Feeling Crabby

2024 has been a good year for video games. Probably. I don’t know. To be honest, I’ve kind of stopped paying attention to the scene and have just been playing games that interest me. And one of the things that interests me very much is crabs. You may not know this about me, but crabs are my second-favourite animal, right after turtles. I guess I have a thing about shells?

Anyway, I’ve been playing Another Crab’s Treasure very enthusiastically over the last couple of weeks. It’s an indie action/adventure game from developer Aggro Crab that plays a lot like Dark Souls and looks a lot like Spongebob Squarepants. In text, it might sound like there’s a pretty gnarly disconnect there, but it actually works out very well. To put the horse before the cart, I’ve got a very good feeling that Another Crab’s Treasure will be one of my favourite games of 2024.

It all starts with a short, fake documentary clip about how resilient and resourceful the creatures of the sea are, which then segues into the beginning of the game proper. It’s a great way to make sure that players know they’re about to be hit with very heavy-handed environmentalism themes. Not that I have any issue with that. While Another Crab’s Treasure takes every opportunity to suggest that humans dumping all their trash in the ocean is a bad thing, it’s never patronizing or condescending about it. In fact, it’s usually very good about using humour to help make its point.

Case in point: the game opens up with player character Kril, a loner hermit crab, having his shell/home stolen by a loan shark. The loan shark, however, is clearly just a little kid’s grabber toy. Whether it’s actually alive or if someone’s puppeteering it from out of frame… well, you’ll just have to play the game yourself to find out. (It’s quite a shocking reveal!) We then learn that Kril’s shell is being repossessed because he’s several tides (months? years?) behind on his taxes, which is a concept that he doesn’t really even understand. When Kril tries to pay his back taxes with food, the loan shark laughs him off and says that the ocean now operates on an economy of microplastics. Which Kril also doesn’t understand.

And so, you take control and leave Kril’s peaceful tide pool, heading off into the shallows with your first goal being to meet the self-appointed Duchess of Slacktide to see if she’ll be willing to give Kril a break on his taxes and help him get his shell back. Of course, since it’s a video game, it’s not quite so simple. The world under water is absolutely covered in human trash, from cigarette butts to flip-flips to garbage bins to cereal boxes. The local crab population has used the trash creatively to construct homes, fashion, businesses, and above all, a crab society. Of course, that comes with its downsides too, like taxes and social classes and wage slavery. At the same time, it appears that all manner of creatures are slowly starting to have their minds “turn to seafoam” and become mindless, violent animals.

It’s worth noting that the writing is very smart and very funny (at least most of the time). The endless amount of crab and fish puns never fail to put a smile on my face, and the writers were clearly not afraid to goof on a lot of current social issues. Personally, I’m quite pleased that they made an effort to take jabs at the craziest kinds of people on both the left and right sides of the political spectrum. All that, and I’m pretty sure that Another Crab’s Treasure’s writers had the most fun using fill-in curse words (ex: “We’re shucked!”) since The Good Place.

One thing that I’ve kind of been on the fence about is, surprisingly, the music. Sometimes it’s there, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it’s groovy and sometimes it’s just repetitive and bland. It’s all over the place. So much so that I can’t figure out how to feel about it. On one hand, there have been a couple of tunes that I would actively hum and/or bop along to as I play. On the other hand, I wouldn’t really feel like I was missing out if I were to mute the game audio to listed to other music or a podcast. So, uh, yeah. Take that as you will.

What I’m less on the fence about is that Another Crab’s Treasure could really use a patch. And I think that at least one has already come out! The first time I played the game, literally nothing would show up in my inventory, no matter how many items I collected. This problem has been fixed, but there are still a host of other bugs that need to be squashed: Sometimes getting hit by an attack to wrong way or stepping on the wrong piece of geometry will blast Krill into the stratosphere, Skyrim-style. Inputs will randomly get eaten (mostly jump and block, in my experience). Enemies may rarely spawn under a floor, where they can still hit you, but you can’t hit them. One time my bloodstain (to use Dark Souls terminology) simply didn’t spawn, cheating me out of being able to recover my souls. The framerate actually stops when loading a new area, even on PS5. All these problems -and several others that I didn’t list- are thankfully very rare, but the sheer amount makes them a little bit harder to choke down. If I didn’t like the game so darn much, I may have simply quit playing because it’s very, very buggy. I imagine this is how everyone else in the world must have experienced Pokémon Scarlet and Violet.

Oh, and, uh, the combat is good too. It’s incredibly basic at the start, but before long you’ll gain access to a skill tree that adds a ton of versatility to Kril’s movepool. And I can’t remember the last game I played where just about every single node on the skill tree is worth getting. Probably because I’ve been playing a lot of first-party Sony games over the last few years, where much of the skill trees feel like they were just mashed in because that’s what gamers expect. Kril also learns a bunch of special abilities along the way, though admittedly the ones I’ve been using most frequently are just glorified keys.

The last gameplay feature I want to touch on are the shells. With his shell stolen, Kril is easy prey for the vicious sea creatures he’ll face along his journey. So, he does what a hermit crab does best and finds other objects that he can use as a shell. Like bottle caps, rubber ducks, tin cans, and spent shotgun shells. Each of these shells has its own defensive power, hit point, weight, and special ability. Shells break if they take too much damage, but they’re scattered literally everywhere, so you never have an excuse to run around naked. There are 69 (nice) total shells to find in the game, which gives players a lot of choice in how they’d like to play. You can also insure your shell for a variable fee, which guarantees that you get to respawn with that same one each time you die. It’s a very nice feature! Especially since some of the best shells can only ever be found in one spot.

What’s really excited me about Another Crab’s Treasure is, as it is with many games, the exploration factor. I find that quite often these days, my greatest joy from video games is simply passing through their worlds, taking in all the scenery, meeting the people, looking for little out-of-the-way places that may or may not hold a secret. I would almost say that I’m more interested in touring and learning about game worlds than anything else. This is no exception: the different biomes are distinct and interesting, there are tons of details and secrets everywhere, and even the lore is surprisingly deep for such a cute game.

I haven’t finished Another Crab’s Treasure yet, but it feels like the story must be coming to a close soon. I would estimate my current playtime at about 15 hours, and HLTB puts the average time to finish the game at 13ish hours, so you can tell that I’m savoring it. That and/or I’m not particularly good at Souls-likes. But I am having a great time! I bought this game on a whim because it was cute and is all about crabs, and I have zero regrets. I might even play it again sometime! So, while I don’t often say this so blatantly, please support Aggro Crab and go buy this game. For a team of less than 20 people, they did a stellar job (aside from the bugs) and I’d like to see them have the opportunity to make more games.

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