Stranded Sails is an exploration farming game by Lemonbomb Entertainment. It releases October 17th on Humble Bundle, Steam, Playstation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. Joseph Pugh conducted this review on a standard Xbox One console. The Humble Bundle link is a referral link. I get a small commission if you purchase the game through it.
Stranded Sails is a game about exploration and farming. You are part of a ship crew that ends up stranded on a set of mysterious islands. Your task is to reunite the other crew members, build a camp, farm food and uncover the strange mysteries regarding the islands.
You will use a rowboat to travel to each island and you will run around gathering wreckage and opening containers for materials to be used for your camp. Every action you take consumes energy and you pass out if you ever deplete it completely.
To keep your energy up when you are adventuring, you need to farm for food and catch fish to cook in recipes. You can then use the food to replenish yourself when you are away from camp. This is the core loop of Stranded Sails. Acquire food for energy that you can use to sustain your adventures, explore the world and accomplish objectives.
Sadly, this loop doesn’t feel meaningful or satisfying. The game is largely based around fetch quests and tedious activities without meaningful progression or reward. It’s cast of characters and the ho-hum plot isn’t enough to salvage its dull game-play.
Fetch it all
Stranded Sails follows a linear storyline, you always have some main objective to work toward. More often than not this involves finding and fetching something and bringing it home. This isn’t inherently bad, but Stranded Sails handles it in the most basic fashion.
The game world features a set of several islands. Nearly every objective has you traveling to one of these islands via a rowboat, and searching for something. It can be a person, artifact or maybe even just materials. After, you return to camp, progress the storyline and work on the next task.
Early in the game you gather materials to build shacks in pre-placed spots for the crew. Later on, you are hunting down pieces of a sword, golden idols, ship parts and so on. Everything you do, including walk and run, consumes energy. Run out and you wake up back in camp but otherwise suffer no penalty.
To maintain your energy, you need to plant, and harvest food and go fishing so you can cook meals that you take with you. The problem is, this is the only purpose of doing so. Energy stands in your way of completing the fetch quests. You farm the food for your energy, to complete a tedious fetch quest to access the next tedious fetch quest, rinse and repeat.
There is no sense of accomplishment or satisfaction, your reward for each go here and grab that, is another go here and grab this. That would be fine if the exploration itself was fun, but it isn’t. The islands are your typical tropical island setting and you visit the same areas over and over again. Traveling is time-consuming. You can fast travel back to your camp, but nowhere else.
Even worse, you have to paddle your boat to each island by holding one button. Doing so drains your energy but serves no other purpose but to eat up time. The player’s time, there is no in-game time restraint or management. Nothing is interesting in the water between the islands. It serves as a simple time sink, and you will have to paddle to every island several times.
Eventually, you need to construct tools like bridge kits to progress. There are no decisions to make, the areas you need these structures are already established. You are once again required to go to the islands, pick up supplies from crates and craft what you need to complete each fetch quest. You do eventually obtain a sword and take part in small single-button combat. It does nothing to alleviate the boredom the game inflicts upon you.
A Recipe for Monotony
Running out of energy causes you to pass out and return to camp. You lose nothing but the time you spent traveling in your attempt to finish the current fetch quest. To combat this fact, you grow plants and catch fish to cook meals for yourself and to make a stew for you and the crew.
You find seeds when you are exploring, if you dig some holes, plant them and keep them watered, they grow. Once grown you go around and harvest the plants and repeat. There isn’t any kind of strategy to how you grow your plants. Food items have no value in the game except to keep your energy up.
Once you have some ingredients, you can cook them using recipes. Stranded Sails fails to be interesting in this regard as well. Whenever you have the ingredients for a new recipe on you. There will be a question mark in the recipe menu, select it and you can try and discover a new recipe.
You put the ingredients in and hit a button. If it works, you have a new recipe. If not, it will tell you how many ingredients are correct, incorrect or in the wrong position. But not which ones. Discovering them is literally switching icons around until you find the right combo for each preset recipe. There isn’t much rhyme or reason. Like everything else in the game, it’s a simple time sink with very little engaging gameplay.
You can’t fail to discover the recipe and you lose no ingredients for trying. You simply move stuff around until it is correct, succeeding is as easy as taking enough time to find the correct combination and positioning for that specific preset recipe.
Food can also be added to a camp stew. One ingredient for each crew member. This increases a bond meter and each crew member prefers different ingredients. By raising this meter, your crew will give you upgraded tools and new blueprints to expand your camp, garden or simply one that makes a short cut.
This is the only real form of progression and most of the upgrades exist only to help ease the tedium. A short cut to the beach, or a shovel that takes less energy for example.
My favorite genre is survival and I have an embarrassing number of hours in farming games such as Harvest Moon and Stardew Valley. The difference between those games and Stranded Sails is that they entertaining point to the tedium and repetitive tasks.
In survival games, you are trying to survive a harsh danger. You are rewarded with new ways to survive and an ever increasing hold on a world that is trying to kill you. In farming games, you are trying to turn a profit, make a successful farm and to woo friends and partners. In Stranded Sails, your task is to do fetch quests, and you are rewarded with even more fetch quests.
Exploration games have interesting environments, deep stories or intricate puzzles to make every new horizon exciting to visit.
The environments in Stranded Sails look nice but are bland, there isn’t anything particularly interesting to find when exploring and the storyline is fairly basic. The characters are quirky but hardly interesting enough to carry you through the repetition. You can pick up some lore pieces, but the story itself isn’t that deep or interesting.
The game plays like a straight forward linear game, but its objectives are incredibly flat with very little player engagement. Adding insult to injury is the energy bar standing in your way. It takes a long time to run and paddle to these locations to simply fetch an item and continue the storyline. The energy bar is the only real barricade to progress but its a terrible one. You have to take part in the repetitive farming and cooking, not for meaningful progression or decision making, but to simply complete the uninspired tasks in the first place.
Stranded Sails is in a strange place, I wanted to like it. I hate being negative about games. The art style is cute and attractive and there is nothing exactly wrong with its mechanics. They work as intended. The problem is the whole intended concept seems flawed. Games are made to entertain, different genres entertain you in different ways.
I can’t find the entertainment in Stranded Sails. The quests aren’t fun, what little progression that exists is there to help ease the tedium of completing the repetitive fetch quests in the first place. I can’t even say it is a relaxing game because the energy bar is frustrating and the sole means of combating it lacks any kind of interesting engagement. Yet if it was removed the game’s existence would be that much more mindless bordering on an idle game.
Stranded Sails could be used as a time-waster, but if that’s the case the catalog of available games is so huge I can’t even recommend it for that.
A copy of Stranded Sails was provided to Gideon’s Gaming for the purposes of review by Rokaplay.
Like relaxing games? You might be intrested in my review of Tidal Tribe!
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- Cute art style
- The entire game is focused on bland fetch quests
- The islands are uninteresting to explore
- Getting around takes a lot of time and there is tons of backtracking
- Energy system limits your ability to move, making the fetch quests more tedious
- Farming and cooking for energy is repetitive and uninspired, very little player engagement
- Combat is basic and uninspired