Eyebrows shot up last year when Angry Mob Games released a platformer called Muffin Knight onto the App Store. Those eyebrows belonged to gamers familiar with the indie scene, who pointed out that Muffin Knight appeared to be a flagrant rip-off of Vlambeer's Super Crate Box.
We gave Muffin Knight a Silver Award on both iOS and Xperia Play. Thieves don't deserve to prosper, but it was just such a good game - after all, so was Super Crate Box.
Now Vlambeer – with the assistance of The Blocks Cometh developer Halfbot – has managed to bring its original title to iPhone and iPad, presumably hoping to oust its brazen imitator. But has it succeeded?
The aim of Super Crate Box is to collect a certain number of crates in a single-screen stage populated by various baddies that appear from a portal at the top of the screen and make their way towards a pit of fire at the bottom.
There are three types of enemy: little green monsters, which scuttle quickly in one direction until they hit an obstacle and turn around; big green monsters, which move more slowly but otherwise behave in the same way; and ghosts, which slowly drift towards you.
Whenever an enemy reaches the fire pit, it re-emerges from the portal in faster-moving red form, making your job that bit harder. To keep enemies from reaching the fire – and from killing you by touching or even going quite near you – you can attack them with whatever weapon you have to hand.
These weapons come randomly from the crates that you need to collect in order to advance, and they include a pistol, a laser, a rocket launcher, mines, a katana, and a disc thing that bounces off walls and kills you unless you jump out of the way.
That's not a knife. This is a- oh, it's a rocket launcher
This random structure frequently presents you with a dilemma: stick with the awesome weapon you've just been lucky enough to get, or forge on at the risk of picking up a rubbish weapon and consequently dying.
All the while an endless stream of enemies forces you to flee and jump and dodge. Playing Super Crate Box feels a bit like juggling objects that magically transform every five seconds while borstal children throw lit matches at your face.
To unlock the second stage you have to collect ten crates, and to unlock the third you have to collect another ten. And that's it – there are just three stages.
For the first half an hour or so you'll unlock new weapons with your running total of crates, but after that you'll have unlocked them all, after which every time you collect ten crates in a stage you unlock a new character.
To unlock SFMT ("Super Mother F**king Tough") mode you need to collect 40 crates in a stage, and beyond that there's also Ambush mode, which ups the ante even further.
Once you unlock the first three stages, real progress in Super Crate Box is hard. It's so hard that after a while the words 'game over' cease to have any independent meaning. When you see them in other games you feel like Vlambeer's ideas have been plagiarised again.
An embarrassment of economies
Speaking of which, it's worth comparing the original and the clone. In contrast with Super Crate Box's rather stark offering, Muffin Knight has star ratings, XP, multipliers, a multiplayer mode, and nine stages. It also has rather spangly 2.5D graphics, compared with Super Crate Box's – again, stark – pixel-art sprites and backgrounds.
When it comes to features, the clone has the original licked. However, when it comes to gameplay Super Crate Box is the better game in numerous subtle ways.
For one thing, its stages are each confined to single screens. This allows you to have complete control over what's going on without the distraction of scrolling, in turn allowing for faster and more frantic gameplay. The uncluttered pixel-art graphics also help.
For another thing, the controls are more responsive, as you'd hope given the pace of the gameplay and the outright cruelty of the collision detection. You'll die an awful lot, but when you do manage to achieve a state of flowing competence the satisfaction is immense.
And for a third there's the sense of humour running through Super Crate Box. As with a lot of indie games you feel a pleasing sense of connection to the developer, thanks to touches like the cheeky little messages that pop up when you unlock new weapons.
Both games have their merits, which is why we've given both the same score. If the bells and whistles of modern gaming are important to you then you might be best advised to go for Muffin Knight.
But if you're real gamer – and, what's more, a gentleman – then Super Crate Box is without question the game for you.