Don your fanciest pirate hat and get ready to explore the Cursed Islands in Lemonbomb Entertainment's farming adventure.
In Stranded Sails: Explorers of the Cursed Islands, you play as a young pirate who becomes stranded on a tropical island after their ship crashes in a storm. Now, your dad who's the captain of the ship is bedridden and has a long list of tasks for you to complete in his stead. First up is finding the rest of the crew that have been stranded on the neighbouring islands. In order to find them, you need to get a boat together and ensure that you have enough stamina to make it to the farther reaches of the sea so you'll need to plant and grow crops to feed your appetite.
Stranded Sails is an exploration game foremost so if you were interested in the farming sim gameplay, you will likely be disappointed. Farming involves digging holes, sowing seeds, watering at least once a day, and harvesting crops. Crops are used for a couple of things like you can throw a bunch of crops into a big pot and make a stew for the crew. Consuming stew will fill up your stamina gauge nicely and if you match the right crop to the right crew member when making a stew, you'll get a nice boost in levelling it up.
Crops are also used in recipes for stored meals that you'll make good use of on long treks. Unlocking new recipes happens when you uncover ingredients in your travels then you have to play a fun mini-game in order to figure out the correct mix of ingredients. Overall, I enjoyed discovering the crew members' favourite foods and playing the mini-game to find out what new recipes were unlocked.
You progress in the story by completing a list of tasks that are provided by the crew members which generally involve building your base on the island and uncovering the mysteries of the surrounding islands. Most of the tasks involve sailing to one of the islands to look for something. Some of the islands are large and fun to explore with a variety of beaches, forests, hills, and caves and there are also sections to unlock later once you're able to craft bridges and climbing rope kits. However, the fact that you unlock the islands early on and are then constantly tasked with returning to the same islands means that you'll quickly lose the joy of adventuring. It should have had you explore the depths of one island at a time and additional variety in the island scenery would have been welcome, too.
One of the complaints that I've heard about Stranded Sails is its focus on stamina as everything you do consumes it including walking. However, I didn't find this to be a problem in my playthrough because it can be restored quickly by eating stew or consuming prepared meals. You can return to your base at any time from the map so if you're running low, this becomes very handy. Finally, even when you run out of stamina, you simply miss an opportunity to water crops and are taken directly to bed. Crops are bountiful when you're a few hours in so there's no real problem here. There's also no calendar or measurement of time other than the day / night cycle so you won't miss a calendar event like you can in Story of Seasons. In the end, stamina won't be your biggest problem in Stranded Sails.
One aspect that detracts from the fun is the monotony of getting around the islands. You must walk or run everywhere and you're often tasked with talking to someone far away then told to go right back to the person who originally sent you. When you want to explore an island, you row there which takes such a long time that I literally fell asleep once then drained all of my stamina after I dozed off waiting for my character to reach the southern-most island. There really should be multiple teleportation spots on these islands to make getting around easier. Without them, it feels like the tedium of travel is just a way to pad out Stranded Sails' total gameplay time.
Stranded Sails' controls take some getting used to and ultimately feel like they'd be less out of place on PC. Namely, you press left or right on the right analog stick to choose a section to navigate through then up and down to select an item in that section. There are the odd helpful hints in the early hours of the game but even with those, it took me a long time to understand this system due to its confusing wheel-like setup. You can access anything you need in your unlimited inventory but having to cycle through your tools can get annoying when you're trying to find your sword and are being attacked by a pirate ghost, for example.
Finally, Stranded Sails has some unique-looking graphics that bring the islands to life. I appreciated the subtlety in the changing current of the ocean as I rowed between the islands and the soft background music nicely matches the laidback pacing which lets you take things at your own speed. However, I don't understand what happened with the animation of the main character and how they walk. It looks like they're half walking on quick sand and half floating and it put me off a little right from the start. Other than that, there aren't many animations that occur as other characters remain stationary and there are no animals at all.
Stranded Sails is an okay exploration game that rewards you for adventuring into the nooks and crannies of its tropical islands. However, it doesn't do much to stand out and has some annoying gameplay aspects that make exploring feel like a chore.
- + Exploring the islands is fun for a while
- + Cooking and unlocking recipes is rewarding
- + Unique graphical style that matches the laidback gameplay well
- - Controls take some getting used to
- - Travelling between locations is a chore
- - Bad pacing around unlocking new areas and there's not enough variety