It’s a gorgeous looking game. There’s no denying that Ship of Fools art style is simply fantastic. But that could be said about a good many games. What matters is whether there is enough of a game underneath to warrant such an appealing aesthetic. Thankfully, as you will learn in this Ship of Fools review, after a few hours of investment you’ll find a game that plays just as well as it looks.
The game begins with a short text-based introduction to the world. Very short. A few sentences, in fact. And then you’re immediately thrown into the game with no instruction whatsoever. The character you’ve chosen – from the two available at the beginning – has attributes such as ‘combo’ or ‘splash damage’, so you can assume there’ll be fighting along the way. However, very little else is obvious.
After a moment of wandering, the aptly named Clarity comes to offer some… clarity. Ship of Fools is a roguelite. However, while it has the same tropes as the genre mainstay – repeated runs, earning upgrades and pushing further into the fight – it plays significantly different to many of its peers.
In Ship of Fools, you’re not often fighting in close quarters. Nor can you be injured directly. Instead, you have mounted cannons on your ship to shoot at enemies, and it’s this vessel that you have to protect. Each time an enemy successfully lands an attack your ship loses a health point. It’s almost like a game-long escort mission. But, thankfully, a good one.
You can repair the damage to your ship by gathering planks. As you progress across a map, you’ll encounter a wide variety of different upgrades and two currencies. The upgrades and coins can be used in each run to gain new temporary advantages. Tentacles collected can be spent on permanent upgrades. These range from health and weapon strength bonuses, to starting each run with additional coins or harpoons to drag more bonuses out of the water.
The player can also find new recruits with differing melee combos, for when you do get boarded. It’s a nice addition but, until progressing further in the game, the choice of character seems to make very little difference. What does make a difference however, is the ability to play in co-op.
Playing with a first mate makes things significantly easier. Solo players will have a slow firing auto cannon to assist them. But adding a second player allows you to divide your attention between directions, sea enemies and those boarding, and in many more ways besides. In single-player, Ship of Fools is an enjoyable game. In co-op, it becomes a hugely engaging, unique roguelite.
With the current trend for indie studios pushing the roguelite genre in new directions near every month, it would have been easy for Ship of Fools to become lost at sea. However, the unique attributes of the gameplay coupled with the co-op gameplay put it out in front. It’s certainly not as aggressive as The Serpent Rogue, nor as deep as Dead Cells. Yet, that in itself makes it the perfect experience to bring a new friend into the roguelite genre for the first time.