Curse of the Sea Rats Review – Not Voiced by Tim Curry

    Title: Curse of the Sea Rats
    Developer: Petoons Studio
    Release Date: April 6, 2023
    Reviewed On: PS5
    Publisher: PQube
    Genre: Action/Adventure, Metroidvania

Growing up in an era where mice and rats seemed to constantly take on the form of humans in cartoons such as The Great Mouse Detective and An American Tail was an interesting time. Looking back, it’s strange how obsessed we were with the anthropomorphic trend, but I wasn’t complaining. Developer Petoons Studio seems to have nostalgia for the trend with their newest adventure, Curse of the Sea Rats. This hand-drawn adventure delivers everything we love about talking rats, but its repetitive structure limits its magic.

Curse of the Sea Rats follows four protagonists, David Douglas, Buffalo Calf, Bussa, and Akane Yamakawa. Coming from different backgrounds, each character brings a unique personality to the group. As humans, they have been imprisoned by the British Empire, but an encounter with the pirate witch Flora Burn has found them cursed to take on the form of rats along with their entire crew.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the witch has kidnapped the captain’s son, who then requests the help of the group. In hopes of freedom, they set out to defeat Flora, find the captain’s son, and regain their human forms. The opening moments are packed with great character moments, but then the narrative seemed to deviate as it forgets to utilize each of the protagonists.

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Players are able to choose only one of the four characters outside of multiplayer, but the lead character will be the one who interacts with NPCs and takes on quests. This ends up making each character feel like a palette swap, given that much of the dialogue is the same outside of a few quips related to their backstory.

The story never really expands on these differences, and we’re left with the hope that there will be some type of character growth toward the ending. Sadly, even if you play as a particular character, the ending remains the same, and the character’s traits don’t make an impact on the overall narrative.

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Exploration doesn’t require a massive amount of progression-mandatory upgrades to get through each area. Instead, the map is relatively simple, and all paths slowly lead to the right before branching off to a new area or boss. These optional routes allow for freedom that isn’t always there for a lower level of play in other titles, and when frustrated, players can choose a different path if the other feels too tricky.

This level of freedom is initially daunting, but I never felt like I was missing a crucial item to continue, which is simultaneously good and bad. The good is that freedom of exploration fuels the genre and keeps you hooked. Unfortunately, the reverse of that is due to the lack of any upgrades, which limits any reason to tread into previously explored areas.

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Additionally, there was no feeling of progress for long periods, as beating a boss rewarded a tooth or other item that had no apparent benefit. This lack of progression kills the sense of exploration since these items are intended to complete quests for NPCs found around the map.

Some of these quests can lead to upgrades, but they are narrowed down to repetitive fetch quests. After speaking with an NPC, you’ll be asked to retrieve an item, return it, and get a reward. Throughout this, nothing new is learned about the NPC or the main quest at hand. These are just chores to pad out the item collection screen with things that feel like junk in your bag.

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This is largely disappointing because the artwork and animations are beautiful, mirroring a Don Bluth cartoon. Many of the designs are exaggerated, and when a fully animated cutscene happens, it’s a nice visual treat. It would have added a great deal of charm if every boss had some kind of animated intro for themselves, but sadly, they didn’t receive this treatment.

Combat during gameplay comes off as restrictive, as players must stop moving to attack or use an ability; however, it is possible to jump and attack. Yes, this means no run-and-slicing, which makes combat feel slow and kills any momentum gained before an encounter. This often causes missed attacks during encounters, giving enemies an opening for a counter.

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Further, ranged spells require players to be on the ground, which limits their use cases, as I opted to use my primary attack instead. This makes every character almost the same in combat, with their only difference found in their base stats. However, magic varies between each character giving them a different element with unique effects.

For example, Akane has a forward charge that damages, David fires off a fireball, Buffalo throws a small dagger imbued with electricity, and Bussa has a ground pound that damages enemies nearby. These spells help differentiate each character even when their skill trees are similar, but magic isn’t essential until they unlock their ultimate attacks, which do the same thing but applies additional effects. These screen-clearing attacks were nice to have and very pretty to look at when activated, but they feel like a solution to a problem that didn’t need to happen.

Often I would wish that I could attack and move at the same time or even be able to launch into a high jump while moving to dodge enemies. Instead, I was forced to attack to build up my magic power and initiate the ultimate to move forward, rinse and repeat, and you have an experience that feels like there could have been so much more.

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The potential for Curse of the Sea Rats was high, and the opening moments were exceptionally promising. Unfortunately, it fails to encourage players to explore the world with repetitive questlines and a lack of skills. The diverse cast does little to move the narrative in any way, which is a shame because they have the potential to be more than pallet swaps. Still, the experience is gorgeous, and the combat animations deliver a nostalgic punch to keep you pressing forward.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Nathan Mejia

The guy who will play anything you throw at him. Will talk your ear off about anything and everything Video Game, Music, and Anime related. You have been warned.