I’m always onboard for Metroid-likes with hand-drawn characters. Curse of the Sea Rats is releasing next year, and features a cast of playable humans turned into rats by a pirate witch. Is that a witch who’s a pirate or a pirate who’s a witch? Maybe she’s equally both? The game’s demo is forthcoming and I got to check it out early. While I love the character art and the storytelling seems promising, I feel like the gameplay could use some more work. It’s not quite there for me, which I found surprising.
Curse of the Sea Rats begins with our four heroes being taken to trial for treason against the British Empire aboard a ship. But the ship is attacked by Flora Burn, the aforementioned pirate witch, who turns everyone onboard into a giant rat. Afterward, she kidnaps the captain’s son and flees. The captain makes a deal with the four prisoners — if they rescue his son from the witch (or pirate), they’ll be pardoned for their crimes and set free. The story is fully voiced and all four characters get unique dialogue. Metroid-likes usually don’t get full voice acting, so this is a welcome addition.
All four characters have different movesets and skill trees. You’ve got an American man, a Native American woman, a man from Barbados, and a Japanese woman. The latter three seem a little too caricatured, complete with accents. It’s a bit cringe-inducing, to be honest. The game then begins and you’re tasked with tracking down the captain’s son.
Don’t drop it
Curse of the Sea Rats is played on a 2D plane and the environments are modeled in 3D. The characters are all hand-drawn vectors and they look absolutely excellent. It’s undoubtedly some nice work. The vector art, unfortunately, looks much better than the backgrounds, which is a bit jarring.
Characters all have a default strike alongside air, crouch, uppercut, and down air attacks. They also all have a special, plus defensive options. The Native American woman, Buffalo Calf (no, I’m not kidding), has a weird dodge that she uses while rooted in place. The Japanese woman, Akane, gets a parry. All characters level at the same time, so you can swap between them as you wish without worrying about being under-leveled. But the movement and combat are surprisingly rigid and unresponsive. The characters don’t feel mobile at all and everything is stiff.
The demo includes a couple of bosses, a fat rat (named Fatso) and a giant crab commanded by a smaller crab. They exacerbate the problems, with weird hitboxes and movesets that seem at odds with the player characters’ capabilities. I play a lot of games like this and the gameplay just completely misses the mark for me. It doesn’t help that you drop half of your currency when you die and have to go pick it up. I really wish people would stop shoehorning in Souls-like elements where they’re not needed. Still, the full game could very well offer a much better time than this demo seemed to indicate.