Ship of Fools Review
Ship of Fools is a roguelike shipbuilding game from publisher Team 17, whom you may know from other indie titles like Greak – Memories of Azur and Before We Leave. While the story is sparse, Ship of Fools finds the protagonist marooned on an island with a great lighthouse. Before long, they have been recruited to help a stranger fight off a monster headed for the lighthouse.
As a reward for their service, they receive a ship and are tasked with thwarting the Aquapocalypse by traversing the dread seas, discovering mysterious islands, and thwarting fearsome sea creatures. With the treacherous seas having become too fearsome to explore, only fools will seek out adventure, and receive endless bounties for those that reach the end.
I’m on a boat!
Ship of Fools, as we described it, is a roguelike shipbuilder. Think of the interface of Overcooked but with some elements seen in Hades, and you have yourself this unique and fun game. There’s a quick tutorial session that introduces you to the basics, but the loop isn’t too complicated, and each five to ten-minute run can catch you up quickly with the objective of Ship of Fools.
You will brave the dread seas with your trusty ship and attempt to make your way to the end of the world with your wits, permanent upgrades, and a friend. Each gameplay loop will return you to the lighthouse with your base ship, arsenal, and starting sand dollars. To start, you can select between two sailors, each with their own unique trinkets but the same skill sets. As you progress through your journey, you could unlock more sailors with different skills.
As a sailor, you can attack or deflect projectiles with your paddle (melee), move your manual cannon for a ranged attack, roll to quickly move your ship, use harpoons to pick out items in the sea, and repair your ship with planks. While the controls are straightforward and simple, it gets a little bit more complicated once you’re overwhelmed with more enemy units and challenging bosses.
Just like in Hades, once you’ve sunk (died) or completed the entire journey, that’s the only time you can return to the lighthouse. Here, you can plan your progress, whether to improve your ship for the long haul or collect precious tendrils that give you permanent upgrades.
The permutations are endless on how you can build your ship, which adds to the fun of Ship of Fools. With your sand dollars, you can purchase better cargo or trinkets that improve your ammunition, hull strength, and even the drops. You can also sacrifice some of your wood (hull HP) or install cursed cargo for a better temporary upgrade to the next level.
As you progress to a new area, you can collect permanent upgrades to the lighthouse as well as improvements to commerce, allowing you to permanently upgrade your cannons, hull strength, and even sailor trinkets using precious tendrils that you collect during your runs.
Just like many roguelikes prior to this, Ship of Fools is able to provide a balanced experience where you’ll focus on improving your permanent upgrades so you can reach the point where you’ll be switching gears to temporary upgrades to complete entire runs.
Two fools are better than one!
Ship of Fools’ selling point is that it is really built as a co-op game instead of a single-player experience. Playing with a friend makes things more manageable, especially since the difficulty is similar to a single-player experience. This is a bummer for those who choose to play solo, as the experience is pretty difficult if your micromanagement isn’t on point. With two players, one player can provide defensive measures while the other player can focus on DPS.
The single-player experience on Ship of Fools is an endless slog of micromanagement, where you play both offense and defense when necessary. There’s at least a reprieve since there is an auto-cannon mode available, making it more manageable.
That being said, as a soloist, I still had a lot of fun, as learning the momentum of the game prepares you for the more difficult levels ahead. You get to learn the rhythm of loading cannons and switching between offense and defense when necessary. Progression will be slower, but I felt that my efforts were rewarded once I started to hit my stride.
What We Liked:
- Fun roguelike shipbuilding game.
- So many ways to customize your ship.
- The game is made for co-op, bring a friend.
What We Didn’t Like:
- Single-player experience is needlessly challenging.
Verdict: Buy It!
Ship of Fools is a unique roguelike experience that allowed me to have fun with the genre with its addictive seafaring experience as you balance out between building your vessel and getting as far as you can with the world. It’s even more fun with a friend as the progression of the game becomes easier with either couch co-op or an online partner.
While Ship of Fools may be more encouraging of the co-op experience, soloists can still have fun with this game albeit a more challenging experience at a much slower progression. Otherwise, it provides hours of enjoyment as you go through each gameplay loop that’s easy to pick up and enjoy.
*Ship of Fools was reviewed on a PS5 with a review code from the publishers.