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Ship of Fools is the latest game from developer Fika Games and published by Team17. Ship of Fools is Quebec-based developer Fika Games’ first release. Anyone familiar with Team 17 games already knows their reputation for fun, arcade-styled, co-op games like Overcooked, Worms, and Moving Out. Ship of Fools fits in alongside these games as the next addition of games that are enjoyable when played solo, but truly shine when played with others.
Ship of Fools is a traditional roguelite game. During my review time I found that individual runs took about an hour to go through, which is right in the sweet-spot for length in a roguelite game. Too short and it feels like all you do is play the first level over and over, too long and it feels like you’re being punished for having to restart your run after having dedicated so much time to it. This next comment about Ship of Fools isn’t meant to be negative, it’s definitely an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” statement.
If you’ve played any sort of roguelite with permanent unlocks (Hades, Rogue Legacy, Enter the Gungeon, Neon Abyss, etc.) then Ship of Fools doesn’t have anything new to offer to the formula. Your character washes up on the beach of the Great Lighthouse, which will act as your base or the hub for all of your adventures. At the lighthouse you’ll have your standard assortment of vendors: there’s a witch that upgrades your boat and starting equipment, a weaponsmith to upgrade the cannons, and a dealer that will unlock more trinkets and upgrades. You start the game with only the ship upgrade vendor unlocked, but the others are easily found during your expeditions. Unlocking upgrades uses a separate currency that you collect from the map or from killing bosses.
The gameplay loop consists of picking your character, picking your cannon, and then setting sail. Navigation is done on a grid-based map where you can choose your path through various zones with treasures, resources, shops, and beastly encounters. On the other side of the map is the encroaching darkness, and every three turns more zones are turned into darkness and will remove the rewards available. This requires some planning and thought to be taken into your navigation since you will never be able to collect all of the rewards from a level. Moving your ship to one of the blacked-out squares will start the zone’s boss battle. The game is all about planning and trying to set yourself up for the boss fight.
Your ship begins with three cargo positions (upgradable to more), and one will always have to be for an ammo dispenser to load the cannons while the others can be used for ship power-ups or to store consumables for later. Items like wood can be saved to repair your ship, and shields can be saved for when you need armor to protect your ship’s hit points. The game features over 100 trinkets and relics to power-up your character’s and the ship’s abilities. Trinkets are equipped on your character, but the ship upgrades need to be placed in the previously mentioned cargo slots. These upgrades can have a variety of effects, like adding elemental effects to attacks, allowing cannons to hold more ammo, and increasing the range of your attacks, to name a few.
Combat in Ship of Fools is where the game really shines. The majority of combat is performed using the ship’s cannons, but each character also has a melee attack, so they can bonk baddies that get on the ship or ones that have moved into close range. The cannons themselves are portable, and each player can move them to wherever they are needed. The coolest part about the cannons is that they can be loaded with anything, and each different item will give a different effect. Loading coins into your cannons, for example, will earn you gold each time you hit an enemy. In addition to the regular cannon shots, you can find different ammo types that can be loaded. Each cannon is loaded independently, so you can create combos that will amplify the damage against certain enemies. Harpoons are a limited resource that can be fired from the cannons, as well. Harpoons can do damage to enemies, but their real value comes from their ability to collect items and resources that are floating in the water, either when an enemy drops something or when, sometimes, they can even just be floating by the ship.
The enemies are quite varied; in the first level alone there’s about six different enemy types in addition to the boss, and these range from little spikey slimes, spider-mechs, and flies that spew out more flies. Every zone after the first brings another whole collection of enemies. It’s refreshing to see a game that has unique enemies and doesn’t just reskin or recolor enemies from level to level. Each boss is a beautifully crafted encounter and is a balance of frantic chaos and thoughtful tactics. Bosses all have multiple forms and varying attacks. The difficulty of the bosses make them all feel very balanced and fair, but if you get lazy and lose focus, even the beginning bosses can sink you.
The fools that you can play as have so much character and, like the enemies, are all very unique. Each character starts with a different trinket which can help shape your run. In the beginning I found myself leaning towards Shelbie and his increased cannon damage, shot speed, and fire rate bonus. The game starts off with two characters available, but others can be found throughout the stages and in some of the special event rooms, so your choices will be plentiful in a very short time. All of the graphics in the game are hand-drawn, and the attention to detail is very apparent. As previously mentioned, each character and enemy has a unique feel and personality, and each zone has a unique style with enemies that fit the themes perfectly.
One issue that I tend to have with roguelites, and especially games that have permanent upgrades, is that the beginning levels tend to get too easy and feel more tedious, but skipping too fast can handicap your run. I found this to be less of a problem in Ship of Fools, and, to me, this indicates a game that is very well balanced from start to finish. The navigation of the game really helps with this. Also, you can pick a few upgrades to gather, and then you can rush to the boss fight.
For anybody that played Team 17’s Overcooked, one of the biggest downsides to that amazing game was how difficult it was to play solo. Ship of Fools, however, has taken a game and made the solo and two-player co-op experiences absolutely incredible. In solo-mode the second cannon auto-fires, so you aren’t handicapped by only having one cannon. It is more work, for sure, but I never felt like anything was unfair or impossible as a solo player. I tried out local co-op a few times, and an already amazing game is made into something far better. The pure fun of coordinating attacks or splitting to both sides usually results in hilarious communication and stuff being randomly loaded into cannons.
Ship of Fools is truly fun. It is an incredible debut for the team at Fika Games, and if this is their first contribution to the gaming world, I will be anxiously awaiting their next entry. Ship of Fools will also be a perfect target for expansion packs or DLC in the future. With the game releasing across all platforms and Steam, it’s set up to have a solid reception. Whether you play solo and enjoy a solid roguelite, or you have a friend to sail the seas with, you would be a fool to let this game pass you by.