The Clawfish Arcade is accessible by train, a small boardwalk venue surrounded by dreamlike fog and lots of clear, blue water. It’s open only to me, the lone wanderer that’s free to skip stones off the dock, talk with the local seagull, or stuff coins into the arcade’s three crane games.
Clawfish, from developer David Czarnowski, was released in June alongside the Wholesome Game Direct — a showcase for independent video games. I downloaded the game just days ago, when it was listed as a featured game on Itch.io, and was immediately interested. Though I don’t have much of a fondness for fishing now, I grew up nearby a lake in the middle of a city, and I spent sweltering days with my feet hanging off the dock, fishing line in hand. There’s something so nostalgic for me about fishing games, and I find it hard not to at least try out each one I come across. Clawfish took the expectations I had about both fishing games and crane games and combined them for a truly charming experience: a one-hour jaunt, from machine to machine, on the empty docks.
There is more to do in Clawfish than play crane games, each of which changes the mechanic of catching fish slightly. (Though the core of it remains the same: Wrap your claw around a fish to catch and dump it back into the ocean.) The world has different little areas to explore, accessible by boat, with things to interact with. I mentioned some of these before: skipping stones, chatting with a seagull, and drinking tea from a vending machine. These are little touches that make the world feel special and unique, an alternate universe version of the dock I spent my childhood on.
Clawfish’s main activity is, of course, the crane games. In total, the machines are stocked with different fish, under 30 of them. They’re not necessarily hard to catch, like real-life crane games that often feel rigged against the player, but there is a definitely a skill to learn in perfecting the catch. It’s designed to play in a single sitting, so there’s no save button — if you don’t catch all the fish in one go, you’ll have to start up again when arriving, again, at the arcade. And yet, when I’ve played, I haven’t felt pressure to rush myself to catch all fish within whatever amount of time I had. I’ve found it a delightful space to pop in on during my lunch break, where I can leisurely catch fish while eating my lunch. It’s like a little dreamy lunchtime vacation.