Stranded Sails: Explorers of the Cursed Islands is an open-world farming adventure game by Lemonbomb Entertainment and published by rokaplay and Merge Games. After surviving a shipwreck, you must make a new home on the mysterious island you crashland on and reconvene your scattered pirate crew. Ultimately, the goal is to find a way back home, but in the meantime, the archipelago is full of mysteries you may as well solve.
Stranded Sails is an interesting amalgam of genres. On one hand, it is reminiscent of the old Lucasarts point-and-click adventures, albeit without the pointing and clicking. Above all, the game is a series of quests where new items, new discoveries, and new resources let you move on to the next quest. Stranded Sails is also all about resource gathering and energy management. Every action drains energy and progression requires traveling across the islands to chop trees and open chests to collect the components for shelters, bridges, and ladders. To say Stranded Sails is a farming sim, however, is a bit of a stretch. The game has fun farming elements, but with no economy in the game, farming is simply another means of resource gathering to produce food.
The idea of a pirate-themed farming adventure seems like a weird combo at first, but the lengthy and admittedly dry exposition that begins the game helps it all make total sense. I can’t say I enjoyed that opening, it was long and the dialogue is not very engaging, but it did satiate my need to have explained why all the resources I need to survive are available on this island. It also provides a stark contrast between the crumbling town of the prologue and the beautiful island you eventually wind up on.
In Stranded Sails, your father, the captain, is bringing on this journey to a new land, but a strange storm crashes your boat, he becomes bedridden, and it is up to you to gather your lost crew and resources while discovering the mystery of the island. It’s honestly all there, even if a bit delightfully bizarre.
The gameplay is mostly straightforward on the Nintendo Switch. Every item wheel is easily navigated using either the bumpers or right stick without having to stop the game to pull up a menu. The menus are broken down into the same three components of the game overall: farming, adventuring, and resource gathering. Farming is largely similar to other indie games like Stardew Valley. You dig holes to plant seeds in, collect water to pour on the plants, and harvest whenever the food is ready. Unlike other farming games though, most of the crops regenerate perpetually without needing to plant new ones.
As somebody who works in agriculture, this perturbs me because of how unrealistic it is for corn or pumpkin plants to produce infinite fruit. I do admire that the models for each crop are generally botanically accurate. The pumpkins, for example, start out as flowers that look exactly like pumpkin flowers, and the pumpkins eventually grow straight out of the flowers like in real life. I just wish that the corn stalks died and needed to be replanted after at least a few harvests just like the root vegetables, potatoes and onions, require in Stranded Sails. This would also help mitigate the stockpiling of food and seeds that happen quickly after only a few good harvests of any item.
The cooking system in Stranded Sails is equally satisfying yet slightly off. After picking vegetables, fishing, and finding rare spices throughout your adventures, the food serves two purposes. You can cook it to prepare meals to take out into the world to replenish your ever-draining energy. To do so, you have to first discover recipes by mixing and matching foods until you get them right. As much as I like this in theory, it becomes a bore quickly.
You can only try to discover one recipe at a time, the food has to be arranged in a specific order, and it just becomes a guessing game with neither consequence for guessing wrong nor great reward for guessing correctly. New recipes might come with different perks such as your crops growing faster for a period, but I found none of them useful.
The other side of cooking is the daily stew. This was confusing to me at first, but it is essentially a sort of mini-game you play once a day in-game where you must guess what each member of your crew’s favorite food item is and once you do, feed it to them every single day forever. Making the stew not only creates an endless energy tap for the rest of the day at your home base but for each crew member you feed, a bar fills up and you are given a reward for each time it fills. Feeding a crew member their favorite food fill the meter up extra. The rewards range from tool upgrades to camp upgrades. While the guessing of favorite foods is a bit mundane, the constant movement towards rewards does feel good and worthwhile.
The adventuring in Stranded Sails is really the heart of the game. While you can only fulfill one quest along a linear path at a time, the main story of the game helps set this indie title apart. The story is not necessarily enthralling. In fact, the dialogue is not stellar and the characters are a bit annoying as a result. It is just the fact that the game has a narrative purpose that makes it feel like you constantly have at least something to strive towards. I do wish there were more guided side quests and not just the main story and whatever upgrades to your camp you want to make along the way. Having something to develop deeper relationships with your crewmates would be welcomed.
As you play, you eventually encounter combat arenas where your only options are swinging your sword, running away, or taking a hit. Even just a simple dodge roll would have helped make combat a bit more fun. I kept smashing buttons in these fights trying to roll to no avail.
Stranded Sails is absolutely a fun, worthwhile game. Even with its shortcomings, the game is visually cute and sonically pleasant. The polygonal rendering is a bit off-looking sometimes, like in some kinds of plants. The music does get only just a little repetitive, but it’s catchy and fitting of the atmosphere most of the time. Despite some of the non-enthralling parts of the farming and cooking, they are still fun enough to keep me repeating them over and over and continuing through the game, even if the plot lost my interest pretty quickly after the excessively long prologue and first few days getting oriented on the island.
I will certainly keep playing Stranded Sails through to the end. It is simple, yet endearing, and its farming elements help set the game apart, even if I wish there was an economy to the farming. Stranded Sails is available now on Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
Stranded Sails: Explorers of the Cursed Islands
- Rating - 7.5/107.5/10
Despite some of the non-enthralling parts of the farming and cooking, they are still fun enough to keep me repeating them over and over and continuing through the game, even if the plot lost my interest pretty quickly after the excessively long prologue and first few days getting oriented on the island.