Game: Ship of Fools
Genre: Action, Adventure
System: Steam (Windows & Linux) (Also on Nintendo Switch, Xbox and PS4)
Developer|Publisher: Fika Productions | Team17
Controller Support: Yes
Price: UK £12.99 | US $14.99 | € 14,99
Release Date: November 22nd, 2022
Review code provided with many thanks to Team17.
The Indie Classics Keep Coming
Team17 continues its consistent trend of publishing high-quality indie titles. Ship of Fools is an adventure game where you brave the seas taking on all sorts of monsters from the depths. It also has rogue-lite elements.
Yep, it was only recently I mentioned that the rogue-like or rogue-lite formula could use some updating to its now overly familiar style. It’s becoming so common one could get seasick from it. Ship of Fools may unfortunately release in a now heavily bloated genre. But it raised its sails and shot ahead of the crowd thanks to its highly entertaining gameplay which is elevated further if you are able to play this in co-op.
Sea for Fools
The lighthouse is broken so now the apocalypse is on the way to destroy everything. What better way to enjoy this cataclysmic event than go for a boat ride alone or with a friend to shoot some monsters with cannons and try to prevent the end of the world? But only a fool would navigate these treacherous waters… right?
The main goal is to save the world by battling sea monsters and gigantic end-of-level bosses. But in the process, you’ll also upgrade your abilities, swap out your weapons and maybe sing the odd sea song. That last one is optional and not technically part of the game, but you may want to consider it just to get weird looks from your co-op buddy. When the game begins you have the pick of two fools, each of which will grant specific perks to aid your gameplay experience. You’re then invited into a short and sweet tutorial to get you used to the controls and ship combat.
Then it’s time to set sail across dangerous waters. When you enter a new level, you’re given full access to a map which will indicate important points of interest like vendors, shrines to upgrade your abilities and that all-important loot. You can choose your course through each level by moving in one of three directions and attempting to aim for points of interest.
Each round will usually put you against a selection of enemies to defeat, and then once complete it’s back to the helm to plot your next route. Each turn through causes the Black Sea to creep a little closer and once it does, it’s boss time. If you manage to make it out of these tough encounters alive you can unlock some perks at the cost of flinging an item in one of two pools. This seemed a bit of an odd design as the game doesn’t give you much indication of what sort of item you receive in return. Just hope for the best I guess.
Prepare the Cannons
Let’s talk about combat. You have two cannons on your ship, each of which can be picked up and placed to aim a better-marked position on the enemy. You then need to manually load the cannon with ammo. Initially, you start with shells, but you will soon unlock more unique and creative ammo types like fireballs, oil drums and various birds that lay eggs which can then be used for ammo. It sounds silly but it’s terrific fun. We also discovered you can load your cannons with the odd seagull or crab which proved fatal to the enemies. One cannon allows you to charge a shot and if you do this with a seagull it will blast out a flurry of multiple gulls which made my shipmate and I laugh a lot.
Initially, you only have three storage spots on your ship which can be filled with ammo types, planks to repair the ship or perks. Often you need to make choices of what to keep and what goes which can be tough. Each ammo type has its own stats and will fill your cannon to a certain capacity. It was a lot of fun experimenting with these and finding what works on your adventure. Using the canons themselves is simple and effective, simply point and shoot and in some instances charge.
Simple to Pick Up
Controls are simple to pick up and if you do get stuck, they are displayed in the options menu for quick reference, great if you’re bringing a casual player in on the fun. As the game progresses you will unlock more cannon types allowing you to customize your offensive weapons. Multiple upgrades can be made to the ship, making each run a bit easier. You can’t just rely on cannon fire though; some enemies will invade your ship and you need to smack them with a paddle. But be careful as this will also affect your teammate. Initially, we questioned the point of this friendly fire, but we soon discovered some enemies will stun you and the wallop of the paddle will help you come too quickly. Paddle attacks can also be used to deflect enemy fire back at whatever target you fancy. This is quite satisfying when pulled off.
When your ship inevitably takes damage, you can repair it with planks you find on islands or in the water. If you see an item in the water this can be grabbed with a harpoon but be aware these are limited so aim carefully. This is often hard to do without some sort of aim reticle. It’s all a thrilling juggling act, which is fast and frantic, but there was rarely a moment I wasn’t entertained especially when playing with my good friend.
The Happy Apocalypse
The graphics have this overarching dark tone to them which is met with a sense of urgency and tension from the soundtrack of the game. The art style is hand drawn and quite charming. Characters have this derpy yet endearing look to them with their long dangly arms swaying about as they navigate around the world.
It creates a more light-hearted feel to a dark premise which is certainly suitable for all members of the family. This is one of the more positive apocalyptic experiences I have had in gaming.
Ship of Fools does have the odd niggle here and there but nothing that ruined the overall experience. Sometimes the controls, when switching between grabbing the cannon to firing it, can get a bit clumsy which is awkward when things get busy. The difficulty has a habit of sharply spiking sometimes without much warning. This is pretty typical of rogue-lite games. But it’s a bit of a pain when a run is going well, and you have full health only to have a single turn devastate everything. We did have a funny glitch when our ship set out, a seagull statically stalked us from afar in a motionless position.
Familiar Rogue-lite Formula
Other than that, this is the familiar rogue-lite formula. Get as far as you can, fail, return to base to make upgrades and try again. While familiar it is fun, and I was consistently keen to try another run. Most of my review was focused on co-op but I did play around with the game in single player. The game is certainly much more entertaining together, but I still had a blast on my solo runs. It just felt a bit lonely at times. Co-op is local or online and I’m pleased to report playing online had no hitches or issues. It ran great.
It won’t take long before you unlock more characters and content. In fact, in my first run, my shipmate and I unlocked two characters by meeting certain conditions we were not specifically aiming for, such as not using cannons during an enemy encounter. New content is drip fed at a consistent rate giving plenty of incentive to sail forth for another run. New vendors are regularly unlocked. Each of which has plenty of wares to aid you in your quest, some permanent and some just for the next run. Runs generally last around 30 minutes but when things go well this will be a lot higher.
Conclusion – The Ultimate Friend-Ship
Ship of Fools fits my personal definition of two thumbs up. It is a very entertaining gameplay loop with engaging ship combat. With quirky weapons and challenges which had me keen to jump back into another run even after yet another failure. There are niggles to mention. I found the controls a bit clumsy when the action really heated up and the game does suffer from some pretty nasty difficulty spikes at times.
It’s the typical rogue-lite formula, where you gradually improve after a lot of repetition and spending time upgrading back at base. A formula that no doubt is starting to tire. But when I sat back to reflect more, Ship of Fools was just a fantastic co-op game to play with a friend or loved one.
My shipmate and I have been going through a pretty rough patch in life in general and Ship of Fools felt like an experience which just allowed us to forget our troubles for a few hours and enjoy ourselves. Just a couple of fools having a good time. Hopefully, you will feel those delights too and if you haven’t tired of rogue-lite yet this is well worth picking up.
Final Verdict: Two Thumbs Up