish, you're still getting a fairly steady stream of new content to keep you interested. The additions seem to stop too soon, but by that point you're generally used to what's going on and have started to develop strategies with each weapon. By then you're getting a grasp on the trajectory of the grenade launcher, the closest you can afford to be to an enemy while wielding a shotgun, and by hour two you've just about adapted to deal with the ever-rotating strategy merry-go-round. You probably still won't be great by that point, but it's a start.
Cheekily, you're never asked if you want to play again when you die; it's just assumed that you do, and the game starts all over again. Annoyingly, it's often quite right – yes, we will have another 12 goes, please. As soon as you've got a reasonable grip on the mechanics, it's already won: you're hooked, your eyes glazing over as you stare at its lovely chunky pixels while the hyper retro looped music fades into the background like there's nothing else left in the world.
From here, Super Crate Box's high score potential is really unlocked. There are only three stages, though since they don't have set patterns and weapon drops are random it doesn't matter too much: they're just different layouts for you to test your skills on. Unfortunately there aren't any online leaderboards, which should be a given in a game like this, which is likely to do with the current restrictions of PlayStation Mobile.
Don't play Super Crate Box if you've got important things to do. It's a timesink, a stupendously enslaving arcade-style game that refuses to ease you in gently, instead enticing you in with extra bits and bobs until you realise that you're well and truly trapped in its box.