Posted By: Jennifer - November 01, 2019
Grab your backpack, unfurl your map, and keep your sword at the ready. Here be monsters!
Stranded Sails is a bright, fun, relaxed single-player adventure, with an intriguing story and compelling characters that will keep you coming back for more. Gather your crew and set sail for a lively adventure into the unknown!
Stranded Sails Yar Har!
From the first loading screen, the game transports the player to its castaway island setting with a beautifully designed menu screen and themed graphics as the sound of the ocean plays behind it. The menu may be a little overenthusiastic to get started, as the moment you begin you are taken to a prompt to name your character without much preamble. However, you can easily exit out to the broader menu if you need a moment to get your bearings! While you can choose your character’s gender and name, this is where the personalization ends, which may seem a little disheartening to some players.
When first in control of your character, the camera seems to zoom out quite far, which in handheld mode can make the scene a little difficult to see and control your character in, especially as you are unable to change or control the camera view. However, from the moment you step outside, you are immersed in a beautifully designed world supported by thoughtful sound design that draws you into the world of life at the docks. As you run off in search of your first objective, the title credits play artfully within the scene, without breaking the suspension of disbelief.
Aided by the subtle but useful quest reminder in the top right-hand corner of the screen, you begin your adventure by meeting your father at the docks for the final stages of preparations for your voyage to new and uncharted lands. More experienced players will be pleased to know that this quest log can be minimized at any time during the game by pressing the minus button on the left Joycon. A handbook is also available and regularly updated throughout the early game as you discover new skills, although the update prompts can again be a little small in handheld mode.
Quick hop around our review:
Discovering the route to exploration, let the adventure begin!
Thought has clearly been put into the design of the handbook, which really feels like an old ships’ logbook. The clear explanations and helpful tooltips contained within, supported by some well-chosen screenshots, can be particularly useful when mastering a new skill, and to give a little more information about the world you now find yourself within.
The character’s base run cycle feels a little slow initially, especially within a comparatively large first area. Later in the game you do get the ability to sprint, but the benefit of this is offset by the downside of it costing you valuable energy. The quest log is very useful here as you are allowed to roam the docks and the ship at your leisure before interacting with your father to move the story along. Anyone used to the frustration of tumbling off platforms to the disappointed cry of your character and the penalty of fall damage will be pleased to know that you can roam the ship’s rigging with impunity, as the game will not allow you to fall off of ledges or platforms. Sometimes, this can make for some interesting navigation routes, especially later in the game as you explore the islands that become your domain.
Ahhh, the farm is growing
Interacting with members of the crew is absolutely vital to your survival, and the game helps to establish the habit of checking in regularly during your initial voyage. Each crew member has a distinct and memorable personality and character design, and can teach you useful skills such as farming, fishing and cooking; if you can persuade the grumpy cook Cecille to give you the time of day!
While the dialogue is very scripted, the little flourishes to the design are very attractive, and the introduction of dialogue options gives you the ability to shape the personality of your character, even if it doesn’t affect the wider story. Some of the prompts to interact with the crew can be a little difficult to trigger, particularly in handheld mode where some of the angles can be difficult to judge.
The tone of the game changes abruptly as a storm comes upon the ship, with the screen becoming darker, the deck suddenly deserted, and your father desperately battling to keep on course as the soundtrack dips atmospherically, cleverly implying that there is more to the impending disaster than meets the eye. The titular shipwreck is not actually depicted on screen, but instead is narrated over a black screen, a disappointing choice after the wonderful build up of the previous scenes, but quickly made up for as your character regains consciousness and begins to discover the islands that now hold them prisoner.
At this point, the main mechanics of the game are introduced with a nicely designed energy bar that includes a small movement and sound cue to warn of impending collapse if your character gets too tired. The day and night tracker has also been combined with your energy bar, to allow you to better plan out how you spend your time and how often you need to rest. The tool wheel has been cleverly designed as a ship’s wheel, offering an insight into the number of tools and seeds to be discovered on your adventure.
Adventures on the port!
As you gather your crew to your main island home, you begin to learn new skills like farming, building, and fishing. Farming can be a little difficult to get the hang of initially as the slightly loose movement controls make detail work time, and energy, consuming. The inability to regain energy by eating raw food makes roaming too far from the camp risky and lends a steadying pace to the progression of the game. Your crops need to be watered fairly regularly and let you know when they’re thirsty with a slight wiggle that stirs dust clouds from the dry soil at their roots. But Fiola is quick to reassure you that your plants will last a little while without constant tending, making the decision to forge ahead into the sandy wilderness a little easier.
The cooking mechanic is creative and encourages the player to create new, more nutritious recipes through the introduction of the ‘Discover’ mechanic. Here, you can combine your crops and the ingredients you find on your adventures to create more powerful dishes that will sustain you for longer as you roam further afield. Just along from your personal cooking pot is the main crew stew pot, where you can add ingredients that your crew members like to create a stew to feed everyone. Be careful to put something in for everyone in order to boost your relationship with them, as this will lead to upgrades for your tools and the little settlement that you have created, all of which will make navigating the area and completing quests much easier. And remember to keep swapping which ingredients you add for each person, as everyone has their own favourite food that can boost your relationship level!
New recipes can open new adventures – time to get crafting!
Crafting within the game works in a very similar way to cooking, but without the ability to discover new items. Here, the whole emphasis is on exploring the islands and opening every chest you find to gather the materials you need. On the whole, materials are fairly easy to find, but making the long journey to each island by rowboat in order to gather the quantity needed for crafting can be both time and energy consuming, making it dangerous in the early game when food resources are limited.
Once you have gathered more food resources, this aspect of the game becomes much more relaxed, and the adventure aspect of the game really comes to the fore. Each island has a unique design, with certain resources more commonly found on certain islands. The crates, chests and barrels that can be interacted with glow gold, helping to distinguish them from the well-designed ruins surrounding them. The map of the area, received through completing quests, is beautifully illustrated in greyscale which turns to colour as you discover new routes. This is especially helpful in tracking the optimum routes through the sea to each island. The map can also be used to track the area discovered in terms of percentage, which can help when searching for resources and new items. The sound cues woven into the soundtrack are quirky and lend some weight to items, actions and interaction with the environment.
A beautifully designed map opens your eyes to the unknown!
Despite the fact that each island seems small, there is a wealth of different terrain to be explored and discovered. From sandy beaches to lush jungle to deep caverns and mines, there is something new waiting around every turn, and new collectibles to discover that tell the story of the curse that traps you on these islands. Long before the game introduces you to the mysterious Ancestor atop their great pyramid, you are drawn into uncovering the mysteries of the islands as you unearth ancient relics and the old logbooks of sailors who have been trapped here before.
And it is these mysteries that lead inevitably to the need to protect yourself from the evils that haunt the deep caves and prevent you from escaping back to the open sea. Again, the game encourages you to explore to discover your weapon, bringing fragments back to be crafted into your sword. There is only one attack action, and when you encounter enemies your sword is automatically drawn. While this may disappoint some players, it keeps the feel of the game light and relaxed, even in the heat of battle. The enemy difficulty slowly ramps up through the story and as long as you are able to keep moving around the battlefield and have plenty of food on hand, the challenge is enjoyable without feeling too taxing.
Adventuring can be a dangerous business, remember to pack supplies!
Stranded Sails offers over 20 hours of relaxed gameplay, which could be extended if the player were to focus more on the gathering of resources and building upgrades. With no multiplayer option, or difficulty adjustment, the overall replayability factor may be quite low, but at £19.99, the game is well worth the investment.
No Multiplayer is a bit of a downer for those from GamerDating seeking dates.
Overall, the game is well designed, with real commitment to the nautical theme and some very clever touches and flourishes throughout. The emphasis on exploration to gather resources and progress the story offers some variety in landscape through the beautiful and varied area design of each island. The engaging sound design adds to the overall feel of immersion within the game, lending meaning and weight to your actions. Each character is very individual, which is key for a game that relies heavily on interacting repeatedly with the same group of characters. The open world feel allows you to choose your own path and focus on the elements that you find most engaging, enabling you to tailor the story to you.
On the downside, some of the tasks can be repetitive, the constant need to hunt for rarer resources in order to progress can seem a little disheartening, and crafting doesn’t really bring anything new to the game. Some gamers may find the simple combat a bit of a disappointment, and the constant revisiting of the same areas may become a little repetitive. The game doesn’t come with an adjustable difficulty setting, meaning that while you may be able to change your character’s name and gender, the overall story will remain largely the same, affecting it’s replayability.
On balance, although the mechanics of the game seem to plateau a little late in the game, the cute art style, vibrant vistas and engaging story and characters create a wonderful environment to explore and relax in. Being able to do things in your own way and at your own pace makes the game very accessible to players of all ages.
I would absolutely recommend Stranded Sails to anyone looking for a relaxing, fun, light-hearted adventure in a bright, colourful world. And with that, I must roll up my maps, pack up my rations and draw my sword. There is a curse to be broken!