Game: Stranded Sails: Explorers of the Cursed Island
Genre: Simulation, Adventure
System: Nintendo Switch (also on Steam, PS4, Xbox)
Developer|Publisher: Rokaplay| Lemonbomb|Merge Games
Age Rating: EU 7+| US E10+
Price: $24.99 US | £19.99 | € 24,99
Release Date: 17th October 2019
Review code used, with many thanks to Merge Games
Mention the words farming, crafting and exploring in relation to video games, and you have us hooked. That’s pretty much the way it works over here at LadiesGamers.com. Sure, we love other kind of gaming too, but most of us have Animal Crossing roots, so sim games are right up our ally.
So when Stranded Sails was advertised with these magic words, I couldn’t wait to give the game a try. Stranded Sails is the brainchild of developer/publisher RokaPlay who worked together with Lemonbomb Entertainment to make a farming sim with a twist. Lemonbomb is an independent game developement studio where four motivated game design graduates doing their best to bring their joint project to live.
Let’s look at the story of the game. This time you don’t portray a hero who has lost his memory and takes up a derelict farm. No, you are well aware of who you are, and you realize disaster has struck when you are shipwrecked. And to think it should have been so much fun, joining your father on his exploration vessel to discover new shores.
Your father meanwhile is gravely injured, so it falls to you to search for the missing crew members and to set up camp. That’s the first order of business, you have to survive this ordeal after all. Only when you found all the scattered crew members, and have them settled in shacks and eating well, you can take on the next task.
What mysteries does this exotic archipelago hold? A lot of it is covered by an impenetrable wilderness. Are you and your crew alone on the islands? And will you be able to build another sea worthy ship to escape? At least for now, you’ve got a little rowboat that you can steer across the sees to explore the cluster of islands.
Finding my bearings
But, back to the beginning. You wake up with one of the crew, Sven. Luckily the barrel of apples you brought with you on the ship has washed ashore with you. Your first hunger pangs are easily stilled, so you get busy making a raft to get from this sandbank to the bigger island.
On the big island you find the remains of the ship, and some of the crew members. As your father is ill it falls to you to organize things. The crew, like Fiola, Sven and Logan are great at giving orders, but somehow it seems they don’t really do much but stand around. It falls to you to do it all, but hey, at least you’re a quick learner.
The first hours in the game are spent getting to know the ropes. When you play a lot of farming sims you could be mistaken that all games have the same kind of mechanics. Which of course isn’t the case, but it makes for a nice feel of discovery. How will I access my equipment, how much bag-space do I have. What kind of crops are there to grow and how can I craft?
Stranded Sail has a unique way of presenting your items to equip. Every category is ranked in a separate ships’ wheel, and on the spokes of the wheel you find the items to equip. Luckily what’s left of the ship came with some tools and seeds, so first of all you can start to grow some crops.
Crafting and cooking is done at stations specifically designed for that. Farming is also done within the designated slot, not randomly. All these activities are a means to an end: to make your crew happy and ultimately to unravel the mystery of the islands.
Exploration is key
As soon as farming and making dishes are under your belt, you go in search of all the crew members scattered around the archipelago. Searching for them you find seeds, materials and such, and some strange structures that bode well for the mystery that’s waiting on the islands.
I found that pretty soon the focus of the game shifted. Yes, growing crops and making food and shelter is important. Fishing is a great pastime too, but it’s a means to an end: exploration is what’s drawing me out there to the unknown. Once you have found all the missing crew members and have settled them in, the mystery starts to unfold.
Rokaplay showed a little graphical comparison of Stranded Sails with Stardew Valley and the Zelda series. This sums it up nicely, and I love the game for it. These are entirely new surroundings and exiting discoveries await.
Ahoy matey, girl or boy
The controls on the Switch work well. Move with L, access the equipement wheel with the R shoulder and your inventory with X. Under the + button you can set some options to set the text speed, on how to toggle the equipement menu. If you want to enable in-game hints ( you can turn the where to go next off if you want to) etc.
It took me some getting used to that I can’t turn the camera. There were some nooks and crannies where I would have loved the peek around the corner, but couldn’t.
My YvoCaro has a tendency too to get stuck on a ledge or an outcropping when I ventured too close to the edge. But with some fiddling she found her footing again.
Stranded Sails saves automatically, and there’s room for three separate games. You can play as a boy or a girl, but there are no customization options. That’s okay, as most of the time you view your character from a distance, not really being able to see what color eyes she has.
Though I’m not a fan of games with mini games, I found some of them, like the mini game at the stew pot, very engaging. Your crew has preferences for the foodstuffs they like best. And by putting the right veggie or fish next to their picture the stew is made with more love. And that generates higher stew levels, which are rewarded by better tools and such.
Cooking your fare for the road, and discovering new recipes, is fun too. Like a game of MasterMind, you must put ingredients in the right slot and in the right combination.
Just to be clear: this is not included
Knowing my fellow Story of Seasons and Animal Crossing fans every new simulation game is weighed against these fan favorites. In Stranded Sails you cant go into the shacks of the crew members. No decorations needed. No animals to tend to. There’s no romance or marriage options.
The game includes fighting in a fun way, and lots of exploring. You’ll encounter tricky puzzles and go on quests. You have to grow your friendship with the crew, so they can help you in maintaining a good and plentiful camp on the island. Basically you do this by farming and cooking, and helping them with requests. And the game has an ultimate goal: to leave the island and go home.
Getting the island vibe
The visuals to Stranded Sails are crisp and clean, and the game performs well in handheld mode. The sound effects are good, as is the music that they added. The sounds of the island changes with the time of day. There’s the chirping of birds when the sun rises, the crash of the waves on the beach. It gives a relaxing feel when you’re scurrying around to get everything you wanted done.
I do wish that the way my YvoCaro moves in the game were a bit quicker. Sure, I can up the tempo from the normal snail pace by continuously pressing Y, but I think the standard gait should be faster. But maybe it’s just me, and I should embrace the island vibe.
For now, the game doesn’t have a co-op mode, the focus has been to bring the game to Steam and consoles.
I’ve been following Stranded Sails on Discord, and saw some reviewers complain about the game having some bugs. Though I haven’t experienced any myself, the developer will address the issues at release with an update.
The game offers a good package of the things we love in simulation games. Farming, fishing, exploring, questing and fighting, all wrapped up in a good story.
Stranded Sails isn’t a clone of one of the big gaming franchises, it takes on new ideas in a genre I absolutely love. The sense of exploration is there, the tasks you have to do never feel empty. The crew members turn into your quirky team-mates that you have to protect. And who can resist the mystery that you have to discover? I certainly can’t.
This is the kind of simulation games that is right at home on the Switch, a worthy addition to the genre. I give it a rating of I like it a Lot!