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5th June 2024

Dark Soles: Another Crab’s Treasure review

Cute and quirky, Aggro Crab’s latest release follows the ‘souls’ gameplay formula almost to a fault
Dark Soles: Another Crab’s Treasure review
Credit: Aggro Crab

With most of us holding our breath for the release of Shadow of the Erdtree in June, I’ve had to go looking for my soulslike fix on soggier shores. More specifically, I’ve been spending my post-assignment days in the claws of Aggro Crab’s newest release, Another Crab’s Treasure (ACT), a game which poses the question: ‘What if Dark Souls was about crabs?’

Our hero is a hermit crab named Kril, in search of his lost shell house, which has inexplicably been repossessed by the government (weird, I know, but stay with me here). ACT will see you adventure with Kril across the ocean, wielding a discarded fork as a weapon against the infected denizens of the ocean shallows. It’s a game with many of the ‘souslike’ markers: killing enemies rewards you with currency (this game’s currency being microplastics), which can be used to purchase items or level up, and will be lost temporarily upon death for you to retrieve or risk losing permanently. You can spend special currency on gaining new skills, decide whether or not it’s worth using a heavy load in exchange for high defence (don’t do it!), and explore across the map into areas you’re probably not supposed to be in. All of this (and more) is woven tightly together under a delightful mix of cute and quirk.

I’ve been anticipating the release of ACT for a number of years. I had immensely enjoyed Aggro Crab’s debut release in 2020, Going Under, a game with a bright sense of personality, and some biting humour to match. It’s the sort of thing I was particularly excited to see applied to the Souls formula of games, given the genre’s tendency towards grimness. And it looks like I was right to think as much; ACT embraces humour, bright colours, and cute designs, providing a genuine breath of fresh air to a genre I already loved. One boss enemy wields a pair of disposable chopsticks like a samurai sword; shark eggs are used in the game to re-spec your stats, and are sold to you by a character who dryly comments that ‘this feels kinda unethical’; plastic rubber ducks are described in the game’s files as ‘a cruel pastiche of a once-proud race of creatures’.

Other comparisons to Going Under can be drawn due to the game’s difficulty. Those familiar with the ‘souls’ style of game would necessarily expect this, and ACT rushes to meet the challenge head-on. This isn’t to say that it manages to be quite as challenging as the games it’s emulating, but it was difficult enough to solicit some rather rude words from me every once in a while. Boss battles often have multiple stages, or at least some form of progression, and even regular enemies were often difficult enough to bring me close to death. Combat never felt bogged down by Kril’s movement, he’s a small crab and moves relatively quickly, but was also weighty enough to feel consequential, and for the game to properly punish you for any missteps.

Credit: Aggro Crab

These similarities to FromSoftware titles unfortunately do extend to some of the issues I faced when playing ACT. Similar to the Souls series, the camera arises as a real villain during boss battles; many boss arenas are simply too small and filled with too much set dressing to reasonably fight against such a large enemy without some camera issues. I also have to mention the technical issues the game features as well. Bugs were definitely present, but largely unobtrusive. Although, that one time when a boss managed to suplex me through the map, causing me to fall to my death, wasn’t exactly ideal. More frustrating, however, were the drops in frame rate, which were particularly prevalent in specific game areas with lots of enemies.

None of these issues were enough to turn me off playing the game completely, but they were irritating enough that I feel I do have to mention them here. I also feel as though I do have to question ACT‘s overall amount of similarities to the ‘souls’ games; of course, when a game even remotely fits under this genre, there are inevitably going to be comparisons to the artistic work of Hidetaka Miyazaki. Even so, ACT manages to derive even more from the Souls series than I had initially expected. It’s not necessarily unwelcome, Miyazaki’s work has been popular for a reason, but I do have to wonder if ACT relies a little too heavily on his work. Stylistically, it’s very different from the Souls series, but gameplay-wise often treads very similar ground – I mean, there’s even a poison swamp for crying out loud! This isn’t to say that ACT can’t be differentiated from Miyazaki’s games, of course, but rather to point out that ACT sometimes feels overshadowed by that which Aggro Crab is clearly inspired by and means to emulate.

I do think I should mention the developments that are made upon the ‘souls’ formula, however. A major gameplay mechanic featured in ACT is the shell system; having lost his shell, Kril must seek temporary refuge in all sorts of unsanitary, but occasionally helpful places. Littered (ha-ha) across the map is all sorts of detritus Kril can wear as a shell to increase his defence, functionally acting as a shield in combat. You can use these shells to block, or deflect attacks, and, most importantly, each different shell has its own ability you can use in combat: take a bite out of your banana peel shell to regain some health; use your sauce nozzle shell to perform a spin attack; discard your matryoshka doll shell in order to use it as a temporary decoy for your enemies to mistakenly attack.

Credit: Aggro Crab

Additional as well to the ‘souls’ formula is the addition of very basic platforming elements; I’m not a platforming fan, so can’t comment on these elements much other than to say they didn’t annoy me as much as I thought they would.

Each stylistic flair Aggro Crab brings to the game (I particularly have to mention the font used to mark a Moon Snail Shell, this game’s version of the Souls bonfires, a small detail I find truly delightful) works in tandem with a surprisingly tight narrative. One of the game’s load screens cheerfully reminds me: ‘Fun Ocean Fact: There are microplastics in your blood and there’s nothing you can do about it.’ The fact that you’re compelled to take refuge in man-made items as temporary shells, that the world around you is visibly twisted by disposed goods, and that purging microplastics from your body are what allow you to grow stronger are not-so-subtle attempts at critiquing consumerist culture and its impact upon the natural world.

While most characters grow increasingly obsessed with gathering more plastic rubbish to add to their collections, Kril’s disconnectedness from this society allows him to clearly see how deranged this behaviour is, and the negative impacts all this is having on the world, as the ocean quickly devolves into a capitalist dystopia with its own plastic detritus-based economy. Hardly surprising, of course, when Going Under contained many similar themes, and you can even find the discarded cans from that game’s start-up business littered all across the map in ACT.

I can comfortably recommend Another Crab’s Treasure, particularly if you’re a fan of the ‘souls’ genre, and are looking for more variety within it. While its genre predecessors can feel overbearing at times, it is nevertheless a bright, funny release, and one that has amused me to no end during the newly sunny days approaching summer.

Anna Pirie

Anna Pirie

she/her games editor for The Mancunion, literature student, and professional olive eater

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