An exemplary iOS platformer.
After glancing at the App Store page for Mr. Crab, I didn’t envision myself singing its praises after playing it. Not that I don’t give games a fair shake, it just looked to be a typical rehash of the “cylinder platformer” formula. I call them cylinder platformers because this variety of platforming game asks the player to run around the edge of a tall cylinder, like a giant spiral staircase with the end of the level at the top.
In reality, Mr. Crab does share the basic premise of these cylindrical platformers, but it brings with it a level of polish uncommon to the subgenre. Mr. Crab is perpetually running, and the only interaction players have with the game is tapping the screen to make him jump. Running in to a wall causes Mr. Crab to reverse his direction, and higher walls can be used to wall-jump and gain some elevation. The simple control works well on the touch screen, and most importantly doesn’t exceed the iPhone or iPad’s capabilities.
The developers of Mr. Crab made some interesting design choices. There is no fail state. Running in to enemies causes any baby crabs you have saved to drop back in to the level, and Mr. Crab himself will fall down a couple of strata of the cylinder. Players aren’t taken out of the game, they can just keep playing. But unlike many casual games, beating a level in Mr. Crab can’t be accomplished by just putting in enough time. Between the player and the level’s end are typically a series of platforms to leap across, enemies to squash, bounce pads, pearls to collect, and little baby crabs to rescue. More difficult levels require actual skill acquisition, and learning the timing of Mr. Crab’s jumps.
For the most part, the levels are intricately designed. The developers use little tricks to lock off parts of the level to prevent the player from falling too far down towards the start, and things like jump platforms and enemies are placed smartly. The game has a good blend of exploration and intense platforming. Later levels can become taxing on players, and start to push the limits of the more floaty jump. Having a variable jump distance forces the player to not only judge the timing of the jump departure, but also how long the jump should be maintained. These challenging moments can veer towards memorization and away from natural play. Thankfully, the game’s policy on failed jumps makes it easy to replay difficult segments.
I very much enjoyed my time playing Mr. Crab. While it doesn’t cram itself with the intentionally addictive progress bars and elements, the fast-paced gameplay and unique level design kept me glued to the iPad.
Mr. Crab is available for $0.99 as a Universal App.