Review: Curse of the Sea Rats – It’s A Pi-Rat’s Life For Me

It’s the year 1777 and a group of prisoners are being transported along the coast of Ireland to Great Britain. Most of them are pirates, but four are political prisoners, wanted for “crimes against the crown.” The pirate captain, desperate to escape and in possession of an ancient amulet of great magical power, casts a spell that transforms everyone on board, crew, pirate and prisoner alike, into humanoid rats, sending the ship to drift into the Irish coast and allows her and her crew to escape with an admiral’s son. Said admiral tasks the four political prisoners – an American rebel, a Native American warrior, a man who led a slave revolt in Barbados and an agent of the Japanese government – with capturing the pirate, rescuing his son, and if possible, breaking the curse in exchange for their freedom. This is the premise of Curse of the Sea Rats, developed by Petoons Studio and published by PCube and as far as hooks for souls-like Metroidvanias go, it’s certainly a great start to a rather unique take on the genre.

So, how does Curse of the Sea Rats distinguish itself? Well, those four political prisoners I mentioned? They’re your four playable characters. You pick one at the start of the game. “Big deal” I hear you say, “lots of Metroidvanias have multiple playable characters,” and to that I say “yes, but how many allow you to swap between them whenever you reach a save point?” Because Curse of the Sea Rats does. And each of those characters is more than just a different skin and voice; they each have their own strengths. For example, David (the American rebel) has fire elemental magic and focuses on close up damage with parries and combos, while Buffalo Calf (the Cheyenne hunter) has lightning magic and focuses on long range strikes and stealth. Also, you don’t need to waste time making sure they’re all levelled; if one character gains a level, they all do. And if you find an item with one character, it’ll still be in the shared item pool when you switch to another character, as will any of the game’s currencies. In fact, the only thing not shared is their skills, which you will need to unlock individually for each character. Lastly, those four characters aren’t just so you can have a bit of variety; they’re also there so you and three of your friends can play simultaneously, on either couch or online co-op. Yeah, the game has full drop in, drop out multiplayer which is available from the very start of Curse of the Sea Rats, or at any given save point after that.

You have four fully voiced, distinct playable character with their own personalities, motivations, and playstyles
You have four fully voiced, distinct playable character with their own personalities, motivations, and playstyles.

While Curse of the Sea Rats does continue the time-honored Souls-like tradition of having a currency that is used to improve stats and buy abilities that you drop some or all of on death, it’s not the only currency. Curse of the Sea Rats also has a more traditional- style currency that can be used to buy more consumables as well as important items to complete side quests or advance the plot. As for the other currency, spiritual energy, the amount lost is fairly forgiving to the player, and the amount dropped by enemies becomes very generous quickly, which is important as each character will need quite a lot of energy to unlock all of their stat boosts and abilities from the spirit of the Amulet, as well as the various fast travel points across the map. Even if you’re saving up for another skill, you should always unlock these; they barely cost anything to activate and it’s better to have them than not.. It’s also worth noting that you absolutely do need to buy healing potions in Curse of the Sea Rats. They don’t automatically refresh at checkpoints, but they and the food items you can find and buy are very reasonable and you’ll be swimming in standard money before long.

Another great standout for Curse of the Sea Rats is its presentation. While the world itself is 3D rendered, every character, enemy, NPC, Boss etc. are hand drawn sprites with gorgeous, fluid animation that evokes the feel of a classic animation, especially Rats of Nimh or Feivel (just with murimorphized humans as opposed to anthropomorphized rats). All of the attack animations for players and enemies are well animated, though I would like a more obvious indicator of where my I-frames are on parrying.

Each character has their own focus. Akane, for example, focuses on parries, movement, and magic
Each character has their own focus. Akane, for example, focuses on parries, movement, and magic.

Curse of the Sea Rats is fully voice acted, with a diverse cast. While I don’t know if this tracks for every single character, the four playable characters are acted by people of the ethnicities they portray. On top of this, each character is given ample time to shine, including the sassy spirit of the amulet but especially the pirate captain Flora Burn and her crew. In addition to their moments during boss fights, Curse of the Sea Rats periodically flashes over to their perspective, showing them bickering as they progress through the Irish coastland in search of a deliberately vague McGuffin. These scenes provide quite a bit of humor in the form of the various pirates bickering with each other, but also helps break up the exposition dumps so they happen in brief chunks as opposed to all at once, something which has been a problem with other Metroidvanias in the past. Even beyond that, every random NPC has a clear sense of identity and voice, from the shopkeeper who keeps relocating his shop to be closer to where sales might be to a random NPC you will talk with perhaps twice in your entire journey.


Plus, there are references to classic games strewn throughout. Some are quite blatant, like the Rubber Chicken with a Pully in the Middle, and some considerably less so, like the NPC wearing a Tutu with a swirly blue hairdo with stars and lightning bolts sticking out of it. Seriously, if anyone else gets that reference, I beg you, put it down in the comments below. I want to know that people besides me and the Curse of the Sea Rats developers know the game that’s referenced.

Each enemy pirate is just as fleshed out as each of the heroes, making for a richer narrative
Each enemy pirate is just as fleshed out as each of the heroes, making for a richer narrative.

Now, I do have to talk about the negatives. Firstly, Curse of the Sea Rats did begin to struggle when I began playing it in full 4K, despite running an NVIDIA 3080 card. It ran just fine once I reduced the resolution slightly and ran the game in windowed mode, but it’s still worth noting.

The second major issue is controller support. Now, don’t get me wrong, Curse of the Sea Rats absolutely supports controllers – and keyboard too, if you like – the problem is that it doesn’t seem to detect them immediately upon starting the game. I have regularly needed to start my game, then exit to title for it to recognize my controller. Sometimes it required multiple steps. Once it’s recognized it stays that way – at least until the game is shut off – but again, this is an irritant that needs to be addressed. Another problem was that when using the d-pad, it would occasionally “stick” in a direction. This only applied to the d-pad, of course; the joystick worked just fine.

When you find side quests, you need to make sure to make note of where the NPC who gave it to you is before you forget where to turn it in.
When you find side quests, you need to make sure to make note of where the NPC who gave it to you is before you forget where to turn it in.

Lastly, Curse of the Sea Rats has side quests. That’s not a problem, the problem is that the game does absolutely nothing to help you keep track of them. Most NPCs are not marked on the map, and there was not, as far as I could tell, any sort of journal or way to check your progress. While I appreciate the lack of hand holding and the ability to sequence break, a method of book keeping or even basic note keeping like placing map markers would not have gone amiss.

So, do I recommend Curse of the Sea Rats? Absolutely. Despite the odd hiccups, it kept me hooked, even to the point of staying awake past reasonable hours just to push a little further. And if you’ve got a friend or three willing to play with you, even better. So grab a copy and fight for justice and freedom together. As rats. Pi-rats.

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