When I first laid eyes on Clawfish at the Wholesome Direct and saw those sweet words “available now” I couldn’t help but run, metaphorically, of course, straight to Steam and nab it. Now, after a brief, but beautiful stay in Clawfish’s ethereal world my departure feels somewhat bittersweet. While my heart sunk as I was hurried away on the train, I knew that someday I’d find myself back there. To remain surrounded by its glistening blue sea, sitting by the shore and sipping a cold green tea, would be bliss. But alas, I needed to return to reality, so that I may inform you that playing Clawfish has been one of the most mesmerising experiences I’ve had all year.
From the offset, Clawfish is stunning. The moment you arrive on its dreamlike platform submerged in soothingly calm water, its hard not to stop for a moment and gaze upon its majesty. As the train pulls away you see nothing but an empty horizon, the sea stretching for miles. As the silence settles, you take a seat, listening for the faint breeze that rolls over the sleepy station. Before you is a sign, welcoming you to the Clawfish Arcade. Beneath it runs the train tracks, the rails rising and falling as the water ebbs every so slightly. Enshrouded in a thin layer of mist lies the rest of the station, beckoning you to venture forth. You get up from your seat, passing by the advertisements and smoking signs, and head toward the claw machines.
“The magic, charm and character that Clawfish’s world exudes is outstanding.”
Playing Clawfish is not too dissimilar to watching a Studio Ghibli film. From the way the landscape appears almost ethereal to the dichotomy of the setting (it feels oddly sombre yet truly magical) I felt entirely immersed in this Ghibli-esque experience. And that is not to detract from the game’s outstanding originality. The setting feels entirely plausible, with small intricate details decorating its dreamy world, yet breathtakingly transcendental.
The magic, charm and character that Clawfish’s world exudes is outstanding. Every interactable item has a whimsical description that feels incredibly personal and often apt. Exploration is accompanied by a faint uplifting tune that feels almost like a distant memory being repeatedly recollected in your head. The only companionship you’ll find in this desolate yet mesmerising station is a talking bird and the fish you’re destined to release. No matter where you go, what you do, or who you see, it’s bound to be magical.
“The most important and enjoyable thing you can do in Clawfish is play the claw game.”
Clawfish has a surprising amount for you to do in its small world. You can skip stones across the water, watching as they bounce and leave a faint ripple in their wake. You can buy drinks, which nets you with a cute description of each one. There’s a boat you can sail around from platform to platform, and a handful of fish trapped in buckets scattered around. As I previously mentioned, there’s a ton to interact with too, with posters and signs littering the station walls. Of course, the most important and enjoyable thing you can do in Clawfish is play the claw game.
There are three claw games scattered across Clawfish’s world. To access them you need to collect five tokens from the machine. Each one has a different theme and a unique gameplay mechanic. The first machine is the most basic and requires you to only catch five fish. You move the claw with wasd, and lower it with space. The second machine I did had me press the spacebar again upon lowering the claw to close it instead of doing so automatically previously. This meant that I had to time each movement perfectly in order to snap up a fish. The final claw machine released the claw automatically whenever you released a movement key.
“The claw mini-game was an absolute highlight of the experience, which is great considering it’s the star of the show.”
All three of these machines having a varying amount of fish to collect. However, overall, including the fish found in buckets, there were 30ish to rescue. The claw mini-game was an absolute highlight of the experience, which is great considering it’s the star of the show. The controls are extremely satisfying, and it’s difficult without ever feeling unfair. That doesn’t mean it lacks the challenging charm of a real claw machine. Instead, it retains the satisfying feeling of nabbing something and drops the ludicrous flimsiness commonly found in arcades.
Unfortunately, Clawfish isn’t without its faults. While, for the most part, my experience was unperturbed by bugs, there was a handful that I encountered across my hour-long play session. Some of the fish would get stuck in terrain, but would eventually worm their way out of it. Toward the very end of the game, the train began driving off without me in it, although I was dragged alongside it until I hit a post. They may sound frustrating, but they’re easily patchable and failed to ruin my overall immersive and extremely magical experience.
“This is certainly a game I’ll never forget”
I was genuinely saddened when my time with Clawfish came to a close. It’s probably the closest I’ve ever gotten to truly existing within a Ghibli-esque diorama. While it may be a short experience, for its exceptionally low price and the truly magnificent memories I’ve made playing it, Clawfish is absolutely worth picking up. This is certainly a game I’ll never forget, and I simply cannot wait to see what the developer David Czarnowski does next.