Stranded Sails – Explorers of the Cursed Isles is a cute, nicely balanced survival narrative game that is the perfect introduction to the survival/exploration genre.
Straight off the bat, you will make comparisons to Stardew Valley and Harvest Moon and in a basic sense, you wouldn’t be wrong. Stranded Sails offers the sam game mechanics such as farming and combat just in a more simplified manner…and that isn’t a bad thing.
Stranded Sails begins with you waking up excited as you and your father are about to lead a band of folks to a new land in order to set up a new life. Not long into the journey however, your ship crashes amongst an archipelago of islands not marked on any map.
As you awake on the beach you decide the best course of action is to find and reunite your crew, combine your skills and rebuild your ship in order to escape the island an continue your journey. But the islands are cursed and it soon becomes apparent there is a lot more to do than just build your ship.
There is no health bar or death in Stranded Sails. instead every action is governed by your energy bar. Run out of energy and you pass out and return to your bed. Early on this makes the game extremley constricted. Plant a few crops, water them then go for a nap to replenish your bar. As you progress through Stranded Sails you receive better tools that use less energy and enable you to do more.
Stranded Sails includes lots of game mechanics that are a staple of the survival genre. Farming and fishing for ingredients that can then be used in cooking dishes that refill your energy. Chopping down trees to gain wood and exploration to find materials for crafting.
All these mechanics are done really simply, often a single button press, and make not only Stranded Sails but the genre accessible to all.
Next up is exploration and this is where Stranded Sails falls a bit flat I am afraid. Yes, there are four islands as well as your camp to explore but it is pretty much impossible to do so.
I enjoyed the fact that it can take up to 4 days to plan a full trip. Wanna head out to the western island? Best to spend a day farming, then a day fishing to ensure you can cook food that gives you more of an energy refill before setting out.
The problem is that whilst you can indeed plan, prepare and explore the islands are locked down by quest items so you can’t really explore at will. You can only explore the beach and part of the cave of that western island before you realise you need to continue on the main quest to unlock the rope bridge needed to advance through the cave. This is the same on every island.
I have already mentioned how each mechanic in Stranded Sails is simple but brilliant. At no point did it make me feel like I was playing a “kids game” until it came to the main quest and exploration.
All the way through the game you can’t shake the sense of handholding. You are told exactly where to go and exactly how to complete your task. Again this isn’t a bad thing for younger games or those new to the genre but felt a little too restrictive for me personally.
I wanted to spend a few days farming and fishing, then preparing my rations for an epic trip of exploration. Explore the outer islands, discover new materials and seeds etc. Possibly new blueprints for crafting but nope. None of that is allowed. It is on the rails exploration in order to progress the story. Deviate from this and there is no progress or reward.
Stranded Sails – Explorers of the Cursed Isles is a good game and I have enjoyed my time with it. The crew are frustrating as hell. Every day I cook the stew for the camp whilst the chef moans about the quality of food. I craft everything needed and build all the shacks whilst the Blacksmith and Builder just stand about outside the shacks I built them but worst of all is farming. Early on Farming consumes a lot of energy yet the person who teaches you just stands there and never lifts a finger. If I could kill the crew or leave them stranded on the island I happily would.
Frustrations around the crew and exploration aside Stranded Sails does everything else really well and is a great game for either those new to the genre or younger gamers progressing to a more complex game that isn’t too challenging.