Curse of The Sea Rats
Petoons Studio, Barcelona-based developer Curse of the Rats, aims to make family-friendly, fun together products, including toys, animation and video games. The latest Metroidvainia offering certainly fits the bill, with its nostalgic animation style, straightforward progression, and relatively easy combat. Simplicity and convenience work in its favor, with Curse of the Sea Mice accessible to a wide range of players, but not so trivial as to make it unbeatable. Unfortunately, a few bugs and some awkward choices make it a bit unwieldy, especially towards the end.
In this ‘ratroidvania’, as Petoons calls it, a gang of anthropomorphized rodents must retrieve a kidnapped child, reverse a curse, and knock it down with a rogue gallery of similarly animalized villains. Supporting co-op for up to four players, each rat plays differently and unlocks perks through its own base skill tree. As players progress and defeat bosses, they’ll be rewarded with new pass skills like double jumping and dashing.
The hand-drawn 2D characters superimposed on a 3D background are gorgeous and evocative, giving the game a sense of weirdness and bringing the characters to life. In an interview with The Curse of the Sea Mice as the developers discussed animation, co-founder Dani Del Amor drew inspiration from classic Disney movies like The Great Mouse Detective. Suffice it to say that the animators have definitely hit the nail here, evoking a style largely absent in modern media, at least when it comes to major Disney movies. Every rat, whether player or NPC, is full of character.
The four playable rodents offer enough variety to keep everything interesting, but still remain simple and accessible. Each has a basic melee attack with slight variations in range. For example, Bussa, a powerful bat, relies on her fists, while the agile Akane wields a spear. Buffalo normally fights melee with daggers, but can also throw knives, making him the only character with ranged physical attack. Douglas built on blocking with his sword to reveal enemy weaknesses.
Combat is simple, with a three-hit melee combo and one magic attack per character. Via the skill tree, players can unlock new moves to mix things up, but only a small handful. However, instead of doing a disservice, it was a great choice to keep things simple, especially considering what audience the game had. Petoons Studios designs games and co-ops especially for kids. Curse of the Sea Mice really takes advantage of its paired combat and gameplay.
But despite this minimalist approach, there’s enough variety and skill advancement that things don’t get too old. Each of the four warriors embodies a particular archetype, reinforced by their unique skills. Many skills, such as Akane’s ability to gradually restore her magic power or Douglas’ dodge perks, make minor changes to the way the character is played. But a few late game abilities are not particularly useful and have a higher magical cost.
Boss battles are well balanced and provide a nice challenge boost. The fights were again designed with the audience in mind, so there was an impressive balance, making the fights challenging enough to test novice players without putting them away. However, more experienced players are looking for a challenging Metroidvania experience like the current one. no hollow knight or anything like that here.
In terms of characterization, the heroes are pretty 1-dimensional and even clichéd, especially the Japanese warrior Akane named Buffalo and the Cheyenne champion. The characters begin the story as prisoners on a boat, but after an attack and the ensuing shipwreck, the captain begs the gang to save his captured son. This is the main thrust of the narrative and remains unchanged for 90 percent of the adventure, only changing with a rough spin towards the end. In fact, most of the posts fall flat. A few lines are really funny (“sucking, crab!”), but most of the humor doesn’t come down. The story was not intended to attract mainstream interest, but a lackluster narrative will have players wondering why they would care.
In terms of world design, Petoons Studio knows what makes Metroidvania games great. Complex, interconnected levels hide numerous nooks and crannies, cracks and secret passages. Each one is different with unique cheats and enemies, even if some of these enemies are pallet swapping. Locations are often accessible from multiple angles, giving players a lot of freedom and maintaining a sense of exploration.
NPCs around the world send players on side quests to receive items in exchange for potions or other goodies. However, in one example, a character holds the key to a basic path. As there was nothing to distinguish this adventure from other relatively unimportant ones, players could easily linger. Moreover, the desired item must be purchased, but another encounter nearby may leave the heroes penniless.
Still, if the Curse of the Sea Rats mostly runs smoothly, a few improvements to quality of life would be welcome. Nothing serves to distinguish the levels when viewing the map. Separate colors, cutouts or labels on the map do not help players understand what they are looking at. The fast travel system, the rodent heroes’ Curse of the Sea Mice zip from one portal to another, and save points provide a place to upgrade, but portals and save points are often far apart, so accessing them is unnecessarily troublesome. It’s strange that a single location doesn’t serve both purposes, because backtracking can be a pain.
Unfortunately, Curse of the Sea Mice offers players a colorful collection of insects. When playing on PC, button icons often do not appear properly, making certain instructions difficult to follow. When players unlock a new move, the button combination should tell them how to perform it, but this error makes it impossible to figure out without a bit of trial and error. In rare cases, the game may freeze, force a restart, and lose progress. Near the end of the game, a new item allows players to switch characters quickly, but the easy accidental press of the button it’s mapped to can unintentionally switch characters and leave them fatally vulnerable. The swapping mechanics are also clogged, leaving the swapped characters inexplicably with zero HP and softly crashing the game.
A few other bugs plague the experience, including the final boss and a couple with serious issues during the closing scenes. Unfortunately, as it stands now, the final impression of the game is a confused, flawed and frustrating experience.
Despite the jarring bugs and inconsistencies, Curse of the Sea Mice is a well-designed game with a clear direction. Petoons Studio has succeeded in making an accessible Metroidvania that can be enjoyed by players of various skill levels. His artistry, simplicity, and seamlessly escalating challenge are a great way to introduce him to the genre to a younger audience. If the rough edges are smoothed out, there is a real gem underneath.
Curse of the Sea Mice is currently available on PC, PS4, PS5, Switch, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S. Today Technology has been given a PC code for this review.