Petoons Studio, the Barcelona-based developer of Curse of the Rats, aims to make family-friendly products to be enjoyed together, including toys, animation, and video games. Its latest Metroidvainia offering certainly fits that bill, with its nostalgic animation style, simple progression, and relatively easy combat. The simplicity and ease work in its favor, making Curse of the Sea Rats accessible to a wide range of players, yet not so trivial as to make it unchallenging. Unfortunately, several bugs and some odd choices make it somewhat cumbersome, especially toward the end.
In this ‘ratroidvania,’ as Petoons calls it, a gang of anthropomorphized rodents must retrieve a kidnaped child, reverse a curse, and throw down with a rogue’s gallery of similarly animalized villains. Supporting up to four player co-op, each rat plays differently and unlocks perks through their own elementary skill tree. As players progress and defeat bosses, they’ll be rewarded with new traversal skills like double jump and dash.
The hand-drawn 2D characters, superimposed on a 3D background, are gorgeous and evocative, lending the game a sense of whimsy and bringing the characters to life. In an interview with Curse of the Sea Rats devs discussing the animation, co-founder Dani Del Amor cited inspirations from classic Disney movies like The Great Mouse Detective. Suffice it to say that the animators absolutely hit the nail on the head here, evoking a style largely absent in modern media, at least so far as major Disney features go. Each rat, whether player or NPC, is full of character.
The four playable rodents offer just enough variety to keep things interesting, but remain simple and accessible. Each has a basic melee attack with slight differences in range. For example, Bussa, the tanky bruiser, relies on his fists, while swift Akane wields a spear. Buffalo normally fights close up with daggers, but can throw knives as well, making her the sole character with a ranged physical attack. Douglas is built around blocking with his sword to expose enemy weaknesses.
Combat is basic, with a three-hit melee combo and one magic attack per character. Through the skill tree, players can unlock new moves to mix things up, but only a small handful. Rather than being a detriment, however, keeping things simple was a perfect choice, especially considering what audience the game has in mind. Petoons Studios makes games to be played together, specifically with kids, and the co-op design of Curse of the Sea Rats really benefits from its paired-down combat and gameplay.
But despite that minimalist approach, there’s enough variety and skill progression that things don’t get too stale. Each of the four warriors encapsulates a certain archetype which is reinforced by their unique skills. Many skills make slight changes to how the character is played, like Akane’s ability to slowly regain magic power, or Douglas’s parrying perks. Though a few late-game abilities aren’t especially useful and come at a steeper magical cost.
Boss battles are well-balanced, providing a nice escalation of challenge. The battles are, again, designed with an audience in mind, so an impressive balance is struck, making fights tough enough to test novice players without pushing them away. That being said, more seasoned gamers hunting for a challenging Metroidvania experience like that of Hollow Knight or something similar won’t get it here.
In terms of characterization, the heroes are fairly 1-dimensional and even dip into stereotypes, especially the Japanese warrior Akane and Cheyenne champion named Buffalo. The characters begin the story as prisoners on a boat but after an attack and subsequent shipwreck, the captain implores the gang to rescue his captured son. This is the main narrative thrust and remains unchanged for 90 percent of the adventure, only shifting near the end in a ham-fisted twist. In fact, a lot of the writing falls flat. A few lines are genuinely funny (“suck it, crab!”), but much of the humor doesn’t land. The story wasn’t intended to be the main attraction, but a lackluster telling will likely leave players wondering why they should care.
In terms of world design, Petoons Studio has a good grasp of what makes great Metroidvania games. Intricate, interconnected levels hide lots of nooks, crannies, and hidden passages. Each is distinct with unique gimmicks and enemies, even if some of those enemies are palette swaps. Locations can often be accessed from multiple angles, giving players a lot of freedom and maintaining a sense of discovery.
NPCs found throughout the world send players off on side quests, retrieving items in exchange for potions or other goodies. In one instance, however, a character holds the key to an essential path. With nothing to differentiate this quest from all the other relatively inconsequential ones, players could easily be held up. What’s more, the item requested must be purchased, but another nearby encounter can leave the heroes penniless.
Though Curse of the Sea Rats moves along smoothly for the most part, a few quality-of-life improvements would be welcome. When viewing the map, nothing serves to differentiate the levels. No separate colors, breaks in the map, or labels help players understand what they’re looking at. A fast travel system allows the rodent heroes in Curse of the Sea Rats to zip from one portal to another, and save points provide a place to upgrade, but the portals and save points are often a hike away from each other, so accessing them is needlessly laborious. It’s odd that a single location does not simply serve both purposes because backtracking can be a pain.
Unfortunately, Curse of the Sea Rats presents players with a colorful collection of bugs. Playing on PC, button icons usually don’t appear correctly, making it difficult to follow certain instructions. When players unlock a new move, the button combination should tell them how to execute it, but this bug makes it impossible to understand without some trial and error. Though rare, the game can freeze up, forcing restarts and losing progress. Near the game’s conclusion, a new item allows players to quickly switch out characters, yet the button it’s mapped to can easily be pressed by accident, unintentionally switching characters and leaving them fatally vulnerable. The swapping mechanic is also bugged, inexplicably leaving swapped characters with zero HP and soft-locking the game.
Several other bugs plague the experience, including a couple that are serious problems during the final boss and closing scenes. Sadly, as it stands now, the game’s final impression is of a jumbled, buggy, and frustrating experience.
Despite jarring bugs and inconsistencies, Curse of the Sea Rats is a well-designed game with a clear direction. Petoons Studio succeeded in making an accessible Metroidvania that can be enjoyed by gamers of varied skill levels. Its art, simplicity, and smoothly escalating challenge make it a great way to introduce a younger audience to the genre. If the rough edges are smoothed away, a real gem lies beneath.
Curse of the Sea Rats is available now on PC, PS4, PS5, Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S. Game Rant was provided a PC code for this review.
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