Anna Leah Karasik
- Developer: Lemonbomb
- Publisher: Merge Games
- Release Date: 10/17/19
- Price: £19.99 / $24.99
- Review code provided by Merge Games
Some of my favorite time-sucker games from years past involve surviving on a deserted island; The Sims Castaways and Virtual Villagers immediately come to mind, clunky charms and all. Games like these offer varying levels of freedom, but usually carry one common thread: a slow-burn progression that sees you eventually become the manager of a bustling little community. When I picked up Stranded Sails, I was excited to find out to what extent I could get that feeling of accomplishment after rolling my sleeves up and putting the work in.
The game opens with a brief tutorial sequence as the player helps prepare for a big voyage. Your character is joining their mustachioed father on a big mission with his crew, but before lifting the anchor, you have to do some small tasks that help acquaint you with the game’s controls – as well as the crewmates, who each allude to their job on the ship.
Misfortune quickly befalls you, though, and a storm causes your ship to crash into a handful of small islands. You wake up on a sandbar with one of the crewmates, builder Sven, who helps you reunite with farmer Fiola and your father on a bigger island. It’s here where the game really begins.
Once you’ve regrouped with a few crewmates and found a good area for camp, you’ll begin the process of getting everyone together and finding a way home. From building shacks and bridges to farming crops, the quests direct you to grow and maintain the camp so you can survive in style while you search.
The quests are linear, with only one set of goals at a time. The goals show up in the top-right of your screen, along with some simple directions to narrow your search (i.e, “Explore the hinterlands north of camp.”) This is an especially handy feature if you’re firing up the game for the first time in a while, and you aren’t sure where you left off. There is also no deadline for quests, so you can roam around at your leisure – not that there is much else to do in Stranded Sails besides meeting the goals.
There isn’t much to see, either: the graphics, while cute and clean, are plain, and with such big maps, you’re often left with expanses of one neutral color. Exploring the islands is a relaxing endeavor, though, with the laid-back background music.
Quests usually take you to increasingly far locations. So, I quickly noticed that the big map is extremely empty. There is, as I said a moment ago, a lot of dead space between interactable objects or collectibles – and there isn’t a great variety of items to collect, to boot. A lot of time is spent just jogging or rowing from Point A to Point B in a barren area. The good news is, no matter where you are on the map, you can warp back to camp by pressing Y while using the map. Without this feature, exploring would be an absolute nightmare.
The Stranded Life
Let’s take a step closer and talk about some of the basic tasks you’ll do and things you’ll learn as a castaway.
The basic actions are all what you’d expect: walk, run, chop with an axe, dig with a shovel, etc. Switching between tools involves using the triggers and bumpers to navigate item wheels, which can take a while to get used to. Using your tools – and just walking around – will also cause you to run out of energy very quickly in the first few days of the game, and you’ll be forced to hit the hay early. If you completely run out of energy, you are warped back to the camp.
You can combat this with food. Early quests direct you through creating a farm and getting the ingredients to make a stew that the crew will love by including many different ingredients. Stews can sustain you for a longer time than regular meals – although, as you gather more and better ingredients, individual meals start to pack a bigger punch. Making new recipes involves a tedious guessing game in which you have to place two to three ingredients in just the right spot on the table.
The food and stew fuels you on your journeys to different islands, in search of both supplies and missing crewmates. You’ll also eventually encounter enemies along the way, and the relaxing atmosphere is briefly shattered by a mediocre combat system. Swinging a sword, like any action, will deplete your stamina – which is also your health – so it’s important to keep an eye on that, and always pack lunch when you are out exploring.
All Washed Up
Stranded Sails drops anchor just short of being entertaining. While relaxing, it provides absolutely nothing to do outside of the main quests, and the survival elements are limited to keeping yourself alive and awake. Like living on a deserted island, you’re getting just enough substance to get by. For children, Stranded Sails could definitely be a fun solo time sucker. Overall, though, this game would be much better served to afford players more opportunities for creativity, choice, and spontaneous exploration.
- Quests with clear directions
- Clean, simple graphics & music
- Empty overworld
- Nothing to do outside of main questline
Stranded Sails provides a relaxing exploration experience, but lacks most of the substance one would expect from a survival game.