If you’re a fan of roguelikes, especially those that can be played in co-op, you’d be wise to jump into Ship of Fools.
Ship of Fools casts you as a seafaring character setting out on a voyage on a ramshackle boat. Making your way across a map, you’ll fight against a variety of aquatic foes, using cannons to blast them away and a oar-based melee attack should they get too close. It’s combat heavy, of course, and it’s not designed to be a walk in the park: like most good roguelikes, you’ll likely die plenty of times before you make any significant progress. But that’s all part of the fun: each run will hopefully net you a handful of upgrade tokens, which can be used to purchase permanent upgrades.
If you’re playing in single-player, you’ll have access to two cannons: one only you control, and one that auto-fires at enemies. You’ll need it, because it’s easy to get overwhelmed – particularly when your ship is being attacked from both sides. If you’re in co-op, you’ll still only have two cannons: one for each character. Maybe you’ll both want to man your own cannons, or maybe one of you will shoot while the other is on ammo or melee duty. Working together and coming up with a strategy is absolutely key to success in Ship of Fools.
No run is ever wasted, because as we mentioned above, you’ll earn upgrade tokens which can be used to improve your cannons, buy new items, increase your health and more. You’ll likely need to have a decent number of upgrades under your belt before you make any serious progress. You see, there are a number of areas to make your way through, and each one is bookended with a boss fight. These bosses don’t go easy on you, and you’ll need to go in prepared. Success feels sweet – but it’s always hard-earned.
As you progress, you’ll meet new characters along the way who can help you out on your mission. It’s not until you’ve beat the first boss that you meet the blacksmith who can upgrade your cannons and provide you with new ones, for example. It gives the game a nice sense of progression: there’s always something to push forward for, and it never gets stale.
That’s also helped by the fact that, like many roguelikes, the maps you find yourself navigating in Ship of Fools are random. You’ll encounter different combinations of enemies, come across random islands with chests, loot or shops, and have opportunities to earn money, repair your ship and more. Different types of events are marked with unique symbols on the map, and so you can somewhat plan your journey based on what resources would be most useful to you.
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We absolutely adore the art style of Ship of Fools. A hand-drawn animation style, the characters, enemies and environments look absolutely delightful. The colour palette is often muted thanks to the murkiness of being out at sea, but it works to create a cohesive atmosphere that really fits the feel of the game. We’ve been playing on PS5, and it’s silky-smooth too, making it an absolute pleasure to play. Attacks, whether melee or cannon-fired, are responsive and so you know that, if you fail to hit an enemy, you’ve only got yourself to blame.
Ship of Fools is fun to play in single player, but in co-op it absolutely shines. It’s clear it’s been built with co-op in mind, and thankfully you can play locally or online. Either way is a lot of fun, and teamwork is absolutely essential if you want to succeed. Playing with a friend you know well is definitely recommended over a random: you will need to talk to each other to plan a strategy if you want any hope of coming out on top. By yourself, your auto-firing cannon is a lifeline, but you’ll still need to be in multiple places at once, constantly reloading cannons, firing them, melee-attacking enemies and doing what you can to survive. It quickly gets overwhelming, particularly as you progress to tougher levels.
Team 17 has brought us some absolutely fantastic roguelike games in recent years, such as Rogue Heroes and Neon Abyss. It’s also responsible for publishing some excellent co-op titles, including Overcooked! and Moving Out. With Ship of Fools, both genres are combined, mixed together to make an absolutely excellent seafaring adventure that we’ve struggled to put down. This is one we’re going to be dipping into for many months to come.