Of all the random, mostly innocuous things to take note of during a game demo, the quality of the water is something that always sticks out to me. Making water look good in a game is extremely tough to do. And I don’t mean making water look realistic when I say good because not all art styles try to be realistic. For example, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker probably has my favorite water in any game ever, with Super Mario Sunshine coming in a close second. But after that it’s tough to say. Both Sea of Thieves and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey also have great water.
I can happily report that Stranded Sails: Explorers of the Cursed Islands, the upcoming indie farming game meets survival sim from Merge Games, rokapublish, and Lemonbomb Entertainment, definitely has good looking water.
And you notice it immediately. The game begins with you shipwrecked on an island surrounded by other tiny islands. All alone, you must do what’s necessary to survive. But instead of fending off monsters or zombies in the process, Stranded Sails takes a much more accessible and cute approach. You’ll spend a lot of your time farming, collecting ingredients for cooking, gathering materials for crafting, and exploring the vast open-world with the end goal of constructing a ship large enough to let you escape the islands.
During my demo I got small tastes of each facet of gameplay which added up to what felt like more of a sampling platter than really getting to dig into one aspect of the game. This highlights its breadth, but left me unsure about its actual depth. I also experienced frequent technical hiccups like framerate drops, stuttering, and some gameplay glitches that nearly got me stuck on some parts of the environment. Since the game isn’t far off from release, currently slated for October on all platforms including PC, Switch, PS4, and Xbox One, the issues are a little more worrisome than if the game still had a year of development left.
Ironically, my favorite actual parts of Stranded Sails don’t seem to be where the majority of the focus is given. For example, farming seems pretty simple and tedious to me as you simply plant and water crops, pick them for food, and repeat. It likely gets more complex the deeper you get, but it seems overly derivative thus far. However, it feeds (pun intended) into the cooking system which was much more intriguing.
Rather than simply asking you to mix ingredients together to discover recipes you have to place them into the pot in the correct order too. So it’s not just about which ingredients you pick, but also in which order you pick them. This dramatically expands the number of potential recipes and makes discovering new recipes more challenging and fun. Visually the UI tells you if you have an ingredient in the right spot or not and if it’s needed for the recipe but just needs to be moved to another spot in the order.
The other bit that had me smiling during my demo wasn’t the crafting or exploration or survival systems (yes, you have to manage hunger and thirst, bleh, but at least it isn’t super cumbersome in this game) but instead the sailing. I only got to try a simple little row boat, but everything from the fluid animations (once again, pun intended) to the smooth movement across the water and that exciting feeling of breaking away from the game’s boundaries really intrigued me. Hopefully cruising across the water is something you do often in a game called Stranded Sails.
Combat does exist too, but it’s not the focus and can be avoided a lot of the time. Chances are you’ll prefer to avoid it because it’s extremely simplistic. Every enemy I fought dramatically telegraphed their attacks, did minor damage, and only required the tried and true method of hitting them a few times, running away from their swing, then hitting them again and repeating. According to the developers that’s about as deep as it gets, which isn’t too surprising, and it feels a bit like it’s designed to be intentionally shallow to funnel you towards the other elements of gameplay.
Overall Stranded Sails has a lot of promise if the technical hiccups can get ironed out and the game has enough variety of content to stay interesting throughout. The biggest problem with most farming and/or survival games is the novelty wears off far too quickly, so let’s hope this one won’t suffer from the same fate.
Stranded Sails: Explorers of the Cursed Islands is slated for release this October on PC, Switch, PS4, and Xbox One and if you want a taste ahead of time, you can sign up for access to the free playable prologue on the official website right here.