(And No, You're Not a Pirate.)
As sometimes happens, I suddenly found myself on the way to New York City to check out a pair of upcoming games with my colleague Jeffrey Lerman. While Jeffrey took on coverage duties for Sparklite, I was keen to check out Stranded Sails - Explorers of the Cursed Islands, an upcoming survival game developed by Lemonbomb Entertainment and published by rokaplay and Maple Whispering Limited. It drops you and your ship's crew on a deserted island with the ultimate goal of surviving and eventually escaping.
I spent far too little time chatting with the delightful Roman Matuszczak from Lemonbomb and Ross Griffith from Merge Games as I went hands-on with this survival experience. What's it all about and how much fun is it? Read on to find out!
Stranded Sails Starts with a Perilous Journey
I'll frontload my hands-on impressions of Stranded Sails with a qualifier: I was not playing the actual finished product of Stranded Sails. Instead, I was on a vertical slice that was created for press events and conventions to showcase the general gameplay mechanics and give you an idea of what it's all about. (I did get some details about the finished product, and we'll get to those in just a bit.)
My adventure began, rather unsurprisingly, on the shores of a deserted island. As I played, I chatted with Matuszczak and Griffith about the game's mechanics and story. You are on your father's ship with his crew in search of new places to explore. Things go a bit sideways, you end up on a deserted island, and you have to collect everything you need to escape.
The vertical slice was focused on a single island and that led me to my first question: Will Stranded Sails only have the one island? The short answer is no, and the long answer is that a rowboat will give you access to other islands nearby to where you were stranded.
There are five islands in total; you start on the central island and are surrounded by the other four. The rowboat can take you to three of the four other islands easily enough, but the last remaining island is somehow restricted to the endgame.
You and Your Crew
Central to the premise of Stranded Sails is the notion of finding your crew. Each crew member has their own specialty—a farmer, a cook, a lumberjack, and so on. They can teach you valuable skills and lend you tools, but you'll also have to take care of them by farming crops and building the other necessities of life.
Food is your lifeblood in this game. You don't have a health bar; rather, you have a stamina bar that is drained when you take damage, complete actions, or simply move around. The vertical slice had an infinite bucket of apples, but somehow I felt that there wouldn't be such a convenience in the finished product. (Or, if there were, it would be only in the easiest of areas so new players can get familiar in comfort).
That's not to say that you're going to be stuck at your base camp. You'll head out into the wider world, gathering supplies and exploring for useful loot. There will also be a Metroidvania-style of gated areas where you'll need specific items to reach certain areas.
"There's a bridge, there's also a ladder and climbing rope," Matuszczak said. "Some of the structures that are used in the very late game to give you access to some additional areas that you might have come by in your previous exploration trips and that you can now [explore] to find some rare [things]."
Believe it or not, there are games of this type where there is no combat whatsoever. The vertical slice seemed pretty chill, so I was curious if I would end up fighting anyone at all.
Towards the end of my time with the game, I headed toward a cave with my newly found sword. I could insert the sword into a hole in the ground and use it as a lever; for a brief moment, I had feared that there would be no combat whatsoever in Stranded Sails. It was then that I saw a strange purple glowing object, activated it, and was confronted with some ghost pirates.
I defeated them handily and a second group soon after. Taking a hit means that your stamina bar gets depleted, so it's probably wise to keep food on hand if you think you'll encounter combat. (Actually, it's probably a good idea to have food on hand at all times, just in case.)
There weren't any wild creatures in the time I played, so for now, it seems that you're only going to be fighting enemies in certain areas. The battles take place in Zelda-style closed rooms, so you had better be properly prepared before you pull the proverbial trigger!
A Way to Win
Stranded Sails is going to fall into a category of survival games that has very few members: You'll actually be able to complete it.
Since you've been stranded on this strange island, your goal is to ultimately leave. That is what you'll be working toward throughout the game. The earlier bits will be focused on finding your crew and setting up basic amenities, but the time after that will largely be about building a new ship and escaping back to civilization.
I don't know about you, but I've played goodness knows how many survival games that don't have an ultimate end goal for the player to reach. Stranded Sails will, and that's something that I'm really interested in trying out when it launches.
Stranded Sails takes the survival genre and makes it adorable. Blending equal parts farming RPG and action RPG, it seems like it's going to be a good bit of fun for fans of either genre. I'm told by Matuszczak and Griffith that it will take 12–15 hours to beat the main quest at a "regular pace" and 20–25 hours if you're dead set on exploring everything. From what I've seen so far, I think it will be time well spent.
You'll be able to get Stranded Sails when it launches on Steam sometime in the fourth quarter of 2019. For now, you should go ahead and add it to your wishlist!
TechRaptor conducted our Stranded Sails preview at an event conducted by Merge Games and later played the game with a press copy supplied by the publisher.