Fri. Jun 14th, 2024
Ship of Fools Review Xbox Series X Cover

I’m never one to pass up the chance to play a new Team 17 game. They’re one of my favourite developers, and I can always rely on them to produce something fun and interesting. I was lucky enough to have the publisher reach out to me about this one, as it hadn’t been on my radar. As soon as I watched the trailer, I knew this was right up my alley. I’m a huge fan of roguelites, and was more than happy to give this a try. A few days of playing later, and here I am with my Ship of Fools review for Xbox Series X!

Before I get into what I thought of it, I want to tell you a bit about the game. It’s an indie roguelite with real-time combat, set on a seafaring expedition. You captain your ship as you traverse across tiles, navigating perils in your quest to defend your home from sea monsters. This game can be played co-op or single player, and although I personally played by myself due to not having a player 2 available, I’d strongly recommend trying to find someone else to join you when playing Ship of Fools.

Story

The game starts with you washing up on the shore of the beach, and believe me, it’s a cutscene you’re going to become well-accustomed to. With it being a roguelite, every time you end a run you start back at that very same beach. It will become a mockingly familiar comfort to you. You will meet many kooky characters on your journey, unlocking new ones as you progress through the game. The new faces you meet can join you back home before you start a new run. Some of them may open stalls for you to purchase items and upgrades, whilst others are playable.

The story itself is very basic, and essentially involves a hell of a lot of sea monsters. A deadly storm has been terrorising the nearby waters, and bringing with it all manners of fearsome creatures. The residents are worried, and you (and your player 2) are the only ones foolish enough to go out and face them. Hence the title ‘Ship of Fools‘. Interestingly, the title also comes from a philosophical principle posed by Plato about the idea of a dysfunctional crew trying to run a boat as an allegory for government systems. I don’t mind the lack of intense story-building, as this is much more about the gameplay than anything else.

Ship of Fools Review Xbox Series X, Story

Gameplay

There are three phases of gameplay. The first is right before a new run when you wash up on the beach. You can explore the town to purchase new upgrades or change the character you play as. Then when you’re ready to start your run, you head to your ship and interact with the steering wheel. From there, you enter the second phase of gameplay – map navigation. You choose which tile to move to (more on that later), and once selected, you’ll head to the next phase of gameplay. This is where you play out whichever tile you selected. Most tiles involve combat of some sort, but some offer temporary respite in the form of treasure or a shop.

You’ll then repeat the second and third phases until you either beat the run or die. However, the range of items and encounter types help to keep it fun, and it doesn’t really feel repetitive unless you’ve been playing for several hours. Although I only played solo, I expect it would be a lot more enjoyable alongside another player. This can be done either through couch co-op or online multiplayer. The difficulty level is just too high by yourself. There is an auto-cannon, but it fires much slower than an actual person would. I wish there was a way to lower the difficulty when in solo mode, but sadly there isn’t. I ended up dying a lot, I can tell you that for nothing.

Embarking on an adventure

Combat

Now, typically I prefer turn-based combat in games, purely because I kinda suck at fighting. This was still the case here, but I found that it wasn’t as punishing as some other real-time combat games. The key difference is that the majority of combat is done through cannons, which I find easier to control as I only have to turn them on one axis, (left to right) rather than when I’m moving myself in all different directions trying to fight enemies that are surrounding me.

To load the cannons, you use various types of ammunition. You start with basic cannonballs, but you can accumulate more powerful ammo over the course of your run. My favourites are the different types of bird eggs. For these, you have a bird which sits on the deck of your ship, and lays eggs at intervals. These often do higher damage than the regular ammo, but the downside is that you have to wait for the birds to lay a new set of eggs. To counter this, I liked collecting multiple birds, so I didn’t have to wait and there would always be eggs available from one or the other.

Ship of Fools Review Xbox Series X, Low health during combat

You also have an oar, which rather than using it for rowing, you use it to strike enemies. You can whack them up close if they land on your ship, or if they’re close-by in the water, you may be able to reach them by standing at the edge of the deck. There’s also a charged spin you can do when the enemy throws a projectile. You’ll have a brief warning period where you’ll see an indicator, and then you can time your spin just right to return to sender. I like having these various attacks to help mix things up a bit.

Items

So, as I’ve already mentioned, you can earn new types of ammunition throughout your run, but that’s not all. In fact, the range of items available is the main reason why Ship of Fools is so enjoyable as a roguelite. I can play again and again, with each run feeling unique enough to keep me playing. I will admit it can feel a tad repetitive as the combat style stays the same, but there are subtle differences between runs.

Range of items in the shop

Two very important items are harpoons and planks. Planks are used to repair your ship when an enemy damages it, and are the equivalent to a 1Up mushroom in Mario. You essentially gain an extra life by using a plank, but only if you had already lost at least one life. Sometimes you’ll find chests, items, or money floating in the water, and that’s where harpoons come in handy. But because you have a limited number of them, you have to think carefully about when to use them. I often reserve them for treasure or shields, rather than just a regular pile of money (worth 25).

You can also get special items called trinkets. These offer unique boons that can greatly assist your run, such as upping your damage or increasing ammo capacity. You don’t get to choose which ones you get, so you have to rely on the rng to give you good synergy. This is probably my favourite aspect of the game, as it means you have to think carefully about how to attempt each run. Different trinkets will thrive with different tactics. For example, I usually stick to just the cannons, but I may use my oar more if I have a trinket that improves my damage for it.

Ship of Fools Review Xbox Series X, Finding a treasure chest

Map

The map uses a hex tile layout, something you see in many games these days. I like it as it offers more choices than a square grid tile layout would. Each tile represents a type of encounter, and planning your route ahead of time is the key to success. You might be tempted to head for a fancy trinket, but it could be that by doing so you miss out on several other useful tiles such as treasure chests or planks. I try to pick a route right at the start and then adjust it based on what occurs during the run. Being too rigid in your playstyle here could prove deadly if you take more early damage than anticipated.

I like that there’s a good range of map symbols, and I’d learned most of them by the second or third run. However, I do still wish there was a key for new players so that they could know what they were getting into ahead of time. You can also find merchant tiles on the map, and these allow you to spend your sand dollars (in-game currency) to purchase items to help you with your run. You can also find a guy called Woody who uses lives as currency, but I would strongly recommend avoiding this unless you have spare planks already on your ship to repair the damage.

Hex tile map

At the end of the map is a storm, which grows stronger and stronger throughout your run. It will start to take over tiles, and you may find that your initially intended path becomes blocked. If you sail into the storm, you’ll see a death icon on the tile. This will then trigger the boss battle which leads to the next area. It’s got so many tentacles…

Progression

As with any roguelite, Ship of Fools employs a progression system whereby you can earn items on a run that will make future runs easier to beat. It calculates things such as enemies killed and tiles traversed in order to determine how many points you get. Then your number of points will be used to decide how many tendrils you’re given to spend in the shops on the archipelago.

Ship of Fools Review Xbox Series X, Progression after a run

You can get some really useful upgrades, and earn more options as you discover new shopkeepers whilst on your journeys. Probably my favourite upgrade is Plank Soup, which gives you an extra life. This proved invaluable for me, I’ve gotta say. You can also choose other improvements, depending on your play style. These include extra sand dollars or harpoons when starting a run, or upgrades to make your cannons more powerful.

As you unlock more of these improvements, you’ll find yourself reaching further and further in your runs. You can also change up which character you play as, and take advantage of their unique skills. So you might choose Gill early on, as they allow you to retain harpoons on harpoon hits, but then switch out for someone else when you’ve raised your number of starting harpoons. I think it’s cool that there are all these ways to customise your gameplay. However, it is worth noting that the game is relatively short to beat, only a few hours, and so the progression only lasts so long. You can technically replay it, but it’s not as exciting once you’ve already completed the game.

Unlocking upgrades

Audio and Visuals

I’m a huge fan of this quirky cartoony style, and it reminds me of Lost in Play. It allows the developers to save some of their budget by not having flashy graphics, without it looking bad. I’d much rather have minimalist cartoon assets than have fancier yet poorly detailed graphics like in some games. I think it’s important for indie developers to play to their strengths, and that includes knowing when to tone things down. I’m especially fond of the character design for Todd the frog, he’s so goofy and cute.

I like how there are visual cues when interacting with your environment. One awesome thing is that there are random piles of boxes around that you can smash to find items. But instead of having to smash all of them, you’ll be able to see a box wobble if there’s something inside of it. Similarly, enemies will briefly display an exclamation mark above their head when they’re about to attack. This helps you prioritise and saves you valuable time.

Ship of Fools Review Xbox Series X, Todd the goofy frog

The music is eerie, but in a fun and mysterious way rather than a creepy/ scary way. I think it’s well-composed, although it also doesn’t particularly stand out. It feels just like any other game, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I feel like an overly ambitious soundtrack is often more likely to be a hindrance than a big hit. Playing it safe with the tunes is often the best choice. I’m not a huge fan of some of the sound effects, though. There’s an annoying squelchy footstep noise whenever you walk, and it seems louder than it should be. With so much going on, it just adds to the cacophony of noise.

Verdict

Overall, I feel that Ship of Fools is definitely worth checking out. It captures the genre well, and introduces many fun gameplay and tactical elements. The developers have crafted something well-rounded and enjoyable to play. Despite the simple controls, it can be pretty challenging due to the fast pace of the game, as you often have to deal with several monsters at once. That makes it ideal for players who like to push themselves. And if you’re not confident in your solo ability, you can simply do the multiplayer version instead. Regardless of a few niggles I have with the game, I still would recommend it, and I think it offers decent value.

So, what did you think of this Ship of Fools review for Xbox Series X? Do you agree with my takes, or did you have a different experience? What other roguelites do you enjoy playing? Join the discussion over in our Facebook community! And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter to keep up to date with all things Screen Hype!

Ship of Fools (Xbox Series X)

£12.99
7.8

Verdict

7.8/10

Pros

  • Good range of items and upgrades
  • Simple yet enjoyable graphics
  • Smooth movement and combat controls

Cons

  • Too much vibration, should be reserved just for explosions
  • Sound effects can get a bit annoying
  • Too difficult when playing solo

By Screen Hype

Hi! I'm Melika Jeddi, a content writer and aspiring author. I've created Screen Hype to share my unique brand of entertaining articles with the world, and to create a fun space that everyone can feel a part of :)