Another Crab’s Treasure (NS)

On paper, Another Crab’s Treasure is such a great idea. An approachable Souls-like adventure set underwater, starring a vulnerable hermit crab who needs to swap shells to stay alive? It’s colorful, unexpected, and inspired — a breath of fresh sea air for a sub-genre defined mostly by humanoid protagonists and grimdark medieval & sci-fi settings. In practice, the game doesn’t quite live up to its full potential, but it’s a fun little undersea romp, at least if you remove all the technical shortcomings.

Another Crab’s Treasure starts in a humble tide pool, where a loan shark — a literal loan shark — shakes down a lonesome hermit crab named Kril. Since Kril can’t pay the new taxes established by the Duchess, the loan shark takes his shell as payment. Suddenly naked, unprotected, and alone, Kril makes the biggest decision of his life, and plunges into the ocean to reclaim what’s his.

The game’s story starts off strong. Kril is overwhelmed and alienated by the sprawling undersea kingdom beneath the waves, which is populated with strange NPCs and seemingly bewitched monsters. Soon he adjusts to realities around him: an economy based on repurposed human trash; formerly normal crustaceans turned murderous by prolonged contact with “gunk”; and a general crab-eat-crab mindset that’s far removed from the live-and-let-live lifestyle he’s used to. Kril is actually a fascinating protagonist — a true anti-hero that does the right thing only because it serves his own self-interest. Watching him grow and develop as a character is a lot of fun. Indeed, make sure you pay attention to the closing cut-scene. The final shot says so much.

The stories and personalities that surround Kril aren’t quite as interesting, unfortunately. Once the put-upon crab gets to New Carcinia, the major hub of the game, things settle into a predictable narrative pattern. He meets a few clichéd characters, including a mustache-twirling villain, and sets off to find several pieces of a MacGuffin. Only when things get truly desperate, as they do toward the tail end of the campaign, does the story pick back up.

The mechanical flow of the game is more consistent. Anyone familiar with Dark Souls and its progeny will immediately grasp the basics here. Kril must navigate several 3D areas, exploring for loot, opening up shortcuts, and fending off deadly monsters. If he’s lucky and skilled enough to defeat those monsters, Kril will earn microplastics, which can be used to level up his attributes, e.g. attack power and hit points. If he falls in battle, he’ll leave all those accumulated microplastics behind, and must return to the scene of his death to reclaim them; if he dies again before that happens, they’re lost and gone forever. 

As for combat, it’s fairly similar to the Souls formula, with a few twists. For one, there’s no stamina. Instead of focusing on and conserving your staying power, you’re instead asked to monitor the durability of your shell. It’s here where Another Crab’s Treasure is at its most inventive. The game provides 69 different “shells” for Kril to use, all based on real world objects that have sunk to the sea floor — a shot glass, a Solo cup, a banana, etc. Each one has different weights and statistics, and all will save the overwhelmed hermit crab from certain death, at least for a time. Eventually, if they absorb too many blows, they will break or shatter, and Kril must scurry to find a new one.

The shell system works wonders, in part because it delivers on several different levels. For one, it adds a lot of visual diversity to the proceedings. It never gets old seeing Krill roll around in a soda can, or creep by underneath a boxing glove. For another, it feeds into Aggro Crab’s environmentalist messaging. So much of the undersea civilization is defined by human detritus, after all. And finally, it adds a lot of engaging tactical gameplay. Do you go with a more fragile shell with a stronger ability, or perhaps a reinforced shell that will protect you but cost you maneuverability.

While the game goes wild with these defensive options, it doesn’t invest as thoroughly in offensive options. Krill has only one weapon throughout the game: a discarded rusty fork he finds early in his adventure. While he can upgrade and strengthen the fork via a blacksmith, he can’t equip other melee or projectile weaponry. Sure, certain shells provide firepower, and some bosses, once defeated, will bequeath powerful special moves, but the bread-and-butter fighting in Another Crab’s Treasure is a little one-note, at least from the offensive side of the equation.

While not directly related to combat, Aggro Crab mixes things up mechanically with a multitude of diverting 3D platforming challenges. In order to fully explore each area, Krill must jump across platforms, avoid hazardous gunk, and use string to swing from suspended fish hooks and latch on to discarded fishing nets. It allows for a great deal of vertical exploration, which is always welcome in a game like this, and sets Another Crab’s Treasure apart from the pack.

It settles right into the middle of the pack, however, when it comes to difficulty and the frequency of death. Dying is just part of the equation here, as it is for every Souls-like. In part, you’ll perish because you haven’t scouted the territory or deciphered the enemy’s patterns, and in part you’ll die because the game can be plain brutal at times. While generally more accessible than other games in the sub-genre, Another Crab’s Treasure can be more punishing than most, at least against specific bosses with unblockable “aggro” attacks and grab moves that drain most, if not all, of your health. There are at least a couple of difficulty spikes that will have you pulling your hair (or antennae) out. 

You might also be tempted to pull your hair out in the final chapter of the game, which bombards the player with back-to-back-to-back bosses, each of which has two different forms. It’s just too much.

Luckily, if you ever feel frustrated or overwhelmed, Aggro Crab has you covered with a surprisingly robust set of accessibility options to soften the default difficulty. You can adjust shell durability, damage taken, enemy health, the dodge invincibility window, etc. You can also prevent microplastic loss upon death and pitfall damage. You can even give Kril an insta-kill gun, which is far crazier than you think it is. All of the above are optional settings, so you can make the 15-20 hours you spend underwater as taxing or as painless as you like.

No matter if you die a hundred times or not at all, you’ll probably enjoy the game’s creative, satirical art direction. It’s downright brilliant in the way it blends together natural undersea objects with artificial products from the surface world. Lobster gate guards hold straws with plastic lids on them, in the style of medieval lances. Ketchup packets act as banners. An endless CVS pharmacy receipt represents the main thoroughfare in New Carcinia. Not only is it inventive, but it sends a clear, thought-provoking message about the amount of trash in the ocean.

Then there are all the little throwaway (pun intended) jokes. A container of Old Bay appears as “Elden Bay”. A pack of Marlboro cigarettes reads “Mario” instead. At one point you’ll come across a package of Impossible meat with the branding “Unfathomable”. Heck, the area beyond New Carcinia is called The Sands Between, a very obvious nod to Elden Ring. It’s all very playful and fun, especially for fans familiar with FromSoftware’s output and video games in general.

As for the soundtrack, it’s quite good. The main theme, with its solitary piano notes and mournful strings, sets the stage perfectly. The Shallows theme has a sort of tropical marimba sound, which, again, works well with the backdrop. And The Upper Crust theme benefits from a jazzy, wailing vibe that brings to mind a boom town of the 1920s.

Unfortunately, art direction and sound design — not to mention all the other good things about the game — are undermined by some debilitating technical failings on Switch. At times, when there isn’t much going on, everything is okay. But as soon as the screen fills with objects or things get too hectic, the resolution drops, images become washed out, and the frame rate begins to buckle. While resolution and image quality problems make the game a muddy, ugly experience, at least they don’t affect the action. The frame rate problems, conversely, make playing the game a chore, especially during boss battles. Another Crab’s Treasure is a Souls-like, after all, and demands a good amount of timing and precision. It requires a stable, consistent frame rate.

Even with frame rate fluctuations, however, things are bearable, for the most part. That is until the Unfathom, one of the final areas of the game. At one point, just ahead of a boss fight, the frame rate plummets into the single digits and stays there. By switching on all the accessibility options I was able to withstand the boss, but when the frame rate continued to drop afterward, sometimes freezing for two to three seconds at a time, I couldn’t go on. After closing out the application and restarting, I was able to revisit the area with a mostly stable frame rate and push forward, which might signal a memory leak issue. Regardless, the stuttering, resolution loss, and pop-in continued through to the end of the game. So did some glitches. At one point I respawned in the middle of a fall into a bottomless pit. Then, as if to add insult to injury, the game unexpectedly quit just before the credits, forcing me to load an earlier save and repeat the final boss battle.

Simply put, Aggro Crab should not have released the game on Switch in this state. It’s totally unacceptable, even if the game is technically playable.

The silver lining is that, according to the studio, a patch is currently in certification to address some of the reported performance issues. For the time being, however, everyone should strictly avoid the game on Switch.

They shouldn’t avoid the game altogether, though. Another Crab’s Treasure is an interesting take on the Dark Souls formula, which benefits from its undersea setting, environmentalist subtext, shell-swapping mechanics, and accessibility options. While it suffers from a handful of flaws, including clichéd characters, limited offensive combat options, a couple of jarring difficulty spikes, it serves as an ideal entry-level Souls-like — a “starter car”, if you will, for first-time players previously turned off by the sub-genre’s unforgiving gameplay.

This review isn’t about the game in a vacuum, though; it’s about the game on Switch. Judged only on the hybrid version, Aggro Crab’s underwater adventure is a choppy, unsightly mess that veers briefly into unplayable territory in the Unfathom, potentially due to memory leaks. All the positive things about the game persist, but they’re overshadowed and diminished by numerous technical faults. If you’re a Souls-like addict, Another Crab’s Treasure is worth checking out — as long as it’s on a platform other than Switch.

Full Article – https://www.vgchartz.com/article/460746/another-crabs-treasure-ns/

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