Curse of the Sea Rats Review
Curse of the Sea Rats is a Metroidvania, with the gameplay hook that there are 4 playable characters. I’m a big fan of the genre, and surprisingly, I don’t think I’ve ever played one that offers local multiplayer for the first playthrough of the story. I’ve seen multiple choose-able characters, and additional multiplayer content, but that’s it. Combine this with a unique visual aesthetic, and you get one very excited reviewer. Does Curse of the Sea Rats hold up to its excellent promise? Unfortunately, no.
Right off the bat, it was hard to not be seduced by Curse of the Sea Rats’ visuals. The in-game characters look right out of a North American 80s animated movie like An American Tail, The Secret of NIMH, The Rescuers, The Great Mouse Detective, etc. I didn’t even realize until right now how popular the anthropomorphized mouse was in my childhood. The backgrounds are 3D cell-shaded, and the cutscenes all comprise of still images that match the character art. It’s incredibly visually appealing.
A Swashbuckling Tail
The story takes place in the late 1700s, and is about a group of prisoners aboard a British sea vessel. A group of pirates led by a witch attack the ship. The witch transforms all the passengers into talking mice, and kidnaps the Admiral’s daughter. The 4 protagonists are offered their freedom if they can bring back the Admiral’s daughter and defeat the witch. It’s an ok set up, but Curse of the Sea Rats definitely isn’t driven by a desire to see how the narrative unfolds. The story is clearly there to service the idea of talking rats exploring an island. It isn’t developed much further.
Cracks quickly start to form in the initial beautiful presentation though. The voice acting is pretty bad. Almost every character has an accent of some kind, and the voice actors are all acting hard, and clearly faking their accents. Lots of the voice actors can’t even maintain their accents. There are British and Scottish rats working the ship. The prisoners are a mix of pirate, Native American, Caribbean, and Japanese. The villains have pirate accents. There a Chinese ghost that gives the protagonists access to magic. All of these characters are ethnic, and sound like white Americans faking accents.
Filthy, Scurvy, and Needing Polish
Curse of the Sea Rats needs more polish. There was a decent amount of screen flicker throughout the game. The framerate stuttered every now and then. There were occasional typos in the menu text and dialogue. The load times between screens are a few seconds longer than one would hope. The screen transitions are frequent, and they’re very noticeable. The biggest issue is that the controls aren’t very polished. It feels like there’s a longer delay than there should be between input and character action. Animations take too long to complete, and I often found I just couldn’t turn around as fast as I would have liked. And sometimes the control inputs just registered wrong. I would press down and walk to the side instead, for example.
The four characters aren’t just palette swaps. They all have different stat numbers, and have different magic attacks. Some characters have projectile weapons, others can block for longer, etc. But they all have a very similar feel. The face buttons are a simple combo attack, jump, block, and magic attack. There’s no pogo mechanic, or dash command. Characters get different magic abilities, but they’re still in the same realm of attack. There’s no Lost Vikings or Trine formula where one character can double jump, and another can glide, and another can block. They all perform the same basic functions. When playing single player, the player can switch between characters at check points. But they’re all similar enough that the novelty wore off quickly. Curse of the Sea rats definitely relies on its multiplayer component to hide some of the gameplay blandness.
Fun Exploration, Lame Powerups
The island map is fun to explore, with lots of branching path options. But the Metroidvania component that Curse of the Sea Rats fails at is having fun power ups. There are no rewards that drastically change what your characters can do. Most upgrades are stat boosts or new magic attacks. There’s no moment of “I can glide now! I’m so excited to go back and explore with this new skill.” None of the items bosses drop have obvious or fun immediate uses.
Curse of the Sea Rats is disappointing. It’s a pretty bland Metroidvania. It has a unique visual style, but its gameplay completely relies on its multiplayer option to hide its shortcomings. The game also needs a bit more polish. I was immediately very excited when I booted up the game, but I quickly soured. If the visual style wasn’t so interesting, and there wasn’t a multiplayer option the score would be a lot lower. Only play Curse of the Sea rats if you love the idea of a simple 4 player Metroidvania.
***PS5 code provided by the publisher***
80s cell animation aesthetic
Fun map exploration
Small imperfections everywhere