I love games that kill me off at every given opportunity! I mean who wouldn’t want to play an entire game on one set of lives when the difficulty is through the roof, right? No? Yes, there’s clearly something wrong with me but I’m not talking about Soulslikes so we’re fine there. This is the other type of bang-your-head-off-a-wall kind of hard, and we’re firmly back in the roguelike realm. I’m having far too much fun and the title we’re going to be looking at this time is Ship of Fools. I have to say, this game is sailing in a slightly different direction than many others in the genre and I’m not complaining one bit.
Ship of Fools has all the things that a roguelike needs to have to be credible. First off we have a procedurally generated map with something big and scary at the other end. We also have the all-important hub level, (a lighthouse,) where all our NPC friends can congregate and we can chill out in between getting butchered by everything else in the game. Lastly, the rules very much apply in that we have one life per run and the game is blisteringly difficult. So Ship of Fools is very much faithful to the cause but what’s making it different enough to stand it out from the crowd?
Characters are unlockable, this little area should fill up quite nicely.
In Ship of Fools, the battles are more arena-style in nature. You will be taking control of one of a series of unlockable fools, (seriously, they aren’t particularly bright, one of them ends up locked in a crate,) and have to defend your ship from all manner of nasty sea creatures while exploring dangerous waters. You’ll also be grabbing treasure and other materials with which to upgrade your vessel. This is very much easier said than done because this is the biggest load of plate-spinning I’ve probably ever encountered in a roguelike. These games don’t usually have you splitting your brain in a hundred directions to get things done and I have to say I’m really not complaining.
Your map. What’s that at the other end? Well, it’s not friendly.
Different monsters attack in different ways but you’ll find yourself splitting your time between swatting things off your ship’s deck that really want to eat it and stopping other, bigger monsters from taking chunks out of your boat with your cannons. This means making sure they are armed at all times and jumping between aiming and firing them and using your oar as a big bludgeon. It comes to a point sometimes when there’s so much happening on screen at once that you’re tying yourself in knots to ensure you don’t sink. The stress that Ship of Fools creates is absolutely palpable, to the point where I could feel my heart climbing into my throat in a bid to escape. Still not complaining, especially as there’s a mitigating factor here.
This looks suspiciously like far too much is happening at once!
Ship of Fools is very playable, (if absolutely hard as balls,) on your own but is recommended as a two-player game. This is because having another soul aboard your ship really helps with dividing the work and ensuring you don’t die. You can look after any nasties on the deck while your friend plays gunner and does all of the loading and firing. Boats have a crew for a reason and your one here is no exception. Let me stress that playing solo is suicidal but no less fun. Buddying up would be even more of a good time. It’s so easy to lose track of what the enemies are doing in this game that you’re so busy dealing with one problem you don’t notice another. A second set of eyes on board would be massively beneficial.
There are several different shops in this game. All of them are useful and a lot of them require different currencies.
Aside from murdering monsters, you need to keep an eye on what might be floating in the water. You have a certain number of harpoons that you can use to fish tentacles, (used for upgrades,) cash, and treasure chests out of the briny. These useful items aren’t glowingly visible and if you aren’t careful are very easy to miss, especially if they float past while you’re fighting. This adds another thing to think about but it’s all part of the challenge. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and grab an easy reward but this is definitely not the norm. The other thing you need to watch out for is floating planks of wood. If you can grab these you can use them to repair your boat which makes them a very useful commodity.
Those tentacles are very probably attached to something. I’m not going to tell you what but it would very much like to eat you.
Aside from the various resources I’ve just mentioned you’ll find treasure on your travels in terms of storable cargo. You have three usable cargo points on your vessel, to begin with, and these can be used to house everything from spare planks of wood to more useful items that grant various bonuses. You’ll also be able to house different types of ammo for your cannons here, some of which are incredibly useful. Firing anything out of a cannon is going to hurt what it hits, setting your target on fire, (for instance,) is even more useful.
There are plenty of characters to meet on your travels from shop owners to NPCs that will go back and populate the lighthouse. I won’t go into much about these characters but they help further the story and grant you various upgrades amongst other things so are really useful to have around. Speaking of the story, I really can’t do spoilers here because I don’t know either. I’ve got a good few hours in this game now and I still don’t really know what’s going on. This isn’t a complaint, I love games where you collect the plot as you play and this is definitely a direction that’s been taken in Ship of Fools.
Right, I’m done gushing now, what don’t I like? Well, not much really to be honest. The art style is like something out of a 90s cartoon, the sound is fitting and the game plays beautifully. I think my only gripe is that when things are really hectic it’s very easy to misclick at a very important time. For example, you might be loading your cannons and accidentally hit the wrong button and drop your ammo on deck. Equally, I’ve accidentally picked my cannon up instead of jumping into the firing position. The controls, for the most part, are very user-friendly so this isn’t a massive moan and to be honest, I’m not sure whether there’s a way of making this any easier. When slightly wonky controls are your biggest bugbear in a game, (and I mean very slightly,) there isn’t a lot to complain about. The other point of mention is the difficulty but for those of us that like a challenge this is going to be half of the fun and like I said this is mitigated with another player so all good there.
If you like roguelikes I really think you’ll love Ship of Fools. This game is a breath of fresh air for a tried and tested genre and one that’s definitely worth your time. This title is also incredibly addictive. You would be reading this review a hell of a lot sooner but for the fact that I kept jumping back in to check odd bits of information and losing hours to it because I couldn’t put it back down. If you can’t multitask this is not going to be the game for you. This isn’t even a point about the difficulty, we all know these games are absolute nails, it’s just a case of too much happening all at the same time. All in all, I’m a massive fan and I’ll be disappearing back into this game as soon as I’m done here. This is a game where you all absolutely need to get on board.
Worth getting on board!
Look and feel - 9/10
Challenge - 10/10
Replayability - 9/10
Controls - 8/10
Ship of Fools is staying very true to the things that make a roguelike great while having some fun with the genre. This is a game that will be a very worthy addition to the collections of action and rogue fans alike. This is not a game for those of you that can’t multitask and the usual word of warning about difficulty has to be made, Ship of Fools is really hard so if you don’t like very challenging titles, this won’t be one for you.
Hailing from Southport England, Alex started his gaming career in the late 80s on a Commodore 64. Since that time he's either owned or played on virtually every console released. Alex happens to... Read more...