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Stranded Sails – Explorers of the Cursed Islands review for Xbox One

Ambition can be a blessing and a curse. We all have ambitions and 99% of the time they are a good thing. Think of the most impressive thing you have done in your life and I can guarantee that you wouldn’t have achieved it without ambition. However, if you chase your ambition, forsaking everything else in your life, and don’t manage it . . . that can be a recipe for disaster. Stranded Sails – Explorers of the Cursed Islands from Lemonbomb Entertainment is an ambitious game. So, is that to its benefit or its detriment? Let’s take a look.

Playing as the son of a ship’s captain and member of his crew, you set off on an ill-fated trip. You awake, shipwrecked on a tropical archipelago. The first order of business is to survive and find the rest of the crew. You will need to set up a new camp and find resources on the islands. Your ultimate goal of escape requires you to build a new ship and to nullify the curse that has trapped you on the islands. This adventure will see you battle mystical elements, limited resources, and time management.

How much you are able to do is limited by your stamina meter. Everything you do reduces the amount of energy you have. Walking around the island, fishing, farming, and rowing your boat all take a toll on your stamina. In fact, the only things that don’t reduce it are talking to your colleagues or eating and sleeping (which actually replenish your stamina). You will often find yourself having to choose between continuing your adventure or heading back to camp to regain energy. Should you eat some of your prepared food to get some stamina and continue, or save it for your next outing? Fortunately, it’s not game over if the meter runs dry. You will just wake up back in your cabin.

Rowing your boat in Stranded Sails

The islands you are marooned on are rife with resources and crates filled with useful items. You will also find vegetables and herbs which can be farmed back at your camp. You can use these to prepare dishes that give you a stamina boost while adventuring. These ingredients are also used to create a stew for your crew. This not only gives you a pot to keep going back to and replenish your stamina but also improve relationships with your crewmates. The more stew you make, the more they will like you and start giving you gifts. These can be in the form of improved tools, more ingredients and seeds, or even upgrades to your camp.

About two-thirds of the way through your adventure you will unlock combat. This is very simplistic with just one attack using the ‘A’ button. The skill (what there is) comes from learning the attacks of your enemies. There are three different colours for enemies and this determines how they attack. The compulsory battles are all pretty easy. However, if you do fancy a challenge, there is an arena area where you can battle wave after wave of enemies. On the hardest difficulty, this can prove a bit more challenging as you end up facing multiple large enemies at once. It would have been nice to have a few more options in the combat, such as either a block option or a heavy attack. However, this basic combat does fit in with the light and breezy nature of the rest of the game.

Farming in Stranded Sails

Visually, Stranded Sails – Explorers of the Cursed Islands has a charming style. There were many occasions where my 2-year-old daughter would happily sit next to me and just watch the adventure unfold. There aren’t many textures. You can’t move the camera. Yet the aesthetic, bright colours, and general charm of the game mean that this never bothers you. You just get wrapped up in the adventure and the world you are stranded in. The animations are solid and I never experienced any framerate drops or screen tearing.

While the game engine manages to keep the visuals flowing without issue, there are currently some issues with the game. I had to start the game three times to complete it. On my first attempt, I saved the game and the play area of the screen went black and the UI gradually turned red and blurry. Every time I reloaded the save file the same thing happened. On my second playthrough, I went back to a save file and the game had lost some of my progress. The issue was it had forgotten some items that I had gained access to. I no longer had access to a fishing rod or telescope. The biggest problem, though, was that I had also lost access to my rowing boat. The game remembered what mission I was on but that required leaving the island which was impossible without the boat.

Exploring in Stranded Sails

Stranded Sails – Explorers of the Cursed Islands is a hotchpotch of ideas and other games. While it does create an interesting and enjoyable experience, it never really excels in any of them. The farming is OK but basic. The exploration has some nice hints of a Metroidvania but doesn’t make the most of it. The combat is simplistic and never challenging. However, the light and breezy nature of the game helps to smooth over a lot of these issues. This isn’t a hearty meal of a game. It’s more like a tasting menu where you get to try a little bit of everything. At only 15-20 hours the adventure flies by and is never around long enough to leave a sour taste in your mouth.

Release Date: 17 October 2019
No. of Players: 1 player
Category: Action & Adventure
Publisher: Merge Games
Developer: Lemonbomb Entertainment
A review code was provided by the publisher.

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Steve Clist
Joint Editor-in-Chief at Xbox Enthusiast as well as a contributor for Nintendo Enthusiast and PlayStation Enthusiast. Steve is a musician and gamer who loves sharing his passion for each. You will normally find him at the front of the grid in racing games or on the other end of the kill cam when you've just been killed in a first-person shooter.

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