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Stranded Sails – Explorers of the Cursed Islands review for PS4, Xbox One, Switch


Platform: PS4
Also on: PC, Switch, Xbox One
Publisher: Merge Games
Developer: LemonBomb Entertainment
Medium: Digital/Cartridge/Disc
Players: 1
Online: No
ESRB: E10+

I don’t know when I last loathed a game as much as I despised Stranded Sails – Explorers of the Cursed Islands. Sure, there are plenty of games in recent memory that I haven’t enjoyed because of how broken they were, but Stranded Sails feels like it reaches a whole new level of awfulness. Whereas some of those other games that left me cold could at least be commended for their ambition, Stranded Sails is a boring, unambitious Harvest Moon/Stardew Valley clone that, despite not attempting to do anything new or interesting, still fails miserably at what it sets out to do, and is irreparably flawed to boot.

Its premise sounds so simple. Like I said, Stranded Sails takes its cues from Harvest Moon and/or Stardew Valley, so it’s basically a farming game, albeit with a dose of Zelda thrown in for good measure with its mute-ish protagonist and the slight focus on exploration. The twist is that the game is set following a shipwreck, and your character, your father, and your shipmates have to make an island inhabitable. Despite this grim premise, the whole thing is presented as being all brightly-coloured and kid-friendly, with nothing to suggest the incredibly frustrating horrors that await anyone foolish enough to play it.

And oh, what frustrations there are. It’s not just that the game crashes — although multiple online reports suggest that if you waste enough time on the Stranded Sails, that happens too. No, what really makes it reach a whole other level of terribleness is that there are all kinds of bugs littered everywhere that make it so that you’ll likely have to quit the game and start over well before you can get anywhere close to dozens of hours. Case in point: very early on, I had to help build houses for my fellow castaways. This involved finding a rope to help create one of the basic items. So I found it, combined it with another scavenged item, put it in my inventory…and found that it had suddenly vanished. Despite wasting another half hour scouring every inch of the island, there were no other ropes to be found, so I quit the game, erased my save file, and started over.

My next playthrough, I got a little further in, and reached a point where I had to start cooking for my crewmates. This involved searching for various seeds, and then planting, watering, and harvesting them. Sounds straightforward enough, right? I thought so, too, except after I planted and watered them, I napped — more on that in a moment — only to wake up and find that the seeds were gone: gone from the ground, gone from my inventory, and gone from the game. So, once again, it was back to the old quit-erase-start over maneuver.

 

I’m not going to go through every time I had to quit, erase, and start over, but it essentially took me six hours to get through the first hour of Stranded Sails, entirely because of the game’s own technical issues. I’m all for not forming firm opinions after only playing a game — particularly a long game — for an hour, but when it takes six-plus hours just to get through one hour of gameplay, I’m taking that as a sign that the game in question is simply not interested in having me play much more. (Admittedly, there’s something to be said for saving early and saving often — but in this case, Stranded Sails also believes that, since it saves your progress constantly, and always overwrites its previous saves, which means you’re pretty much stuck with the broken state in which you’ll find yourself.)

Plus, it’s not like what I did experience suggested that Stranded Sails would’ve been some incredibly gem if only everything had worked properly. We’re talking about a game where one of the core mechanics is napping. This is because the game doesn’t just give you a stamina metre, it uses it in the strictest way possible. Taking a step? You’re losing stamina. Running? You’re losing even more stamina. Digging a hole, and planting seeds? So much stamina lost. Rowing a boat? It’ll take you three in-game days to explore a couple of small sandbars, since you’ll be out of energy by the time you reach each one. Every time you run out, the game helpfully deposits you back in your bed, where you then sleep for a day or so to regain your stamina — which you then lose as soon as you take a few steps outside, because it’s that type of game.

In this respect, Stranded Sails is one of the oddest games I’ve ever played. It looks and plays like it wants to be some kid-friendly introduction to farming and exploration, and then it hampers everything by insisting you take plenty of naps, and it punishes you if you don’t. It’s hard to imagine a way to drag the action down more than constant, regular, forced sleeping.

Actually, I can totally imagine a way to drag things down more: by being so buggy, that you force players to constantly erase their progress and start over. That’s what you get if you subject yourself to Stranded Sails. This is a mediocre game at the best of times that drags itself down to being entirely horrible thanks to its own terrible choices and design, and there’s really no reason why you should subject yourself to it.

Merge Games provided us with a Stranded Sails – Explorers of the Cursed Islands PS4 code for review purposes.

Grade: F

Stranded Sails – Nintendo Switch (Video Game)


Manufacturer:  Merge Games
ESRB Rating:  Rating Pending
Platform:  Nintendo Switch
Genre:  seek-and-find-game-genre

New From: $34.99 USD In Stock
Release date: November 12, 2019.

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