Crabs have a bad rap. Angry people are described as crabby. Roger Corman made a marginally scary movie about them. They’re associated with uncomfortable parasites. In fact, the only time people seem to love crabs is when they’re boiled, cracked open with hammers, and eaten with butter and a little lemon juice. Mmm, delicious. But never mind that. What we’re saying is that it’s time for the crabs to strike back, and Crabitron is the game that finally gives them their due.
In Crabitron, you play a giant space crab out to smash and destroy everything in its path. The awesomeness of this is hard to put into words, but there’s something about the combination of googly eyes on stalks and giant crushing claws that made us feel like all was right with the world.
There’s plenty to crush in space. Puny humanoids fly around in a variety of Jetsons-era taxis, delivery trucks, and police vehicles. You get to catch these in your claws and eat them, gaining extra points if you crush them and shake out their delicious contents. You also face hazards like missile salvos, meteor showers, and whizzing alien invaders, which you must deflect or crush with your claws before they reach your soft-shelled body and sensitive insides.
While the game does repeat its various mini-bosses at different levels of difficulty, it also hands out a lot of surprises, including riffs on classic arcade games when you least expect them. The bigger bosses require unusual strategies, some of which are obvious — grab Cyberclops and beat on its brain case, where the game helpfully displays “Hit” — and some of which are not. (We’re still baffled by the teleporting Second to Last Starfighter.)
The mission system helps change up the game as well. You can rank up your crab by catching certain targets or performing tricks like deflecting enemy bullets back at your enemies. Many of the missions introduce features of the game, providing a smooth tutorial experience, and completing them earns coins that can purchase upgrades.
The “Crab Lab” upgrades are straightforward and useful, with a lot of attention given to increasing the destructive power of your claws. The game also uses the upgrades as a way of unlocking advanced features such as health boosts and power burgers, which provide super-powers when caught and consumed.
There are also coin doublers and coin triplers available via in-app purchase for players who wish to spend a little extra and speed up their acquisition of power-ups. We found we were progressing through the game just fine without them, but Two Lives Left has added some extra features like “hypercoins” for players who made in-app purchases.
The one bit of shell in the game’s crabcake is the control scheme. Conceptually, it’s brilliant. You control each claw with two fingers, spreading them apart and squeezing them together to open and close the claws. It’s a unique approach and certainly feels “crabby,” but ergonomically, it’s a pain. You have to play with your iPad braced against your legs or a desk, your elbows get in all sorts of weird positions. It’s just awkward.
Even if the control scheme doesn’t quite work, however, we have to give Two Lives Left credit for doing something unique that fits the theme of the game. It’s that kind of commitment that makes Crabitron so much fun to play, even if you occasionally wish you could play it a little differently.