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Another Crab’s Treasure: this indie hit has clawed its way into my subconscious
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Another Crab’s Treasure: this indie hit has clawed its way into my subconscious

The Arcane Kids, a video game collective from Los Angeles, have a manifesto that I think about all the time, but particularly when I find art that surprises me, or approaches traditional formats in new and exciting ways. The second line simply states: “The fastest way to the truth is a joke.” Another Crab’s Treasure, the second offering from indie Australian studio Aggro Crab, is full of truth and jokes – and something else, something rarer, too.

Another Crab’s Treasure is ostensibly a combat-oriented adventure game, in which you play a tiny hermit crab whose shell has been stolen. You must explore the depths of the ocean to find a way to retrieve it from the Loan Shark, so you can return the wee crab to his peaceful life in the tide pools on the shore. Unexpectedly for such a welcoming, colourful-looking game, it has intense, complex, Dark Souls-style battling – and the juxtaposition is really refreshing. Our hero, Krill, may only be armed with a tiny fork, but with a little concentration and practice he can face down the enormous, grotesque crustaceans he comes up against time and time again.

A screenshot from Another Crab’s TreasureView image in fullscreen

In place of his missing shell, he can wear any number of objects he finds on the ocean floor as protection: soda cans, Rubik’s cubes, Lego blocks, and something that looks suspiciously like a Scrub Daddy sponge. If you, like me, require a difficulty adjustment to the combat from time to time, you can select the option “Give Krill a Gun” from the accessibility section. His shell immediately becomes an enormous, disproportionate, but very useful handgun that one-shot kills enemies on sight. When you are done, you can leave the weapon in the sand and move on. There will always be another object to use as a shell. The landscape Krill lives in is a treasure trove of human castoffs. Plastic, as far as the eye can see.

One Crab’s Treasure is very explicitly a game about pollution, but the subject of environmental decay is approached cleverly and with surprising levity. The crabs that we meet absolutely love their trash. They wear silica packets as dresses, crisp packets as hats. Maps on the back of cereal boxes lead them to buried treasure – but when faced with actual dollars, they have no idea what they are. The currency in the game is microplastics. Plastic is king, garbage rules the world. Every piece of trash we encounter is helpful to us.

This tactic – using the plastic that humans cast off as the most valuable thing to the creatures under the ocean – is a fantastic red herring. We are complicit – isn’t this plastic great, isn’t it hilarious? We are constantly and cleverly distracted by smart visual jokes. The dark heart of the story truly reveals itself in a staggering and shocking final act – while all Krill wants is to retrieve his shell and go home, can he ever truly return after what he has seen? This is how Aggro Crab is delivering us the truth, hidden in a makeshift shell in the shape of a rubber duck.

Another Crab’s Treasure holds a number of powerful qualities at once. There is satisfying, maddening combat; tricky and compelling platforming; exploration; and, crucially, a weird and distinct identity and tone. The colours are bright and vivid, the jokes are silly and prolific, but somehow the important thing that this game is trying to say is loud and clear throughout. It is no small task to approach the frightening topic of our oceans’ demise while also having a riot along the way. It shouldn’t work – but it does. Sure, we want Krill to get his shell, to go home. But we are also asked to think about what complacency means – what hiding from reality means.

A screenshot from Another Crab’s TreasureView image in fullscreen

Games like Another Crab’s Treasure don’t come along very often, but Aggro Crab has form here – its previous title, Going Under, was a bright, Corporate Memphis dungeon crawler. It skewered the world of startups, tech and labour exploitation with the same bright, current humour that is so effective in this latest game, and also had unforgiving, compelling combat to offer players.

Both games are sharp works of satire and both are deeply political. Aggro Crab has done a fantastic job of telling stories with huge integrity, wherein there are so many jokes to contend with that when the truth lands, it lands hard. So, while I spent the vast majority of Another Crab’s Treasure leading Krill around the ocean floor with an empty coffee pod on his back, when I pulled back and turned the TV off, I suddenly saw the quantity of plastic in my home for what it really is. Not treasure. Far from it. And where will it all go? What will it become?

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Another Crab’s Treasure is not a work of escapism – talking crabs and shrimp aside. The game draws our attention to something uncomfortable, and it does this so cleverly that we hardly notice, until it is too late.

  • Another Crab’s Treasure is available now on all platforms

Source: theguardian.com