Ship of Fools Review – A Lively but Leaky Vessel

Everybody loves a good mashup and Ship of Fools from Canadian indie developer Fika Productions combines two of today’s most popular indie obsessions, namely roguelites and relationship-fraying couch co-op games like Overcooked and Moving Out (perhaps unsurprisingly, all the games mentioned in the above paragraph are published by Team17).

The concept certainly sounds seaworthy, but of course, two good things don’t always combine to make something better (or even as good). Ship of Fools is a fun nautical romp, or do the rogue-ish elements of Ship of Fools and the party-style coop prove to be mismatched teammates? Grab your pirate hat and some dramamine, it’s time to hit the high seas…

Ship of Fools starts with you (and probably a friend) washing up at the Great Lighthouse. You will soon find out that the Aquapocalypse is causing chaos and darkness in the Archipelago. It’s up to the Fools (an ever-growing band of hapless fishy and froggy creatures you can switch between freely) to battle through the scaly creatures and bosses infesting the seas to relight the Great Lighthouse.

Ship of Fools has a very standard roguelite architecture. The game doesn’t require you to do any actual sailing, you simply choose your path through each sector using a hex-based map. You can expect to find treasure chests, powerful cursed objects and shops, as well as shields to strengthen your hull. There’s a certain strategy to plotting your course, as hexes that promise boards you need to repair your boat, shields, or treasure may seem enticing, but they often come with particularly difficult waves of enemies. Turn-by-turn the map is also overtaken by the Everlasting Storm, which takes you directly to the sector’s boss if you enter it. The timing of when to enter the storm can be crucial in determining the success or failure your run.

When you die (and you’ll die often) it’s back to the Great Lighthouse without any of your collected items or money, although you do get to keep magical tendrils you can use to permanently upgrade your ship and weapons. You’ll also encounter new Fools and various shopkeepers on your voyages who will return to lively up the island the Great Lighthouse sits on.

The action is simple enough when you’re out on your ship, bringing to mind the multiplayer task-management of games like Overcooked. Your ship is always horizontally positioned in the middle of the screen, with waves of enemies coming from your port or starboard. You have two cannons that you can move to mounts, and a melee attack that can be used to deflect projectiles from your ship. Controls take a bit of getting used to – while Ship of Fools may feel a bit like Overcooked, it isn’t as immediately accessible – but they work well enough once you get used to them.

Ship of Fools

A limited number of pedestals are available for your ship to store various ammo types, such as buff-providing and repair items, or different ammo types, for the duration of your current run. Ship of Fools has over 100 items. These range from mundane items like a pirate hook, which increases your damage, to more complex stuff like a chicken that lays explosive egg that you can load into your cannon. Usually, you’ll get these items from treasure chests or stores, but you also have a limited number of harpoons, which can be used to grab important items that sometimes float by. A good run is often built by having the right mix of ammo and items.

Overall, Ship of Fools’ action is just deep enough to be compelling, with enemy waves well-designed to force you and your partner to choose roles. If one person is shooting, it’s often best if the other is deflecting projectiles or perhaps loading cannons and fixing damage. While online play is offered, this is really the type of game that’s at its best when you’re sitting two feet from your teammate (so you can elbow them when they screw up). Ship of Fools can also be played on your own, and as Fika’s co-founder explained in our recent interview, adjustments have been made for loners. You’re given an auto-firing cannon to make up for the lack of a second player and enemy waves are less intense. It works fine, and I had just as much success playing alone as with a partner. But was it as enjoyable? No. This is still a cooperative game.

Ship of Fools

Taken individually, Ship of Fools’ roguelite mechanics and action are solid, if perhaps slightly shallow. Unfortunately, the two sides don’t really complement each other. Ship of Fools is a roguelite that lets players start at the last boss they defeat or takes advantage of shortcuts when they are killed. While many roguelites will send you back to square one every time you die, the best ones like Dead Cells and Hades do a lot to make each run unique and unexpected. Ship of Fools doesn’t. Aside from random items and ammo, it’s always the same small ship, the same enemies, the same bosses. While Ship of Fools’ cartoon visuals have their charm, the devs made the odd choice to give the first sector you’ll play through incessantly an unappealing swamp theme. Your repeated voyages soon become monotonous.

While a more generous approach to progression would likely help Ship of Fools, I suspect it won’t happen. There just isn’t a whole lot of content here — only four sectors in total — so everything needs to be stretched as far as it will go. Ship of Fools never feels like it ventures beyond the shallow end.

This review was done using a PS5 copy of Ship of Fools, provided by Team17.

Ship of Fools

Ship of Fools is a fun couch-co-op game that offers some lively co-op and could be a good way for casual players to learn about roguelites. Unfortunately, a lack of variety and depth eventually poke holes in this boat’s hull. Don’t be afraid to pick up Ship of Fools if you’re just looking for a pleasure cruise with friends, but you shouldn’t expect an epic sea odyssey.

  • A cute cast of characters
  • Sturdy roguelite fundamentals
  • Rowdy fun together
  • Playing solo is good enough
  • Most runs feel the same.
  • A little short on content
  • Solo is not as much fun as co-op

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