Making a game stand out is a challenge. One must consider the art style, the mechanics, the systems that empower it. Is it innovative, or just another good one of those? For Masafumi "Nussoft" Onuki, the Japan-based indie developer, standing out has always been a matter of occupying a singular niche. And that niche is aquatic life.
Onuki has always had a fascination with sealife, from Ace of Seafood to Neo Aquarium, released under Onuki's "corporate" name Calappa Games. (The name stems from Onuki's favorite type of crab: the Calappa.) As a solo developer, Onuki has made games about fish, lobsters, and other creepy crawlies that roam the seafloor. Before his solo venture, he was a programmer at Sega and worked on the likes of Yakuza 5 and Binary Domain. Onuki's latest, the aptly named Fight Crab, differentiates itself drastically from its predecessors. Namely in that it's a fighting game, not a shooter.
"I wanted to make a physics-based fighting game along the lines of Totally Accurate Battle Simulator or Gang Beasts, but when you have physics with humanoid models they always come out unstable and it turns into a gag game," Onuki tells me over email. "Crabs on the other hand are flat and have lots of legs, which makes them perfect for something like this and it frees up the arms for more in-depth combat." And why crabs? "'[Cause] they're cool."
In Fight Crab, you play as a crab. Not just any crab: a crab that's ready to do battle. A crab that can wield weapons—like that one classic viral video of the crab clutching a knife in its claw. (Unfortunately, there is a saddening truth behind this meme.) Fight Crab is that image personified, and made even more ludicrous. Your goal isn't to kill the enemy crab, it's just to flip them over. The fighting game boasts 23 different types of crabs, 48 weapons (Onuki's favorite is the Gada, a mace that originates from India), and 11 stages in total. Players can play against each other both online and offline. It even has a campaign.
Fight Crab's come a long way from its origins on itch.io early access, wherein it cultivated a community via livestreams and Discord. The community's feedback drove Onuki to continuously improve and expand the crustacean battler. Today, Fight Crab is releasing in its full form on Steam, with a later release planned for September 15 on Nintendo Switch. It's coming to PS4 and Xbox One at a later date-but expect to wait long for those versions, as Onuki explains porting hasn't started on those yet.
Its upcoming Switch port, which releases in Japan before it hits North America and Europe in September, was integral in optimizing the game as a whole. The process helped improve the motion and overall performance of the game. The optimization process, Onuki says, even addressed the difficulty issue for players who were, perhaps, too good at wielding at flailing claws around. "I also added a harder difficulty for the advanced players, to keep them happy, and then started adding more crabs, weapons, and arenas for a more fleshed-out title," says Onuki.
Onuki's inspirations for Fight Crab stem from a mixture of kaiju movies like Godzilla, "weapon-heavy works" such as Star Wars and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, and big robot anime like The Big O. Onuki was first drawn to the idea of giant crabs thanks to a movie, Big Crab Panic [Editor's Note: Big Crab Panic appears to be the Japanese name for the 2015 movie Queen Crab.] While the crabs "going wild" on the cover piqued interest, the lackluster special effects in the film disappointed Onuki. "It made me want to make my own actually decent crab movie," Onuki says. So Onuki got to work, watching National Geographic documentaries and the nature documentary series Our Planet. Fight Crab, while not anatomically perfect, is as close as it can be for being a game about crabs that clumsily wave swords and maces.
"I watched a death battle between a crab and a Mantis shrimp which was extremely good material, it was epic," says Onuki of the research. "I also bought some of the character crabs (boiled!) and then scanned them with photogrammetry software to create the models you see in-game."
Onuki's fascination with sealife stems from living in cities. For city dwellers, it's rare to be around wildlife, Onuki points out, and unlike other meat, we as people eat seafood whole. We shell crabs for the meat in its legs; we dine on whole fish while carefully avoiding bones. When we eat chicken, pork, and beef, we're not seeing the animals in their full form before consumption. In most cases with fish, it's the opposite. Aquatic life, in this way, is more familiar to Onuki.
As for what's next after Fight Crab, post-porting PS4 and Xbox One versions, the developer isn't turning their attention away from marine life. However, don't expect fish or shellfish this time around. Now, Onuki's looking to mammals.
"Recently I have become more interested in marine mammals (after all the documentaries) such as fur seals," says Onuki. "They ride waves and are able to do pretty technical maneuvers and I was thinking of the game possibilities of that."