The Inverse Interview

Another Crab’s Treasure Dev Says We’ve Only “Scratched the Surface” of Soulslikes

An ocean of possibilities.

Another Crab's Treasure
Aggro Crab Games

Ever since the release of Dark Souls in 2011, the Soulslike genre has exploded in popularity. Countless other games have tried to match the same style of intense difficulty and cryptic storytelling of FromSoftware’s crown jewel. While plenty of Soulslikes have succeeded, Another Crab’s Treasure hopes to forever change the genre.

The new colorful take on the Soulslike genre is a bit like if you took Mario, SpongeBob, and Dark Souls, and threw them into a blender. It’s a drastic change of pace from the usual drab and dark fantasy stories we see, and according to Aggro Crab Games studio head, Nick Kaman, that was always the intent.

Aggro Crab wants the genre to match what its games are trying to say. The studio’s previous title, Going Under, was a roguelike. You played as an intern at a startup, representing unpredictable new things happening every day. For Another Crab’s Treasure, the studio switched genres, but it was all with the aim of matching the game’s narrative themes.

“For this game, being Souls, part of the reason we did that is because the environmental theme of the game feels Souls-y,” Kaman tells Inverse, “Souls games often feature a world on the edge of collapse, that is decaying and sad. What better world than our very own to illustrate that via the weather pollution that's happening in the oceans?”

Another Crab’s Treasure is guaranteed to be like any other Soulslike you’ve played, set in an underwater world where trash is the lifeblood of society.

Ahead of the game’s release, Inverse had the chance to chat with Kaman about the Soulslike design of Another Crab’s Treasure, its narrative ambitions, and even where the industry goes from here.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Another Crab’s Treasure casts you as a tiny hermit crab named Kril, determined to get his shell back.

Aggro Crab Games

How did you decide on the different biomes or areas in the game? Did you look at the genre and think there were specific areas you needed, like the poison swamp?

Kaman: The poison swamp is a given, right?

Actually, a lot of the areas from this game aren't directly inspired by Souls, but from old game design, I wouldn't even call them documents, but like doodles that I had from eight years ago. This game idea is really old and personal to me. I've had it for a long time, since before I was really in the industry at all.

It's this full-circle moment where a lot of those original ideas ended up actually making it into the game. And it's not anything brilliant. It's like, okay, we've got an underwater kingdom, let's have a sand castle. That's a no-brainer. And yeah, there's a lot of castles in Dark Souls.

We have a sand castle, we have a kelp forest, and we have the deep dark depths of the ocean. There's a lot of biomes if you've ever watched one of those nature documentaries, a David Attenborough joint. It’s just so exciting to see those places in the world are real. A lot of easy places to draw inspiration from.

In the past you’ve compared the game’s style to SpongeBob, but you have these really interesting narrative themes of environmentalism and corporatism. How do those narrative themes play against this colorful, bright aesthetic?

Kaman: We're specifically trying to have the game have that dichotomy between the dark and the more lighthearted side of things. Part of that too, because one of our original ideas for the game is that you’re this kind of Banjo Kazooie style, SpongeBob style, little platformer mascot who’s in a Soulslike world. There’s a mismatch there.

In that way, the everyday person is unprepared for climate catastrophe. You feel like you're powerless, and we wanted to have the aesthetic of the game further that feeling that you're just this little guy. And as the game goes on, you're running into these darker and darker moments.

Another Crab’s Treasure has an Assist Mode menu that lets you tweak the game’s settings, including giving Kril a weapon that can one-shot any enemy.

Aggro Crab Games

Difficulty is a big staple of the Souls genre. How did you approach difficulty with the more cartoony art style of the game? Especially knowing that you might attract a younger crowd?

Kaman: We totally knew that going in. It looks more inviting, and there are going to be people who maybe haven't played a Souls game before, who are expecting something a little easier. While we did know that, the game is hard. The core game without any assist modes is meant to be the most challenging form of the game, and the one that we are telling the player “this is it.”

The assist settings are there because not everyone's going to be ready for that challenge. Not everyone wants that experience. A game can be many things to many people, right? There are people who are going to be mainly interested in the story, there are people interested in the art. Then there are people who want that challenge.

So how you want to experience this game, there are options for that. That's a good approach to game design, let people get what they want because they're the ones paying you money for it. It's an easy thing to do.

At the office, we're all fans of FromSoftware and the games in the genre that they've invented. What we found is that a lot of the games that follow in their footsteps are following pretty closely. We just wanted to go as far in the other direction as possible, while still landing what we thought made a game a Soulslike. Then if our game lands, there’s suddenly room for everything in between.

The shell system is the big selling point with combat, with lots of different shells and abilities. Were there any ideas that you had that didn’t make the cut?

Kaman: Most of the time when something's not working, we'll opt to rework it, instead of getting rid of it entirely. They’re not all bangers, and that’s okay. Not every spell in Elden Ring is the best spell in the world, that’s the most fun to use. I think it’s still exciting to try and figure out what works for you.

There actually is one that didn’t make the cut I realize now. We had a Spam tin, like the can the meat comes in. We thought the shell ability could be called Spam, and it gives you unlimited Umami (spell) charges for a limited amount of time. Maybe I’ll add it in an update.

Your shell is your most valuable item, granting you extra defense and blocking, but also unique magical abilities.

Aggro Crab Games

What are your thoughts on the Soulslike genre as a whole? Where would you like to see it go, and what do you think it needs?

Kaman: It's an awesome genre. Obviously, I'm not the only one who thinks that. People want the challenge, want memorable experiences, and a certain amount of hardship. But I also think people just like the creativity in these games.

There are just so many memorable moments, bosses, stories, and worlds to find. I could go on, but what I want to see is just more of what we're doing. More innovation of the genre that takes it in different directions because, in my opinion, we’ve only just scratched the surface of what’s interesting about Soulslikes.

The last couple of years have been tough in the industry. What does this game mean to you right now, and how has it been making it amidst the turmoil?

Kaman: I don't think the industry is falling apart. It's going through a rough patch, but it will bounce back. There's no shortage of people who love video games and are willing to open their wallets for them. So we just have to figure some stuff out, but it is a rough patch. I know that, believe me, I know that as someone who runs a 12-person studio.

This game means a ton to me. Like I said earlier, this is an idea I had before I was in the industry at all, when I was just a college kid who dreamed about making indie games. So getting to do this at all is amazing. I'm very aware of the privilege and luck and help I've had to get here, to be able to have millions of dollars to make this video game real. The one that I doodled on a piece of paper.

The industry needs to get to a place where a lot more folks have that opportunity. Because who knows what great ideas are still stuck on pieces of paper? Funding drying up is a big problem. We're not seeing new blood enter the industry. We're not seeing juniors be lifted up.

This game was made by a team of juniors. Everyone we hired, this was their first game, unless they worked with us on Going Under. So believe in juniors. As long as there are people there, guide them. People are capable of really amazing things, this game is only possible because of our amazing team. We just have to be willing to take a chance on fresh ideas.

That being said, our idea, is it really that fresh? We're riding the coattails of a very popular genre, Souls games. If you’re seeing the games coming out right now in the indie space, it's a lot of safe bets. We're seeing more genre games, we're seeing a lot of roguelikes, Vampire Survivors-likes, and sequels. These are all signs of an industry that's afraid to take risks.

I'm not saying take the biggest risk, I'm not saying make a game that no one understands at all. But we struck a nice balance of delivering what people want within a genre, while being on the very edge of it.

Another Crab’s Treasure launches on April 25 for PS5, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

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