It is, inevitably, a compromise. Vlambeer’s furiously-paced PC indie was always going to be a imperfect fit for touchscreen controls, and, despite the best attempts of The Blocks Cometh developer Halfbot, so it proves. After a period of acclimatisation, they’re manageable, but never feel as comfortable as you would wish, the fire button never quite where your thumb expects it to be. On an iPhone or iPod Touch, it suffers more than most from digits obscuring the lower half of the display. And somehow, all of this seems to matter very little.
At heart, it’s the original Mario Bros. with the accelerator floored, as enemies – ambulatory skulls missing their lower mandibles – pour from the top and descend towards a flaming pit at the bottom, reappearing in redder, faster, deadlier form, a trick perhaps learned from the sprinting Crimson Heads of GameCube's Resident Evil remake. Simple avoidance is not an option. The challenge is fierce; as your tally climbs above its previous best, the accompanying exclamation mark is a virtual eyebrow raised in surprise at your achievement.
Despite the fevered pace, the action sustains a remarkable equilibrium. Your score increases only when you run over ordnance crates, but each time your current weapon is replaced: happily so when the feeble default pistol is thrown away in favour of a machine gun, more troublingly when you’re left clutching mines. Even the more powerful weapons have potentially deadly quirks, from the severe recoil of the comically destructive minigun that can easily nudge you off a platform’s edge to the rebounding projectiles of the disc gun, which tend to result in a game over more often than the intended row of dead enemies.
Fittingly, for a game that echoes the classic coin-op era of Jarvis, Bushnell and Miyamoto, it feels more at home than ever slotted into an iCade. The benefits to control are obvious: you may see your high score improve twofold, though it serves to highlight the sometimes unkind collision detection. Without the luxury of ION’s peripheral, it’s a harder sell, and with the game’s already high difficulty level exacerbated by the obvious unsuitability of the format, for some it may prove too frustrating to persevere with. Even so, Super Crate Box remains ferociously compulsive. For all the profanities you’ll utter, for every time you’re let down by the controls rather than your own ineptitude, by your 47th consecutive attempt you’ll have learned to stop worrying and love the guns.