another crab's treasure

Another Crab’s Treasure Review – Shell-den Ring

Giant enemy crabs.

While everything I’ve seen in the media and in studies to this point has suggested that the dumping of plastic waste in Earth’s oceans is an abhorrent practice that has resulted and will result in the destruction of entire ecosystems, Another Crab’s Treasure posits an alternative. What if, instead of choking on plastic bags and carcinogens, the creatures of the ocean began building cities from discarded boots and boxes and figured out how to expel the microplastics from their bloodstream to use as currency? And more importantly, how long would it take before fish invent taxes?

Unfortunately for our hero, Kril, not long enough. This simple crab finds himself in a desperate situation when his shell is repossessed by a “loan shark” and told he’ll need to make things right financially with a new duchy ruling over his slice of the sea. Before long though, things go even more pear-shaped and Kril becomes wrapped up in a cross-country treasure hunt taking him from the big city of New Carcinia to the deepest depths of the watery West, all in the name of earning back his home.

another crab's treasure

It’s an absurd premise full of absurd characters and situations, blending The Hero’s Journey with SpongeBob SquarePants and a deft sense of humour that produces belting gags at a steady clip. Kril’s world is one of edgy ideas painted with a soft and warm brush, at least until things steer deeper (literally and figuratively) in the back half, and at the heart of its brisk jaunt across varied aquatic biomes is a reverence for FromSoft’s Souls-adjacent output that’s equal parts parody and earnest imitation. Yes, this cartoony platformer about talking crabs is also a tough-as-you-care “soulslike” with all of the trimmings that that implies.

As Kril explores deeper and deeper into The Sands Between (their joke, not mine), prodding at the flexible “open-linear” structure of the world, he’ll be faced with many a challenge and largely in the form of hostile crustaceans, fish and other wet things all primed to deplete his HP bar with fewer hits than Fergie had on “Double Duchess.” The rhythm of combat in Another Crab’s Treasure should feel instantly familiar to anyone who’s cut their teeth on the “souls” brand of gaming, with a big focus on biding your time, parrying effectively and striking when the moment is right. Progression is very similar too, with collected “Microplastics” used as an all-encompassing currency for buying new gear and improving stats, and of course it’s lost should you die and not make it back to the location of your demise to recollect it. Moon Snail Shells are the stand-in for camps, and so on. You get the idea.

another crab's treasure

Another Crab’s Treasures most inspired and original mechanic, though, comes via shells. In keeping with Kril’s character and biology, he’s able to pick up a multitude of different objects to bung onto his back and use as a temporary home. Shells help mitigate damage from enemy attacks, and hiding in his them is Kril’s version of guarding, but they break with repeated damage, so ensuring you’re protected and quickly seeking out a new shell when one breaks is essential to survival.

Continuing on the “world built on human trash” theme, Kril’s shell could be anything from a blown-out tennis ball to a printer ink cartridge or one half of a Matryoshka doll, and each different object has its own properties from weight to level of protection and a unique special ability. Finding new shells, figuring out their abilities and amassing a catalogue of new discoveries is one of the best parts of the game, and the added layers of strategy and challenge that come with balancing your own health, your shell’s integrity and where your next home is coming from during tense fights makes for an absolute thrill.

another crab's treasure

The highlight at the end of all these combat mechanics, this exploration and progression and worldbuilding, is the boss encounters. It would pain me to keep making the comparison if it weren’t so intentional, but these are very much Dark Souls bosses in crab form, and that’s about as incredible as it sounds. Big arenas, big crabs and big difficulty spikes are the order of the day, backed up by some of the most hype soundtrack work in recent memory, and each feels as unique visually as it does mechanically. Some of my favourites have been the ones tucked away in hidden spots around the game’s many regions, but the penultimate fight absolutely takes the crown in badass factor.

And while they’re just one contributor to Another Crab’s Treasure’s hugely Souls-inspired level of challenge, a key difference across the game is a host of accessibility options that can make the whole experience a lot more approachable even for those who don’t relish the punishment. You can opt to take less damage, make enemies weaker, give yourself extra i-frames and parry timing, keep your accrued microplastics on death and even give yourself an actual gun for a shell that wastes enemies in a single shot. Brilliant.

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another crab's treasure

The gun thing is a pretty good example of the level of unhinged charm to expect from this game, all the way from the lighter opening hours to the altogether more grim and existential closing areas. There’s nearly never a moment perfectly punctuated by a visual gag or stupendously unnecessary detail that both delights and surprises. One of my favourite examples is Kril’s idle animation, which starts after you’ve not touched the controller for a bit and sees him physically pull one of his healing “Heartkelp” items out of inventory and start juggling it, and if you pick the controller back up and start moving him he’ll drop it – leaving you to hope that it lands on the ground and not over a cliff or you’ve genuinely just lost it.

One of the best things this game has borrowed from FromSoft’s output is the penchant for inspired, grotesque creature designs – even here where most are variations on a crab. Towards the later areas, where you start seeing skyscraper-sized enemies wandering dark depths and crabs that have a second, disgusting and squishy phase after you destroy their exoskeleton, it’s all especially fucked up cool. But it’s never just wholesale pulling from its inspirations either, there’s always an added context or thematic tie (and usually some form of brilliant crab/fish/ocean pun) that adds so much to the game’s charm.

another crab's treasure

Unfortunately, my general praise and adoration for the game does need to be capped off on a sour note, because Another Crab’s Treasure as it is now, or as I played it for review on PS5, is saddled with some pretty prominent issues. Performance is a major concern, with certain areas of the game that plummet to obscenely low resolutions and choppy framerates, and frequent points where the game would straight up stall for 5-10 seconds at a time. In a game where dying is a major setback, and given how often these issues occur in moments of immediate danger, it’s a massive problem.

I’m normally the first to admit a skill issue, but I can genuinely say that the overwhelming majority of my deaths in this game were due to a sudden and unexpected freeze, the camera getting stuck inside walls, lock-on targeting picking an enemy miles away instead of the one in front of me or just having to abandon my progress and collected currency because I’d fallen through the environment. Thankfully problems like these can be worked on, as opposed to fundamental design flaws, so I really hope these things are fixed up sooner than later.

another crab's treasure
Conclusion
Another Crab's Treasure is a scrappy, succinct and soggy soulslike that doesn't just pay homage to FromSoft's pioneering efforts but stands out in its own right. There's no getting around the fact that it has serious issues of performance and polish that can really bring down the experience, but it's a game so packed with charm, so inspired, so unexpectedly cooked and with so many flashes of brilliance that I can genuinely say it's worth suffering through the pain points. I don't think I've been quite so enamoured with a game like this in a long time.
Positives
A deft, abridged homage to FromSoft's modern catalogue
The shell mechanic is inspired
Packed with amusing gags and surprising details
Bosses are universally awesome
Great balance of warmth and charm with gleefully sinister undercurrents
Negatives
Polish and performance issues throughout threaten to ruin the entire experience
8