ANALYSIS | Curse of the Sea Rats, the “ratoidvania” designed for adults and children alike

Curse of the Sea Rats is a Spanish metroidvania that aims at a young audience without losing sight of the average player and achieves its goal, although some bugs complicate the experience.

Off the coast of Ireland, in 1777, a pirate witch casts a spell on the entire crew of a ship carrying prisoners for trial, transforming them into rats. The shipwreck leaves them stranded on the coast and, as if all this were not enough, the villain of the story kidnaps the captain’s son. Curse of the Sea Rats puts us in the shoes of four prisoners turned into rodents, who must rescue the boy in exchange for his freedom. To do this they must explore a gigantic island full of enemies, gigantic bosses and secrets everywhere.

Curse of the Sea Rats It is one of the first games Petoons Studio that moves away from his titles for children, but that in turn shows off the vast experience acquired in his previous works. The result is noticeable at first glance: characters drawn by hand, with very distinctive and friendly designs. The story includes small animated sequences full of details and a soundtrack that, in most cases, does not go unnoticed.. Add to this a challenging but fairly balanced difficulty, side quests, and extensive mapping, and we’re left with a full-fledged Metroidvania.

At the beginning of the adventure, we must choose between four characters: Douglas, Buffalo, Akane, or Bussa, but in the save points we can exchange them freely. Each one has its own set of moves, melee and elemental attacks. In addition to experience, which levels up all four heroes equally, by defeating enemies we will get gold and points to improve our stats in the skill trees. Experience is shared, but skill points are not, so only active characters can use them. Far from being a problem, this invites us to try them all and use their strengths and particularities to overcome the most difficult battles.

Curse of the Sea Rats is a game designed to be played with friends, which is why it allows cooperative play between up to 4 players locally. Going clearing dungeons and defeating bosses becomes more fun when we are accompanied, but the solo experience is just as entertaining. In this sense, we must recognize the work of Petoons Studio to balance the difficulty, whether alone or accompanied, the difficulty remains the same: challenging without being overwhelming, except in some very particular sections of platforms.

At the time of action, each character has a different proposal. Whether it’s their weapon of choice or their magical abilities, everyone has something to add to the mix. However, it is not really necessary to change the hero and we can complete the game always using the same one. The fundamental skills, such as the air dash, the super jump or the double jump, we acquire them by defeating certain bosses and they are unlocked for everyone equally. While it doesn’t necessarily work against him, it feels like a wasted opportunity that could have highlighted the “ratoidvania” of Petoons Studio among the sea of ​​metroidvanias that compete for our time.

Combat is fun, enemies always put up a fight, and it helps exploration never get boring. The level design is intricate, while the generous amount of false walls and secrets invite further exploration of the extensive mapping. For their part, the bosses always have attack patterns to learn and have a careful and attractive design. However, at least in my experience, they can be very easy to “break” if we improve a certain combination of passive skills in the tree. With few exceptions, the bosses of the second half of the game fell on the first attempt and with a clean sword. It was a matter of dodging a bit and taking some potions.

The in-game economy is overly generous at best. There are areas that allow us to quickly level up, always defeating the same enemies that reappear when leaving and entering a room. We will also have plenty of skill points and gold, except in the first hours. The shop accepts to sell potions and some items for side quests, but it will never be very useful. Experience and skill points are also easy to get and, although we lose a part when dying in the best style Demon’s Soulswe’re going to be able to max out the skill trees quickly.

Unfortunately, not all that glitters is gold and, despite being a fun and artistically very attractive game, Curse of the Sea Rats is marred by several annoying bugs. First of all, at least on the Xbox Series version, the game crashes by itself causing us to lose progress since the last save point. This happens randomly, sometimes happening multiple times in a row in the Flying Rat’s Lair, and can be very frustrating. Sometimes the items that enemies drop when they die fall through the walls and, what’s worse, some items just stop working..

During the 14 hours it took me to complete it, I suffered several crashes and experienced various bugs. For example, I got a backpack that allowed me to carry twice as many items, bought the new maximum potions, and after a crash it limited me again as if I didn’t have the backpack (which was still in my inventory).

With the closed doors a similar problem arose, they could not be opened with the picks. In fact, I almost got locked out of the final room, despite having 3 lock picks, and it only opened after getting a 4th. It was as if, internally, it required a special key. I also found a boss that couldn’t damage me, it would attack me and deal damage for one or two health points, and I was able to defeat it by standing still and attacking in place.

These types of bugs are not so important if we compare them with those that some users report in the PC version, which can even leave us without access to the final boss (SPOILER: don’t use the merchant’s whistle if you’ve already entered the ship) or even stuck animations that make it so we can’t attack or jump. To this we must add that it lacks a good patch with improvements to the quality of life of the players. The map does not allow us to differentiate the areas, the secondary missions and NPCs are not marked, and we do not have basic markers to make our own reminders.

Inventory is absolute chaos, with the items ordered according to how we were getting them, which forces us to go to the end just to use the item we just found. There is a shortcut system for 4 items and luckily the collectible artifacts are stored on another screen, but it does not improve item management too much. Admittedly, we’re not going to spend too much time using items, but it’s just one of many quality-of-life improvements it needs. Curse of the Sea Rats.

Another point against it is the inaccurate response of the controls. It usually doesn’t bother you, but on the sharper platforming sections it ends up being a pain in the ass. There is a section of jumps in which the wind pushes us and there are enemies that fly towards us whose difficulty does not match the rest of the game: Any mistake is equivalent to dying and returning to the save point.

The same thing happens in a small pre-boss section in the forest, where you have to climb fast or die but everything becomes a chaos of errors, deaths and restarts. The walls that the protagonist can climb are not well identified, the controls do not respond in time and the air dash ends up returning us to the starting point due to the input lag itself. The easiest way to see it is when an enemy attacks you from behind, the blow comes first, then the directional input. Since the character can’t change direction once he’s started the attack, we’ll most likely see the enemy take damage until we stop attacking, turn around, and remedy the issue.

These types of problems, bugs, the rebalancing of the economy or even improvements to the quality of life, are solvable with a possible patch in the future.. In fact, the official Twitter account of Petoons Studio advised that they are collecting bug information and working on updates. However, it is impossible to deny that the current experience is quite rustic. The end of the adventure comes as a bit of a surprise and, without warning, blocks the ability to fast travel and the vast majority of shortcuts. Defeating the last boss also does not allow us to return to explore and complete the rest of the secondary missions officially. The lack of manual saving in different instances also deprives us of having a backup save just in case, so the post endgame content is currently null.

According to the Kickstarter page, Curse of the Sea Rats was going to have certain extra modes that are not present in the launch version.. There will supposedly be a survival mode called “The Ghost Ship”, a Hardcore solo mode titled “The Pirate’s Revenge” and finally a New Game + mode billed as “The Eternal Curse”. At the end of the game with the “good ending” nothing extra unlockedso I assume they will be added in a future update or my game was bugged worse than I imagined.

Curse of the Sea Rats is a fun metroidvania designed for adults and children alike. It is colorful, sounds and plays very well, and offers a varied proposal. When things work well it is more than entertaining, it invites you to continue exploring and it is even very difficult to put down. The hidden bosses, the secrets and its nods to classic sagas denote the love and care with which it was developed. However, bugs and a general lack of polish end up tarnishing the experience. With a couple of adjustments, and assuming that Petoons Studio going to update it eventually, it would be a great title for those just starting out in the genre.

SCORE: 6.0/10

Curse of the Sea Rats was released on April 6, 2023 for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series, Nintendo Switch, and PC. Completing the main campaign took me 14 hours on Xbox Series X.