Crater Maker by William Long is kind of an evocative title. Seeing it in the AppStore, one might be inclined to believe that it’s a space game primarily about – you guessed it – making craters. As in, big holes in the terrain. Imagine my dismay when I learned that, not only do you NOT make any craters in this game, but you possess no destructive tools whatsoever, nor any ability to interact with the planets, enemies, or obstacles you encounter other than trying your best to avoid running into them.
This is because Crater Maker essentially plays like an homage to the much-loved old-school Atari game, Lunar Lander… In that, the game is mainly about struggling to control your ship’s thrusters while it travels from landing pad to landing pad. However, unlike Lunar Lander, Crater Maker steps things up by placing the landing pads on different planets and having the player follow objective markers to reach each new pad, dealing with the gravitational forces of each planet along the way as they attempt to make safe landings with an ever-dwindling fuel supply.
The game is controlled by tapping and holding on either side of the screen to turn in that direction, and tapping and holding on both sides at once to thrust in the direction your ship is facing. This is every bit as finicky as it sounds, and combined with the amount of time it takes to fully accelerate and the fact that you have to frantically turn your ship around and thrust in the opposite direction to stop, the game tends to play loosely and rather sluggishly. Aside from anxiously waggling your ship and thrusting back and forth as you try to stick the landing without blowing up, optimal play seems to be mainly about drifting slowly toward your next marker while conserving fuel.
Now, on a subjective level I must admit I have trouble enjoying games like Lunar Lander at the best of times. It’s a game entirely about wrestling with inexact controls – which, on a gamepad with proper buttons, already tends to be a rather trying experience. Crater Maker combines the inexactitude of Lunar Lander’s thrust mechanics with the general unresponsiveness of iOS touch-based controls for an experience that is truly maddening, requiring such fine motor control that playing the game in any sort of transit is all but certain to end your run prematurely.
All that said, Crater Maker has a fine level of polish and presentation for the type of game it is and includes optional ad-watching which is a plus if you want to try and pay for the game’s expensive unlockable ships without paying real money. But unfortunately its classic mechanics are hobbled rather than improved by their translation to your smartphone screen, and the game’s basic lack of content beyond ultimately similar planets to land on and immediately leave make the attempt to actually master Crater Maker both frustrating and, ultimately, fruitless.