There’s a certain mystery, and bleak fantasizing when it comes to being stranded on an island. From Gilligan’s Island, Tomb Raider, Lost, and even one of the Pirates of the Caribbean flicks, we find ways to create adventure, action and much more from this predicament. Stranded Sails – Explorers of the Cursed Islands for Nintendo Switch takes us on the same journey, while mixing in farming, lots of cooking, some building, and plenty of exploration. Does being stranded on this island prove to be exciting, or will it dry out in the sun after a few hours of gameplay?
After setting sail with your father, you find yourself in rough seas struggling to help manage the ship along with the rest of the crew. Things go black and the next thing you know, you’ve woken up washed ashore on an island. Gathering your wits, you’ll find some of the crew has arrived with you and then early on you’ll be set up a basecamp in an effort to survive and set out to rescue other survivors.
As you dive into your adventure, you’ll start to learn some essentials, like planting crops for food supplies and chopping down trees to make planks, which help build huts for the crewmates you’ve brought back to your main island with you. The game does a fairly decent job at onboarding you to the mechanics in a fetch-quest styled route, however even after a couple of hours in the game, I was still effectively performing some version of each fetch quest. Unlike games like My Time at Portia or even the traditional Harvest Moon titles that set loftier goals that allow for much more free-form play and deviation, my time with Stranded Sails never gave me that same satisfaction. With each objective I was given, it was pretty straightforward and accessible in how to complete it and didn’t really offer much in the way of improvisation.
It’s worth noting at this point before continuing on, that my playtime with this game was abruptly cut off after a few hours in. I had worked on a quest that dropped a quest item, but before picking it up, I had walked away from the game. Upon returning and booting up my Switch again, the quest item was gone, and no matter what I tried, I couldn’t get it to return and the game would not progress. I had to restart the game over again, and so I will fully admit I did not get to the end-game side of things here with this title.
Now similar to other farming-sim adventure games I’ve spoken about, there’s several key mechanics that carry on here as well. You’ll have a stamina meter that acts as a gate to how much you can do during a given day. Walking, running, planting, paddling, etc. all takes stamina, and I personally felt at an aggressive pace. Often times I could barely dig a few holes before I needed to run back to the remnants of the ship and sleep. The game however constantly encourages you to counteract this problem by bringing food with in great supply, and that brings us to…cooking!
In Stranded Sails, cooking plays a critical role, even early on. You’ll harvest some crops, and then it’s off to the cauldron to boil up some ingredients that can be used to refresh your stamina while you’re out tasking away the day, or exploring the adjoining islands. Cooking though is quite a task when you don’t have a recipe fully figured out. As you gather ingredients, the cooking menu will start displaying question marks that signify a new recipe can be discovered. This discovery mini-game however is completely mind numbing and frankly pretty obnoxious. For each undiscovered recipe, you’ll have to place the ingredients in empty slots. If the game had allowed me to just plunk them in and if I had the right ingredients I would learn what the new recipe was, it would have been reasonably OK with this system. However, this game further complicates the matter by forcing you to place an ingredient in a precise spot. With the aid of some icons (that I had to reference in the help menu) it’ll attempt to point you in the right direction, but I swear I was seeing more game bugs here as ingredients that said they worked, would all of a sudden appear as not needed if I swapped something out to try and continue experimenting. Again, for me this was just a flustering experience, but the game relies on this heavily so you need to unlock these recipes for better stamina filling food.
Furthermore, you’ll also need to become the sole cooking provider for your whole crew! This means trying to find ingredients that each other members like, and then tossing it into a giant stew pot for everyone to partake in. If you do right by folks, you will earn a very solid stamina boost that can definitely aid on some longer journeys you’ll need to embark on though.
Once you do set out on your own and are able to explore the islands a bit more via your rowboat with stocked provisions packed with you, there’s not a ton to see if you aren’t actively on a quest. Unlike Stardew Valley, there’s just nothing apart from some random supply crates or barrels to overly interact with. It’s just another reinforcer to stick with your precise quest that you need to work on.
Typically with this genre you can get some really great dialog, relationships, and storylines derived from how these games are set up. Stranded Sails does have a story and features relationships, but I found the writing to be pretty awkward, which may have been a localization to English issue maybe? A prime example is how you and your father (the ship’s Captain) talk to each other. He will expressively call you “My Child” more frequently than is comfortable, in that he references you that way at the start of almost every sentence. You on the other hand, refer to him by his first name in dialog. Interacting with the rest of the cast succumbs to similar awkward and shallow conversations, with some characters attempting to exalt a bit more personality than others, but in general, the dialog and overall story fall flat compared to nearly every other farm sim I’ve played.
While the dialog may be a bit off-putting, the game is visually nice and presents a very pleasing aesthetic. I didn’t run into any performance issues in handheld mode, and the mid/low polygon style with bright colors was relaxing and definitely engaging to see for a game about being stuck on an archipelago.
The user experience I also had mixed feelings over. While the inventory management and quick select system were pretty nifty and for the most part worked OK, I found some nagging annoyances that kept it from being perfected. For example, I wish my quick select button would remain on the last item I accessed, which in most cases was the map. I found I had to frequently rely on the map, because for whatever reason the game did not provide a UI compass of any sorts, but frequently quests told you to go “East of the Wreck” or something along those lines. This forced me into navigating blindly in my rowboat, and frequently having to stop and open the map to see if I was even heading in the right direction on open seas.
For my time with Stranded Sails, these sorts of annoyances and deviations from the farming sim formula that has typically worked well in other games gave me an overall lackluster experience. One of the most important key elements of this genre is that of self-exploration and management. This game fell completely flat in this area as well, instead relying on fetch quests that had me going from point A to point B. The theme is certainly here, and the idea of expanding and growing a community on a marooned island is great, but the execution just feels shipwrecked in itself. You’d probably be better off purchasing any of the other games mentioned in this review.
Stranded Sails - Explorers Of The Cursed Islands Review
- Graphics - 6.5/106.5/10
- Sound - 5/105/10
- Gameplay - 4.5/104.5/10
- Lasting Appeal - 4/104/10
Final Thoughts: MEDIOCRE
A farming sim adventure on a deserted archipelago certainly has a great ring to it, and the setting is ripe for a lot of exploration, discovery, and some clever mechanics. Stranded Sails however falls a bit short in nearly every department. A heavy over-use of a convoluted cooking mechanic and other issues prevented the game from reaching that addictive quality that is required for games like these.
Alex has been actively gaming since the release of the Nintendo. Turning passion into profession, he’s spent just over a decade in game development, and is currently the Creative Director at a studio.