Stranded Sails – Explorers of the Cursed Sails is a game that tries to combine many popular genres and blend it all in to one great experience. From a farming game to an exploration adventure in an open world. But does the game bring the adventurous farmer inside you?
In Stranded Sails – Explorers of the Cursed Sails you play as a son or daughter of the captain of a pirate ship. Together with the crew you travel to discover distant winter resorts and make a new start. However, that is not going as expected and during a storm you suffer a shipwreck. You wash up on a tropical island, and soon you’ll find a few other group members. You decide to make the best of it here, while trying to find a way to get rid of the island.
The game immediately creates a nice atmosphere thanks to playmobil-like graphics. You also have no clear quest goal on your map, but you are pointed in the right direction and you have to search and think old-fashioned. The soundtrack is soothing and knows how to excite the right emotions. The camera is at a fixed point, which means that you cannot change your viewing point with the right joystick, but instead it is used to select different tools. That was confusing, especially in the beginning, but after a while it works nicely.
On the island, the crew members you’ve found are all injured, and your father (the captain) can’t get out of bed anymore. Now it is up to you to provide food and shelter. Fortunately, the crew knows enough to help you on your way, and soon you can build houses for everyone and create a small vegetable garden. What I found very unfortunate is that you cannot enter the houses. Everything on the island is quite static, which detracts from the atmosphere and experience. As a result, investigating the islands is not exactly inviting. There are pieces of wood everywhere from washed up ships, but to make planks you have to cut down trees. There are only a few objects to interact with, so the rest is static. Although the whole is beautifully and attractively designed, it is sadly a shame that they didn’t do more with it.
Soon the whole gameplay starts to become increasingly annoying. Everything you do costs energy, which you can regain by eating. You can only take three dishes with you at the beginning, which only gradually expands. As a result, you cannot do very much, because you have to go back to the camp to eat or sleep. Because you spend so much energy on every action, you are far too busy with an unpleasant way of time management. For many quests you have to sail to three nearby islands, but sailing itself costs a lot of energy. For example, you often lose half of your energy supply before you reach your destination – and then you still have to explore the island. Cooking or sleeping on the other islands is not an option. Running also costs more energy than walking, which means that in the beginning you do everything on foot to save energy. That does not make the whole thing more exciting.
In time you can make beter dishes that help recover stamina better, you learn these from special mini-games. You put ingredients in the pan, and the game indicates whether the ingredient is in the dish and whether it is in the right place. However, it is not entirely clear which ingredient the hint is about, so you have to try much longer than necessary. Moreover, the controls are rather frustrating: you can only move one box at a time instead of selecting them freely on the screen, and the automatically selected next boxes aren’t logical at all, making the auto pick function quite useless.
In the middle of the camp you have your own vegetable garden, where you grow vegetables and fruit. You will find new ingredients on the new islands, which provide a little more energy if you use them in the right dish. You cannot grow herbs yourself, and certain fish can only be caught on other islands. Traveling to those islands and fishing costs a lot of energy, which you then put into getting the ingredients that give you energy … a circle system that completely misses its point. You can also make a stew for all other islanders, who will thank you by upgrading your tools, or make blueprints for small improvements to the camp.
It is becoming increasingly annoying that your crew members do nothing at all. In the beginning it is explained with being injured or being tired, but as the days pass by it doesn’t get any better. The other members that you find and who are in perfect health, only stand in front of their house (that you build) all day long. They are constantly expanding these houses themselves. It looks very cozy, with garden sets, flower boxes and saw benches, but in the end it all feels like you have to do all the “work” without getting the mental reward that you want to get from a game. The plants in your kitchen garden wither in front of you, so if you have been on the road to another island to collect building materials, when you return everyone will be watching how the food supply dies. Maintaining your vegetable garden takes about half a day in game time after the first expansion, so the logical relationship is way too far away.
Stranded Sails – Explorers of the Cursed Sails is, apart from a farm simulation, also an adventure game, and all the gardening, boating, fishing and building is interwoven in an overarching story. Why are so many ships stranded here? How do you get your crew off the island again? The quests you get to unravel the story often feel like you’re being kept busy as a goal in itself. At one point I was talking to the blacksmith, who told me that my father wanted to talk to me about something. So I ran all the way to the other side of the island to speak with my father, who turned out to report that the blacksmith had something to tell me. So I could go back to the blacksmith, who suddenly had new information. The entire middle section was completely unnecessary. The islanders are also not all types with whom you get a bond. They have rather annoying stop words and don’t seem to have an interesting background story. As a result, the game is also unable to reach the depth I had hoped for in an adventure setting.
Only after a few hours, when you have made a sword through a long quest chain, are fights introduced. sadly, these are not very exciting, and come down to simply slapping your sword and being slapped, without much tactics. Your sword is one of the items on your object wheel, so no separate button is needed: you will never suddenly encounter an enemy. Every fight is announced.
Stranded Sails – Explorers of the Cursed Sails cannot reach any depth on both adventure and farm simulation levels. In the beginning, Stranded Sails felt like a game for young people or starting players due to its simplicity, but due to some weird choices in gameplay this is not the case. Every step absorbs energy and that makes discovering everything around you unnecessarily complicated. The lack of a map with a quest goal does not fit in terms of difficulty level with the otherwise fairly simple gameplay. All in all, the game feels more like a frustrating job than an exciting adventure, and that is a great pity. With a few fairly simple upgrades, it could have been a much more accessible and fun game. Hopefully patches will change things for the better later on.
Stranded Sails: Explorers of the Cursed Sails promises much, but is a frustrating mess that lets you do cumbersome tasks instead of actually feeling like you progress at all.