Games of throne
There stands a snow crab, spindly and splendid orange, on top of a wooden table inside a Chinese restaurant.
Across the table is a coconut crab, a beefy thing with green blotches along its back and thick, meaty claws. In those meaty claws is a halberd, a medieval weapon that’s a cross between an ax and a spear with a sweep that spans half the table.
I, the lowly snow crab, must defeat this imposing, armed opponent that I would estimate weighs three times more than me.
Fight Crab is a goofy game. Players take control of a crab and fight other crabs (or sometimes lobsters). The first one to knock the other on its back wins.
I have been playing through the game’s campaign, taking on crustacean after crustacean in a variety of environments and increasingly difficult scenarios. In one string of fights, we’re in the streets of a city and we are larger than cars. In another, we’re in a ninja-themed alley where my foes have shurikens and sais.
The whole thing feels like an experiment from developer Calappa Games. Not just because of its weird premise, but also because of the way it plays.
This isn’t a game that will supplant competitive fighting game titans
The controls are bizarre and completely unconventional. The controller’s two joysticks manage the left and right arms of your crab, with the left and right triggers initiating punches or swings of a weapon. The shoulder buttons close your pincers, which can be used to grab weapons or your opponent’s arm. To turn the camera, you click down on the joysticks to spin left or right. To walk, you use the D-pad, which sends you off in a single direction endlessly until you hit the opposite button.
In trying to remember how exactly to move and fight while using so much of the controller all the time, my hands often over-tightened during tense moments. I felt like I was gripping the controller with a crab claw.
In Fight Crab’s optional tutorial, where opponents are little more than stationary punching bags, it all seems easy to grasp. But in action, when the crab in front of you wants to kill you, it feels unwieldy. Whether I have a weapon or not, I generally end up flailing around in the up-close chaos of it all.
At first, this inability to feel like I was in control of my character added to the silly vibe of this whole ordeal. It’s a fighting game about crabs with access to a bunch of weapons, and I was swept up in the ridiculousness of it.
I don’t believe the developers of Fight Crab intended for their game to become the next big thing in esports. It certainly won’t supplant competitive fighting game titans like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, or Super Smash Bros. The intent of Fight Crab is to delight and surprise players, maybe even make them laugh at the absurdity of a mud crab with a demonic, purple sword in a medieval throne room.
I laughed when I first saw that giant lobster with both a knife and gun. I was thrilled to pick up an axe and go to town on my foes. I felt elated when I initiated Hyper Mode (a kind of limited time Hulk mode you can trigger when you take enough damage) and the blast from it launched an enemy longarm crab off of our raised arena to its death.
Fight Crab is the embodiment of fun experimentation in independent games, that space where developers can throw some goofy idea at the wall and see if it sticks. While big-budget, AAA games may not ever really adapt wacky crab fights into their collective oeuvre, it’s the spirit of games like Fight Crab that help keep the medium moving forward into new directions.
But Fight Crab isn’t perfect. The unintuitive controls and lack of tangible strategy became more and more of a hindrance to my progression as the difficulty in the game’s campaign continued to ramp up. I’m not exactly stuck on a single fight, but in just a couple hours of playing I started losing a lot more often and needed to repeat single levels a few times to get through them.
In great action and fighting games, players usually get an idea of what they need to do better when they lose. It’s a learning process. I never saw that in Fight Crab, and don’t think I ever actually got any better no matter how many times I tried to improve.
I used currency earned from past fights to level up my crab and buy weapons, but that didn’t always prove to be noticeably helpful. I ran through parts of the tutorial again to nail down some tactics but, like I said before, in a real fight against an enemy that moves and fights back, those tactics are difficult to put into action. Response times to your inputs are intentionally slow, which makes everything feel sluggish. When your enemy starts swinging a sword at you, moving your arm up to block the attack is extremely difficult because there’s barely any telegraphing and you’re almost never fast enough to move where you want to move.
The trailers for this game show so many cool things like lightsabers and scooters, but I’ll probably never see them. I just don’t have the patience. Without satisfying, responsive control over my fighter, the game’s humorous appeal only propels it so far. As much as I want to continue onward and see more locations and weapons, the absence of any clear path to improving your skills and the slow pace of fights makes the idea of pushing ahead far less enticing.
But perhaps this is a game best consumed through the lens of a viewer. I can see Fight Crab being a popular game for streamers and YouTubers to play for the entertainment of their viewers. It almost feels like the game was made for that. It’s something a group of people can watch and laugh at together. And that’s perfectly fine.
Subscribe to the newsletter news
We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe