Looking back on the last 12 months and it seemed to be a good year for farming and crafting games, with Farm Together and My Time at Portia being just two that come to mind. The good news for farming fans out there is that there are plenty of agricultural adventures to be had with Stranded Sails – Explorers of the Cursed Islands too.
That being said, Stranded Sails is not just about farming or indeed crafting. It’s also about cooking, sailing, fighting pirate ghosts and exploring cursed islands. In fact, there is quite a lot of piratey action going on, which puts an interesting spin on the genre compared to other similar games out there.
Stranded Sails is an open world exploration adventure (or as open it can be with five islands to explore and a whole lot of ocean in between). At the opening of the game you are the son or daughter of a sea captain at the start of an exciting journey across the seas, aiming to begin a new life with your crew. Unfortunately along the way your ship is damaged in a storm and you end up shipwrecked on a mysterious island. Your father is badly injured so it is up to you to find the rest of the crew, build them shelters, grow crops and be a general dogsbody. You are set tasks to carry out, which are displayed on screen as a reminder of what you need to do next. This means that Stranded Sails is fairly straightforward to play, with nothing too tricky or challenging. A little way into the game a central storyline starts running which requires you to start quests, explore the islands and piece together a mysterious history before trying to escape.
Even though farming is not a massive part of the game it is a very important one, as you will need crops to cook with (as well as fish that you can get by fishing in certain parts of the sea around the islands). You discover new dishes by playing a minigame where you have to use trial and error to choose the correct two, three or four ingredients that combine to make a dish. The dishes you cook provide you with different amounts of energy, with some ingredients also providing ‘buff’ – you lose less energy when performing certain actions such as rowing. It’s important too, as energy is constantly not on your side, with it depleting throughout the day, even more rapidly if you are running, fishing or rowing. This is particularly annoying as simple walking is too slow to action, and at the start of the game you can hardly move before having to head back to bed and sleep to restore your energy bar. However as time goes on this gets better, although not entirely annoyance free as you often find you have not got enough food with you to explore a location as fully as you like.
This, unfortunately, is not the only hindrance I have had with the game. In fact, throughout my time with Stranded Sails – Explorers of the Cursed Islands I also came across a couple of bugs – one right at the start when, following the shipwreck, my father was not in the place he was supposed to be so I had to start the game again. Also, a way into the experience I’ve found the game to continue crashing whenever I sailed into the ocean. These were both reasonably easy to solve, but nevertheless they did dampen my enjoyment of the game.
Despite losing myself briefly on a couple of occasions when sailing into beautifully clear azure seas as they lapped against the white sands, Stranded Sails doesn’t score highly in the looks department. The graphics are rather clunky in comparison to similar games like My Time at Portia, and the inability to zoom in or change the camera angle in any way makes navigating your way around successfully rather tricky. Add the inability of your character to jump up or down even the slightest ledge and you will be running backwards and forwards a lot, trying to locate the correct path and using up your energy, adding further frustration.
Crafting is also a big part of the game. You will find crates and treasure chests on the islands which provide you with crafting items, and by using these along with wood that you get from cutting down trees you can craft a range of items. At first you are set the task of building the crew houses, and after this bridges and ladders come into play – these allow you to explore previously inaccessible parts of the islands. This is a neat way of restricting your access and moving the storyline along in the correct direction.
You are able to store tools (a shovel, fishing rod, map etc), dishes that you have cooked and crop seeds in your inventory. There are multiple ways of accessing these items, which adds unnecessary complication. Even after hours of gameplay I still couldn’t quickly call to hand the item I wanted. There is also a separate inventory where you can find ingredients, crafting items, quest items and artifacts like journal entries that are found strewn throughout the islands. To be honest I never figured out the point of this second inventory, and it proved to be another thing I opened accidentally when trying to access an object.
The background music is what you probably expect – a jaunty sailor’s jig for the majority of the time which changes into spookier music when you go to an eerie location, or gets more tense when you are fighting; something which in itself is fairly basic. The dialogue between characters is written and I advise you quickly scroll through – it is perfunctory rather than scintillating conversation.
Stranded Sails – Explorers of the Cursed Islands on Xbox One is probably the best pirate-themed exploration game which has some farming and crafting in it. But then again, it doesn’t exactly have much competition. If you love this type of game then it might be worth a play, but otherwise there are better farming and crafting adventures out there.