My health hangs on by a thread, and my monstrous foe needs only one last swipe to obliterate me. I throw everything into a desperate dodge followed by a panicked flurry of blows. The creature falls; its life bar extinguished.
The crowded room behind me erupts into applause.
That’s not the kind of thing that happens in real life. Taking off my headset following my defeat of Another Crab’s Treasure’s final boss was a bizarre, and joyful moment. This is funny, because that mix also sums up the game’s tone pretty well.
Being developed by Aggro Crab Games, the creators behind Going Under, Another Crab’s Treasure balances the absurd (which I always love to see in a game) with heavy themes. As Studio Head and Art Director Nick Kaman put it, the game isn’t for kids, despite its colorful aesthetic and animal protagonist.
The first hint at those underlying themes appears almost immediately. I’m controlling Kril the hermit crab — because how could a studio called Aggro Crab resist — on the bottom of the ocean. The setting is saturated with colors worthy of a snorkeler’s dream. But couched in the sunny sand is a blemish — an aluminum drink can. The ocean isn’t as pristine as the cheery palette would lead me to believe, and the ocean’s growing pollution problem, explains Kaman, is central to the overall narrative.
So, it is interesting when I find I can pick up and wear the can like a shell. Its bright, pastel label reads Fizzle, which prompts me to gesture wildly (much to the studio head’s amusement). This discarded piece of trash is a reference to the developer’s previous title, that follows an intern working for a doomed carbonated beverage start-up. When asked whether or not this confirms the games take place in the same universe, Kaman laughs. Either way, the Fizzle can attached to my back will help me in the battle ahead.
Imagine Nintendo decided to make a Souls game. That’s the pitch Kaman throws my way to explain his project, and I can’t help agreeing. This early stage includes all the expected fare. Various aquatic enemies await me on my path, which I can lock on to, hit with a basic melee claw, shield from with my trusty can, and dodge away from — there’s even a benefit to scurrying away at just the right moment. I also find green healing kelp pieces around the environment which I can use mid-battle to keep from dying. But the developers have thrown in a few twists on the formula as well.
I can use a kind of grapple hook to latch onto nets and travel across large spaces. While jumping from sea ledge to sea ledge, I can hit a button repeatedly to swim for a short period of time, keeping me afloat long enough to reach certain platforms. And my protective shell can break. This isn’t a problem, as things like bottle caps or more cans (thanks pollution) are always lying around to replace it. Each new piece of gear has its own stats, with some offering more protection and others even grating me a special move. My Fizzle can’s ultimate attack sends a shock wave through the water, knocking enemies prone for a moment. This gives me time to get a few helpful hits in.
The fighting doesn’t feel as weighty as a Souls game does, partly because I am combating rude sea citizens. But, more than the lighthearted surroundings, the action itself feels like I’m fighting underwater. And I get my shell handed to me a number of times when exploring the world — either because I want to see what happens if I diverge from the path or I try out different techniques rather than carefully guarding my health.
The demo’s challenge level was actually an unexpected bump for the team at the Day of the Devs festival. Both the studio’s head and its producer expressed it was taking a while for players to get through the demo, resulting in a rather large line (hence the amount of people cheering on my final encounter). It’s a reasonable problem, considering this is the first time Another Crab’s Treasure has been available to the public. “It’s nerve-racking,” said Kaman when talking about debuting the gameplay. Despite his misgivings, the players kept going to the booth, even with the wait time.
My time running short, the studio head teleports me to the final boss, named Polluted Platoon Pathfinder. (Who doesn’t love that kind of alliteration?) Like its gameplay inspiration, this nightmarish, trash-laden monster gets a big health bar and corners me in one little room. Luckily, the space contains a couple different shell options, which I run through before the fight is done. The stakes may not seem as big as when fighting an armored cosmic horror, but the intensity remains the same.
Another Crab’s Treasure is set to release next year, but I hope to get more chances to play the game and learn more about its story before that.