Stranded Sails: Explorers of the Cursed Islands
Developed By: Lemonbomb Entertainment
Published By: Merge Games
Category: Isometric Farming Sim / Adventure
Release Date: 10.17.2019
Stranded Sails: Explorers of the Cursed Islands is an isometric exploration / farming sim that has you and your dastardly crew stranded on an unknown island where it is up to you to gather everyone back together and survive your time on the chain of islands where you have crash landed. When you take the crafting and resource gathering along with the farming aspects of the game you have a title that resembles Harvest Moon, but with pirate castaways, but does it hold up to the classic series’ charm and relaxing gameplay? Unfortunately, this game’s islands aren’t the only things cursed here.
You are the son of a ship’s captain and you and the crew are setting out for a frozen tundra where you will all make your new home. Along the way, you find yourself caught in a terrible storm that has the ships running ashore on a random set of tropical islands. With most of the crew missing and your father hurt and on bed rest, it is up to you to travel the island, collect resources necessary for survival, and get everyone back together so you can all escape the secrets of these cursed islands. Oddly, you dreamt this would happen before it did, and a mysterious parrot has been present since the danger began. The story isn’t very creative and is filled with a good bit of tropes that you will guess before they are stated. It isn’t detrimental to the game but doesn’t add a ton of flavor to the experience.
Exploration is a major part of this title, and man is it a pain. You move pretty slow, regardless of a sprint function, and the design is not player friendly. You have to move around winding beaches and obstacles that impede your movement in an attempt to section off areas of the island, but instead of making the progression work through the island you mostly have access to the whole, large island from the start with various hilltops cordoned off for later exploration. Along with the energy mechanic that slowly drains you have to seriously manage where you are and how long you can last before passing out randomly on the ground.
This energy mechanic is one that is not new to this type of game, but most games that utilize it allow for ways to make it not a total hassle, whether that be through design, upgrades, or ways to increase your energy meter on the fly. While this game allows you to eat food in order to increase your meter a small bit, you have a limit on the amount of food you can carry at one time. And, although you slowly can carry more food as you progress through the story it really isn’t enough to help make sure you can take long runs to gather resources. What this means is you will lose a quarter or so of your energy just getting where you need and then can do half the amount of gathering as you would want to do. You do have the option to instantly return to your base camp with a map you receive in the beginning stages of the game, but you still have to take that one-way trip out that is extremely slow and plodding.
Once you gather up the wood and random items that have been dropped from the ship you can start to build up a village around your base. You build crafting stations and shacks for the crew members in pre-selected locations. The only thing you really have freedom over is the crop layout in the farming area. Not a big thing, but this isn’t like Stardew Valley where you can build your farm the way you want. All of these things are part of the bigger quest system the game offers, but man are these quests not something you will have a good time with.
Quests in this title are just rinse and repeat fetch quests that have you going back and forth across the island for the most menial of tasks. Grab some wood, talk to this person, learn the crafting recipe, talk to that person, go get more resources, go back and talk to the first person, etc. This is the entire game. I thought at first it was just part of a long-winded tutorial, but it literally doesn’t end. You hand is held through the entire game outside of the first exploration of an island where you don’t know where things are. But after your first run through you will find most of the supplies and locations and the game loses and mystery it might have had. The islands are large, but mostly barren and useless, so you will be spending these few moments of discovery finding very little of substance.
Farming is the one bright spot of this game but feels more like the newer iterations of Harvest Moon than the classics of yesteryear. All you do is dig a plot, plant a seed, and then water it. After a short while you have to re-water the plants, and then collect the fruits of your “labor”. Now that you have all this food you can get into the cooking mechanics. You learn recipes through trial and error as you get more and more types of ingredients and can make some really diverse and unique dishes. The food is crucial to allowing you to make deep runs to other islands, but again you have a limit. I enjoyed playing with the crops more than the rest of the game, but that is the gist of this mechanic, so again we don’t have anything too deep.
You can also do things like fish or get into combat situations with mobs on some of the islands, but all of this is rather plain jane with no real skill or challenge to it. It all is just tedious resource gathering so you can move on to the next linear fetch quest. For being toted as an open-world exploration game it is one of the least open games I have played in this genre.
The art style is polygonal and cartoon-like and reminds me a tad of something you might see from the Nintendo 64 era. The game looks charming and nothing here is offensive. All aesthetically pleasing, with a rather pleasant soundtrack to boot. At least the monotony wasn’t taken to the max with bad music.
Overall, Stranded Sails was a disappointing experience. I am a huge fan of this genre, and I don’t think I have played a game from this formula with this many negative aspects to it in some time. Bad design, slow and monotonous gameplay, constant fetch quests, and the rest can’t be overturned by an acceptable farming and cooking mechanic. If you are a huge fan of the genre this is something that might be fun for a weekend playthrough, but overall you have a lot of better experiences out there for you.
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*The Switch Effect was provided a code for this game*