If you’re of a certain age and generation, you grew up with at least a handful of Disney VHS “clamshells” that rotated in and out of your player in the living room or basement. Maybe it was The Lion King, Jungle Book, or like me, one of my favourites, The Rescuer’s Down Under.
I didn’t know that I needed some classic animation nostalgia in my life until I began playing Petoons Studio‘s Curse of the Sea Rats. On the surface, it’s a Metroidvania adventure where you’ll explore and fight your way to rescue a young boy. But at its core, it felt like a love letter to those classic animated adventures that provided such wonder and excitement as a young kid. On top of that, it provides a great opportunity for co-op and a variety of gameplay styles.
Oh, Curse of the Sea Rats!
A pirate witch has cursed your crew and the island you’ve crash landed on. Not only is the crew reeling and attempting to repair their ship but the admiral’s young son has also been kidnapped. This is where you, the player, come in to help. As one of four prisoners, you can trek out to the unknown land.
Oh, and don’t forget, this is Curse of the Sea Rats, after all, so every person has been transformed into a rat! Playable Douglas, Buffalo, Akane, and Bussa all have their own look, fighting style, and background. On the selection screen, there is a brief description of why they were apprehended in the first place. But don’t worry, save the day and you’ll be a free citizen once again. It’s a nice flavour of character development in a game that has some really fun and personality-driven interaction throughout.
That’s the first step into the nostalgia trip I experienced in Curse of the Sea Rats. Each and every character is unique and many of them are filled with charisma and a great sense of humour. In those movies of yesteryear, the writing was a joy, and this game follows suit.
Four Ways To Victory
Above I mentioned the four characters you can choose from. Not only do each of them have their own personality and look, but they all play differently. For example, Bussa is a big, tough, melee combat-focused fighter, while Buffalo is an Indigenous-inspired warrior that has more maneuverability and can throw knives and axes from a distance.
Whether playing solo or with friends, these four heroes embody the great variety Curse of the Sea Rats puts forward at every turn. With a number of different biomes and regions to explore and battle through, it became apparent to me that I had to switch up who I was controlling in order to have a better chance at survival. It wasn’t evident from the start, I thought I could get away with picking my favourite and sticking to them. But in the end, it made the game far more enjoyable and kept things fresh.
Each of the characters also has its own skill trees. Here, like with many other games, you can upgrade your health pool, damage output, and learn a few additional skills. It takes some time to really flesh out all four, but the reward is noticeable as each incremental jump in talents makes an immediate difference in your fights.
The battles themselves range anywhere from slicing and dicing giant slugs and beetles, to fighting pirates that have also transformed into rats. You can attack, jump, dodge, and parry in order to defeat your foes. The first couple of hours I did feel quite underpowered, but thankfully after some of the aforementioned upgrades, things became more balanced.
My favourite part of the gameplay came in the form of boss battles. There are several of them laid throughout the island, each with its own interesting and varied approaches to taking you down. Some are easier than others to master, but Curse of the Sea Rats does a great job of balancing the difficulty, as I never felt in over my head enough that I wanted to quit or move on to a different task.
As with nearly all metroidvania’s, traversal and exploration are key components. Curse of the Sea Rats follows that formula and succeeds in most areas. Yes, the exploration is fun and the regions are varied, but the map provides far too few indications as to where you might need to go next and what tasks should or can be at the top of your to-do list. The biggest evidence of this: sidequests.
Along my journey, I found a few charismatic characters that were hoping I could find a few items they lost or needed for one reason or another. Great, no problem, happy to help! Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing where this person/rat is once I leave that area. So when I found the item in question two hours later in a chest, I now needed to remember exactly what small rectangular screen I needed to travel back to in order to hand it over because there is no indicator on the map where I need to go. Additionally, when I looked closer at the item in my inventory, it was no help and just read something like “someone could probably use this.” It’s a frustrating design choice in a game that encouraged me to explore and meet and help new characters along the way.
As I’ve mentioned; Curse of the Sea Rats looks, feels, and sounds like a classic Disney cartoon. All the details are there, from the wonderfully 2D animated heroes and enemies to the detailed 3D backgrounds. The music is also as charming as ever, with great wind and string instruments creating a feeling of wonder and excitement at all the right times.
The vast majority of your interactions are also fully voiced and acted. Curse of the Sea Rats has dozens of characters that deliver some very fun and satisfying dialogue. Not all of it works, some feel a little too stilted and out of place, but most are top-notch. It’s an impressive feat that’s backed by some great writing. My favourite examples are the interplay and relationships between the “big bad” as they quip back in forth about petty things like going to the bathroom and babysitting the boy they’ve kidnapped… who is also “really, really hungry!”
Charm, humour, exciting real-time gameplay, a variety of heroes, and boss battles that are consistently interesting and fun. Curse of the Sea Rats provides all those elements in one great package. It definitely needs some tweaks to its map and quest system, but there are ways to work within those constraints and they never ruined my overall enjoyment.
It’s been a wild and busy start to 2023 in terms of big-name game releases, but don’t let this one pass you by if you’re looking for a great Metroidvania adventure. Especially if you feel like a nice hit of nostalgia will go a long way to putting a smile on your face as it did for me.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]
Reviewed on: PC
Curse of the Sea Rats is full of fast and engaging gameplay, topped off with a great hit of nostalgic presentation that breathes life into a crowded Metroidvania genre.
Fantastic art style, music and sound design
Great variety in character selection
Boss battles are fun, varied, and balanced
Charming characters backed by great writing and voice acting