Ship of Fools review

2023-05-29 by Mike Alexander

  • Reviewed on
    Xbox Series X

  • Platforms

    Nintendo Switch, Playstation 5, Microsoft Windows, Xbox Series X och Series S

  • Developer
    Fika Productions

  • Publisher

The Archipelago.

A cozy cluster of islands inhabited by diverse, thriving fish people, all of which are protected by the blistering brightness of The Great Lighthouse. There’s plenty of food, everyone is happy, and things seem like they will be safe and sound forever.

But then something happens.

The sun is blotted out by black clouds, the once-calm seas that surrounded the Archipelago roil and churn like never before, and monstrous creatures from the briny depths begin to rise to the surface to terrorize anyone sailing through their territory.

This event is known as the Aquapocalypse. No one knows how it started, but it has to be stopped. You’d just have to find a few people dumb enough to set out on the unforgiving waters knowing they might not ever return. You’d need…

A Ship of Fools.

Brought to us by the Quebec-based Fika Productions and the ever-reliable Team17, Ship of Fools is a co-op roguelite set in an intra-apocalypse that is less Mad Max and more Waterworld. Grab your life vest and water wings, because we’re diving into the Xbox version of the game for this review.

Ship of Fools and its post-launch content is being developed by Fika Productions, a young indie studio that appears to only have one other credit to its name: working on the illustrations and animations for CleverPlays' admittedly very stylish co-op espionage game Operation: Tango.

The skill and adeptness with art and illustration that landed them that role is on full display in Ship of Fools, and it’s the game’s presentation that really made me stick around to see and experience more of the game.

You see, I’m not a huge roguelike/roguelite fan. I know I’m in the minority at this point, but these games just don’t tend to land with me for one reason or another. I had some initial problems with Ship of Fools which I’ll get into in a moment, but Fika created a world that I couldn’t help but return to again and again.

The characters are diverse and colorful with interesting designs, The sense of humor is lighthearted but effective, and the world and overall presentation seem to take a cue from the “dark yet endearing” playbook that Cult of the Lamb wrote, which really works in Ship of Fools’ favor.

Waking up from shipwreck after shipwreck to be greeted by a hooded amphibian’s little smile and exuberance to head out for what will undoubtedly be another failure really tickled me and carried me through the endless runs I faced.

But Todd (yes, Todd) isn’t the only character at your disposal.

Surviving the Aquapocalypse

Ship of Fools has a total of ten playable characters, each of which offers a unique personality along with their own “Heirloom Trinket”, an item that grants some kind of bonus. These bonuses can run the gamut from increased damage to extra units of a particular type of ammo depending on the character.

Ten is a good meaty number that offers plenty of variety in playstyles, especially for a game of this type, but you’ll start off with just two: Hink, and the loveable Todd. Other characters can be unlocked by finding them while you’re out on a run or by completing some series of objectives, which can sometimes be convoluted or extremely difficult. The effort is worth it for the most part, as new characters might offer abilities that make the next leg of your journey a little easier, and they will always show up in your town square to further populate the island you call home.

Speaking of the island, it’s very run down and tattered when you first come across it. A sea snail named Clarity (who has a design that I found very reminiscent of Olivia Octavius from Into the Spider-Verse) shows you around and gives you directions occasionally on who you should be looking for next after a tight tutorial and bestowing you with the title of ‘Fool’ and the game’s primary vessel: The Stormstrider.

As you progress and find new characters, they will find their way back to the island and make themselves at home while offering various services that will serve to make each successive run a little easier. It’s a tried-and-true concept, and it is definitely well-implemented here, but I found the general speed at which these new services and upgrades become available to be a little too slow. Your experience might vary with the genre as well as skill in the game itself, and I am by no means a Ship of Fools expert.

Every little advantage you can get in this game counts because the Aquapocalypse definitely does not mess around. I just wish that kind of necessary progress could be achieved a little faster.

In staying true to the genre it belongs to, Ship of Fools is hard. It’s clearly designed for co-op play with another player, but I played it as a lonely sailor, which could also have played a part in my slow progression.

Once you’re out on a run, the game plays like this. You’re presented with a large board full of spaces that might have helpful items, currency, or just more monsters to fight. Some are clearly labeled, and some just have question marks so you’re dealing with luck of the draw on those. You start on the left side of the board, while the Everlasting Storm begins on the right, and expands its influence every set number of turns. I was initially rushing to the right side of the map thinking that was the goal, but the much better way to proceed is to make use of as many helpful tiles on the map as you can before you inevitably have to deal with whatever is lurking inside the storm. Because once you get there, your run is effectively over until you’re well-equipped enough to take it down.

In terms of combat, you’re given four cannon spots, three cargo spots, and two cannons (one of mine was an automatic cannon, likely to make up for the lack of a second player). My experience with the opening hours of the game mostly featured me fumbling with the pick-up, place, and use buttons as I frantically tried to fight back the creatures battering both sides of my boat.

The ‘Y’ button picks up items, equipment, and cargo, while ‘A’ is the more general use/interact button, and ‘X’ is the button you (frantically) press to fire your cannon. This seems simple enough on paper, but when you have various bugs, slugs, and frogs gunning to wreck your ship and ruin all your hard work, and you have to constantly reload two cannons simultaneously, you see just how fast these buttons can get mixed up.

To be clear, this isn’t a point against Ship of Fools. It’s great fun as a single-player experience, and I can see how the co-op mode would inspire the same kind of frantic action Overcooked has with just half the players.

Upgrades make things go a little smoother, but the new challenges and enemies presented in each of the three total biomes really do everything they can to keep you on your toes, especially when you sail into the storm to face a boss fight.

Stay Foolish

That Everlasting Storm I mentioned earlier? Yeah, you’re going to be seeing that a lot. Which, again, is understandable given the genre, but what isn’t understandable is the time each run takes.

Each encounter on the map will take several minutes, and you could potentially visit anywhere from five to ten-plus spaces in a run that you know you’re going to fail unless you happen across some beefy cargo in reward chests. I found it to be a little disheartening even when I was able to pick up a new character or a bunch of currency before being washed back to shore. That could also go back to personal preference, as I found the snappy runs of games like Rogue Legacy and Hades to be more inviting.

The sense of chest-thumping satisfaction you get when you finally manage to tackle a boss after stacks of upgrades and new equipment is fantastic though.

The majority of issues I have with Ship of Fools are a matter of opinion, and I realize that. What I also realize, is that this game is well-crafted, with a ton of care put into just about every facet of its mechanics, presentation, and gameplay. For the small handful of things I didn’t like, there were way more points about the game that I really enjoyed and appreciated, and I think if you have a couch co-op buddy to bark orders and shout obscenities at when they forget to reload your cannon, Ship of Fools would be a ton of fun.


Experiencing the game in its single-player mode can be almost as fun, but I think you really miss out on the game’s intended design by its creators that way. So, if you’re a tough-as-nails roguelike fan or a duo of silly chums ready to take on the horrors of the high seas, then stay foolish, and definitely give Ship of Fools a try.