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Game of the Break: Super Crate Box

Very nice thanks, and you?

And we're back! Wait, we've been back a while already? This must be why other people take their phones with them on holiday.

I've been spending the last couple of days trying to remember how to do things like type, use Google and do my job (which involves typing and using Google), so I'm still catching up. Fortunately and unsurprisingly, it doesn't seem like there's a great deal to catch up on.

The solitary boxed release of note this week is Crush3D, a 3DS update of the cult PSP puzzler - worth a look if you missed the original for sure, but perhaps a less polished and satisfying brain-teaser than the considerably cheaper and entirely wonderful Pullblox.

Xbox Live Arcade and PSN offered an acceptable vintage rehash in Choplifter HD ("It's a bit like running a taxi company" - Donlan) as well as dismal French survival horror Amy. "Could you imagine getting chills down your spine from a horror game called Mike or Roger?" asked Dan Whitehead, champion of social justice, hot on the trail of the latest sexism-in-games controversy. Here's hoping I Am Alive and Alan Wake's American Nightmare prove the online shops aren't just turning into a ghetto for survival adventures that simply weren't good enough to get pressed to disc.

Let's cast our net a bit wider then - it's been three weeks, after all. But it's not really fair to cast it beyond the geographical reach of our British and European readers, which rules out all the Vita stuff for another month or so and the 3DS port of the amazing VVVVVV until God knows when.

For the most part, that leaves us with the App Store, which is always unseasonably busy over Christmas while the rest of the games industry sleeps off its November binge. As Tom mentioned yesterday, we think we've figured out a way to make our mobile games coverage work better for us and you, so please look out for that soon.

We could hardly wait until then, though, to talk about the iOS version of a certain PC and Mac indie favourite. After all, Christian had been banging on about it for over a year.

Super Crate Box

A combination of nostalgia and knowing bathos are so often the indie developer's best defence. Can't compete on art budget? Do it in retro pixels. Want to communicate hardcore credentials and cool cachet simultaneously? Give it a silly or self-mocking title - and for that little something extra, stick Super on the front to make it the turbo-charged sequel to a NES or C64 classic that never was. VVVVVV's a great example. So is the economically cruel, judiciously frantic score attack of Super Crate Box.

I shouldn't be so mean, especially because both Terry Cavanagh's and Vlambeer's games are made not just with ingenuity and genuine forward thinking, but also without a jot of cynicism or ironic distance. They're the real deal. And besides, I get a kick out of that aesthetic as much as the next hipster, because I remember those games too, and how they made me feel, and I want that illicit fizz to stay a part of the gaming lexicon forever.

I guess I just look at the current music and movie scenes and worry that games risk going the same way: where the fringe's only response to the excessively slick processes of the commercial mainstream seems to be to wish things were the way they used to be in some rough, raw golden age. During the days of silent cinema, say, or rockabilly, or the nihilism of late-70s New York. Every art form needs an avant garde to keep it moving, but a simulacrum of an avant garde gone by doesn't cut it, no matter how well meaning.

There is a crucial difference in our field, though. Trying to modernise the sound of the Pixies or Parliament will only dilute it, but gaming has come so far and moved so fast in the last 30 years that Vlambeer and friends can make something genuinely different and even better by feeding modern ideas and technologies into old formulas - as well as re-learning important lessons about simplicity and purity that have been lost. Pop might be shouting into an echo chamber, but games are still in useful dialogue with their past.

"Like Robotron or Defender, Super Crate Box is a brisk tutorial in how less really can be more when it comes to design," wrote Christian in our Super Crate Box review. "You could list its handful of ideas on the back of a rail ticket, and yet they provide enough structure to build a game that you can then pretty much play until the end of time...

"Here is a piece of design that offers a path to true mastery through careful practice. Here is a game that provides unceasing opportunities for self-improvement." And not just for us players, perhaps.

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