Can a bunch of seafaring fools sail to success, fix the great lighthouse and bring peace back to the Archipelago, let’s take a look at the new rogue-lite adventure from Team 17 and Fika productions.
The Archipelago has been free from monsters for generations thanks to the light of the great lighthouse, but with the incoming everlasting storm and a broken lighthouse monsters have returned to the seas of the Archipelago and it’s up to a bunch of fishy fools to save the day.
At the start of the game, you’ll take control of Todd and meet an NPC called Clarity who covers a quick tutorial on how to control your character and move the cannon around your trusty Stromstrider ship, which will be your point of play for most of the game.
Controls are pretty straightforward, with an attack button that also allows a quick combo and the ability to hold and charge a spinning attack capable of knocking back incoming projectiles and enemies.
While there’s no voice acting, those who take the time to read through the plates of text, will find some great humour from a game that’s not scared to poke fun at itself and break the 4th wall, with chatter about pressing buttons, and a nod to game manuals when your character complains that clarity is babbling on too much.
It all starts off well for Ship of fools and soon enough, you’ll find yourself at the Great Lighthouse, the lights gone, monsters are coming and the island is in disarray, initially you’ve got 2 points here for upgrading your cannons and picking up some basic upgrades such as guaranteed starting harpoons and gold (sand dollars), but you’ll eventually unlock plenty of other stores to spend your sand dollars and tendrils.
This introduces the rogue-lite aspects, as especially with the sand dollar upgrades, you’ll be bringing back gold every time you finish a run, so no matter how early you might get shipwrecked and washed back to the coast, you’ll have pockets full of gold which go towards unlocking the all-important Tendrils.
Tendrils are the main upgrade currency and will unlock these upgrades, which will help your progression beyond the first few screens.
Actual gameplay sees you manoeuvre your ship through the ocean which is made up of a selection of hexagonal grids, each space on the map, brings you to a new part of the ocean which is littered with enemies. You’ve also got the storm enclosing from the far side, which will bring heavy-hitting giant sea-monsters when you eventually get caught by the storm.
The more you stray of course to collect specific upgrades, the more the storm closes in, meaning a larger number of big enemies towards the end of your run (if you get that far).
You’ll spend each section running around your ship, smashing any nearby enemies with your weapon, and using the cannon to hit ranged enemies, thankfully there’s a never-ending supply of seashells, but you’ll have to keep loading your cannon.
You’ll soon unlock your first addition which is an automated cannon, this is essential when playing single-player as you can keep covering the north of the ship, while you concentrate on the south.
This brings me to my first major complaint about Sea of Fools, it’s a title designed for co-op, and no amount of automated turrets can replace a co-op friend with half a brain cell.
Having a weapon fire that you only need to reload is certainly easier than aiming it yourself, but when it fires so slowly, I was clearing all the enemies on one side and then having to move my standard cannon across the ship to clear up the handful of enemies this AI turret still hadn’t cleared.
This also meant any enemies landing onboard, where a second thought which often ended a run sooner than felt fair or necessary.
Obviously having a co-op friend by your side will make a big difference, and it’s great to see both split-screen and online play is supported, although if you’re not sitting beside another gamer, you’re relying on friends also buying the game as there’s no online matchmaking, so if you’re an old player with no friends, there are no co-op options at all which is disappointing for a game that claims it’s made for co-op.
As tough as playing solo makes the mid-game, you’ll keep progressing thanks to those Sand Dollars, and as you build up the other three areas, starting harpoons, HP and cargo space, this means you’ll be able to retrieve floating treasures, store them and hopefully your ship will last a little longer.
On the map, you’ll also find plenty of icons, which show what will be available from the given panel, usually, you’ll have to defeat a group of enemies before you get the promised treasures, but sometimes you’ll get a brief respite aboard a small island where you can often find some extra sand-dollars, and meet a merchant or pick up a free upgrade.
There are plenty of upgrades on offer, I loved the spud-gun ammo which gave your cannons more ammo and a higher rate of fire, but my favourite was the odd bird, who started laying fire eggs, these had a cooldown between each egg, but when available they’d give a round of ammo that would set enemies on fire and make short work of some tougher enemies.
Initially, you’ll find yourself with 2 or 3 places to store cargo and four positions to stow your cannons, you’ll eventually unlock more, but be warned these first steps towards surviving a journey across the Archipelago may take a few hours to strengthen, my best advice is to ensure you’ve got the Sand dollars incoming, before the cannon upgrades as I found the early canon improvements a waste of early tendrils.
Graphically, there’s a 2D cartoon style, which works really well, characters are well animated, and while I would have liked to see a little more variation in the seas and enemies beyond a few colour changes, it’s usually pretty clear what’s going on and everything runs smoothly.
Unfortunately one issue I found was the slug creatures who fly on board and start dismantling your ship, the small circle that shows where they’re going to land, is’nt always clear, especially when you’re trying to take down some giant crabs as well, positioning yourself to knock them back is the ideal solution, but I often found myself suddenly surrounded by half a dozen slugs in a few seconds, and the health of my ship would go downhill quicker than I could react.
Obviously increasing the HP of your ship is a big bonus, but when you’re also limited on the number of wooden planks you find, you’ll soon find there’s never enough to keep up with patching the holes (and recovering the HP of the ship).
It just feels a little unbalanced when I can journey through 3-4 sections maintaining the condition of my ship and then it’s going down like the Titanic within another few minutes.
There’s some great audio as far as the ambience and background music, but I do feel the lack of any voice acting is a real loss, from the 10 characters you can unlock and the NPC’s, with some witty writing, I would have loved to see the various fishy friends brought to life with some humorous voice acting, but instead, we’re left relying solely on the music and a few sound effects to fill our lobes.
As for value, it’s a tough one to judge as the pricing hasn’t been released at the time of review, we’re expecting it to be around £20, but there’s no doubt co-op play is a big step up over playing alone, and forcing you to find another player to buy the game to enjoy that, is a drop in overall value.
Ship of Fools is a fun game, which maybe takes a little too much rogue-lite repetition before it really picks up pace, there’s a great cast of characters let down by the lack of voice acting, and the enjoyment of co-operative gameplay, which finds it’s shortcomings without online matchmaking.
There’s definite potential, and voice lines, location variation and online matchmaking could have really excelled the game across the sea of mediocrity, but the ship of Fools will need to patch a few more leaks before it’s ready to sail at full speed.
Ship of Fools
There’s definite potential, but the ship of Fools will need to patch a few leaks before it’s ready to sail at full speed.
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