Xbox One, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch, PS5, Xbox Series X|S
April 6, 2023
Like playing a Saturday morning cartoon, Curse of the Sea Rats is a hand-drawn style adventure with a focus on action combat and cooperative gameplay. Aiming at a general audience, this is one of Petoons Studio’s first original IPs after a range of licensed family games. A “tail” of swashbuckling, this “ratoidvania” is artistically impressive but generic in every other way.
Swashbuckling rodents on a quest for freedom
A group of heroes are transformed into rats by a wicked pirate witch, Flora Burn. As Douglas, Buffalo, Akane, and Bussa, players must navigate their path through treacherous environments, overcome obstacles, and defeat enemies to save the day.
“…encounter a variety of other rat characters with their own distinct personalities and abilities.”
The heroes must rescue Admiral Benjamin Blacksmith’s son who has been kidnapped by Flora Burn and reverse the curse. Each using their unique skills and abilities to overcome the challenges they face, they work together (or solo) to complete the rescue. Douglas, for example, is a skilled swordsman, Buffalo has the strength to move heavy objects, and Akane is an expert in the art of archery. Along the road, players will encounter a variety of other rat characters with their own distinct personalities and abilities.
Unfortunately, the story isn’t much deeper than a standard search and rescue. While the performances of the pirate rodents the crew comes across, like the caring Robert Garfield and stern Benjamin Blacksmith, are charming and add to the cartoon style, there isn’t much more to keep the narrative engaging. Admittedly, this is a game for all audiences but it’s hard to believe this tale will be the factor keeping people playing the 8–10 hour campaign.
The game is a Metroidvania, where these wharf critters must explore interconnected environments, gain new abilities, and use them to access previously unreachable areas. The four playable characters all have their own move sets and skill trees to upgrade over the journey, adding to the replayability and variety of otherwise standard gameplay.
After unlocking a dash and double jump early on, Curse of the Sea Rats becomes a fun little action game, yet navigating across areas and harmful obstacles remains an unnecessary chore. Movement speed is awfully slow across these medium-sized rooms which makes backtracking quite a bore. The dash is a faster option but is difficult to control in particularly dangerous spaces around spikes, enemies, and holes. Transporter portals are available but are placed too far away from each other and key points of interest such as shops or upgrade stations with the mystical Wu Yun. Movement and navigation in this platformer leave a little bit more to be desired.
Each character can be trained on two individual skill trees by collecting currency from enemies. Visiting Wu Yun spirit at certain spaces in the world, also serving as a respawn point, allows the critters to upgrade their abilities. Every node may include a stat boost to attack, defence, critical chance or unlock a brand new skill specific to the character. In my gameplay, I found it frustrating maxing out Buffalo Calf’s upgrades to only find out every other character needed to be individually upgraded too with the same currency pool. Luckily, the overall level that increases health points and attack damage is universal so harder bosses don’t immediately become wall blocks when switching crew mates.
Yet, individual upgrades highlights Curse of the Sea rats is a cooperative four-player game, and that’s where it shines. Being able to pick up a controller and play local multiplayer with three friends works wonderfully for this title. Playing together is chaotic with so many rodents running around on the screen at once, but overcoming a challenging boss becomes a united triumph.
With merit, there is still fault. Combat and puzzles which are the bulk of gameplay are mind-numbingly straightforward. Attacking consists of mashing the relevant melee button, using slow projectiles, or occasionally a special move which is often not remarkably effective. For example, Buffalo’s Thunderbird ability deals magical damage to all enemies in the way and uses up one of a few energy orbs but results in taking damage by touching an enemy. Parry timing is slow and hard to register depending on the enemy, making it an unviable option for stuns and critical attacks, particularly in boss battles where the parry is often not effective at all.
Puzzles in the rooms are needlessly simple. They purely revolve around tasks like moving or breaking certain boxes and evading dangerous foes or hurdles. The quest doesn’t focus too much on these moments but is routine when trying to backtrack through specific areas that refresh upon re-entry. It’s a shame the gameplay is so unimaginative when there are so many other Metroidvania inspirations out there recently.
While the gameplay is sadly generic, the style is visually a great feat. Clearly inspired by classic animated films like The Secret of NIMH and An American Tail, the 2D hand-drawn animation breathes life into the game’s cast. These pests are cute, cuddly, and come in all different shapes and sizes that add to their personality. Even watching the idle animations or background characters hanging around bursts of character.
“…the 2D hand-drawn animation breathes life into the game’s cast.”
The standard enemies aren’t too much to talk about but the variety of bosses is superb. The crew begins the game taking on bumbling larger boss rats, a vampire rat pirate, and eventually a giant toucan and more. These battles, even if the mechanics themselves aren’t all that creative, take place upon imaginative backdrops that take advantage of the colour palette of the game.
The levels themselves are a combination of 2D and 3D environments, enhanced by light and shadow effects for the 2.5D platforming experience. Mostly, the mix of styles works but there are certain points in the game where the separation is like chalk and cheese, such as the starting area of Shipwreck Beach. On the other hand, there are exceptionally clever designs including an autumn zone with a solid black and orange canopy that complements the art style.
As mentioned earlier, the performance of these shrews can be quite charismatic. The English and Irish accents of these washed-away sailors and pirates turned rats have a distinguished character that matches the tone of those nostalgic animated movies. At times, it’s almost like playing a modern version of your favourite anthropomorphic cartoons with this talented voice acting. Thanks to the style, this is certainly a great game for families to play together.
- Classic cartoon movie style
- Four-player coop
- A game for all ages
- Very basic puzzles and combat
- Navigation and movement can be better
- Story is serviceable
Curse of the Sea Rats is a competent 2.5D Metroidvania that offers an absolutely delightful style. The story and gameplay are basic at best, with design oversights and shallow combat that unfortunately drive this simple narrative. Still, the small package comes with a fun four-player coop that complements the classic cartoon animation and critters throughout the journey. This platformer won’t rattle the scene, but it’s a great game for families to play.