Review: Curse of the Sea Rats
To the surprise of nobody, I was hooked from the moment I saw the trailer for Curse of the Sea Rats. I mean, an action platformer where you play as a cast of rats that look straight out of a 90s Disney movie with a fantastical ensemble of foes, what’s not to love? Well, as I’ve seen time and time again, first appearances are far from everything, so let’s delve in.
Curse of the Sea Rats was developed by Petoons Studio and published by PQube. It’s set to release on all major platforms on April 6, 2023. The Steam version was played for this review.
What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse
It’s the year 1777, and along the Irish coast a British prisoner ship meets with some… difficulties. One of their captives, a pirate captain by the name of Flora Burn, uses an ancient artifact to turn everyone on the ship into rats. The ship runs aground, and Flora’s crew escapes with the captain’s son as hostage. Four prisoners are then given an opportunity: if they can stop Flora and rescue the captain’s son, they will have all charges against them dropped
The four playable characters are all prisoners, but also all for reasons we’d likely call them heroes these days. There’s a revolutionary soldier, a Native American, a Japanese secret agent, and a former slave from Barbados all imprisoned for disrupting British activity in the Americas in different ways, now forced to work together to survive.
It feels very “Saturday Morning Cartoon” in how the story is told, but given the art style I feel that’s intentional. The heroes are heroic, the villains are over the top, and even as the stakes are raised there’s still a certain campy whimsy to the whole thing. There wasn’t anything too surprising with the twists the story takes, but it was overall rather charming.
An Explorer’s Dream
Now, here’s where things get a little complicated. I’d overall place Curse of the Sea Rats in the metroidvania category (for real this time), and at the start of the game that’s quite true. You explore a large area with a classic map style for the genre, in areas that feel quite open and non-linear but are actually rather linear by virtue of needing new abilities from defeating various bosses to make any actual headway down the branching paths. Then, after beating a few bosses, they take the training wheels off and say “Ok, now we actually ARE non-linear.”
See, only the first few bosses actually give you new movement options as a reward. Once you’re past this initial intro phase of the game, you can more or less explore as you please. There are a few areas that are locked off by literal locks and keys (compared to the figurative locks and keys of getting new abilities), but those keys are found by exploring and finding them rather than beating a boss, and the areas they unlock are all optional at that.
Indeed, there’s little stopping you from basically making a beeline straight to Flora, though you’ll likely be sorely underleveled from skipping all the sidequests, you’ll still pass through most of the areas on the way, and getting the “good” ending does actually require beating all the pirate crew bosses.
The other major point is the combat. You start with some basic melee moves, but once you gain access to your skill tree you get access to unique spells, special moves, and passives based on your character. While the core is sound, it suffers a bit in the execution. There were a fair few moves that just felt absolutely useless when I played through, such as a downward aerial attack that couldn’t be used fast enough to properly pogo so you just fall back down into the enemy for contact damage, or a version of the fireball that can hit multiple targets that has such a long windup you’ll likely be hit out of it in any situation with multiple foes. Still others were downright overpowered, such as a passive that healed me based on physical damage dealt, which is pretty strong on its own, but the same character also gets a buff that temporarily boosts physical damage, which allowed me to just face-tank everything the endgame had to throw at me.
It’s a shame that the combat is where I had problems because that’s honestly what you’ll be spending most of the game doing. Now, there is a day one patch slated to, among other things, rebalance characters and enemies. So it’s entirely possible these issues may be resolved, or if not there may be a later patch to fix them in the future. As I said, the core system is perfectly functional; it’d likely just take adjusting the numbers a little bit to make it feel right… but I also can’t really review what WILL come, only what I have now.
As a final little footnote, there is one small thing the developers added that I absolutely love. So, anyone who’s played an action game has probably found that one action, the one meant to move you out of harm’s way in a pinch that is just a bit faster than walking normally, so now you’re spamming it the whole time and listening to the sounds you make while doing so. Curse of the Sea Rats is no different there, with the “slide” taking this spot. It’s more of a scamper really, dropping to all fours and racing forward a bit. However, it looks cute, deals damage if you ram into something, and best of all is basically silent. So, kudos to them for making a faster movement option that doesn’t feel annoying to use.
A Nostalgic Trip
For better or worse, appearances absolutely carry Curse of the Sea Rats. All the characters and enemies are beautifully hand animated and feel like something straight out of the renaissance age of American animation. The environment and props are 3D elements, but great care has been taken to keep the mix of 2D and 3D from looking out of place. It’s clearly a labor of love and the devotion shows through in the quality. The music is likewise memorable and helps give each place a flavor all its own.
Unfortunately, the voice work is where it falters a bit. It feels like this might be a first gig for a fair portion of the cast. Not necessarily awful mind you, but a number of characters really didn’t feel natural, or felt like they were hammed up a bit too much. However, this is yet another fascet the day one patch is expected to fix, with this being the first time I’ve seen line retakes as part of the patch notes. Again, I can’t review what’s not out yet, but it is perhaps telling that every issue I’ve been coming across is something the team is already aware of and working on. They’re clearly trying to make this the best game they can.
An Unpolished Diamond
I wish I could rate this higher. I honestly had a fun time playing through Curse of the Sea Rats, but the issues I encountered were significant. On top of balance issues and voice line deliveries, I also stumbled across a few bugs here and there including one that basically broke most of the ending. Again the refrain goes, they’re aware and fixing issues, but I can merely hope the patch irons out every last detail.
Should the patch fix every one of these issues admirably, I could easily see this being an 8 or even a 9. But even in its current state, it’s a charming experience. Especially for anyone with fond memories of 90s animated features.
Review copy provided by PQube for Steam. Screenshots taken by reviewer.