Switch version tested
Review code provided
“A Sandbox-Adventure-Pirate RPG! Capture islands, sink ships, defend your towns, and discover an exciting world full of adventure!” So says the Nintendo eShop on its Don’t Sink page, and I really couldn’t put it better myself. And full disclosure: the images in this article are also commandeered (hah, pirate puns!) from the eShop page because this Switch game prohibits absolutely all screenshots.
Players begin Don’t Sink as a young, upstart pirate with a small ship and a big attitude. Your goal is…vague. The first quest presented to you is to establish your own pirate colony on a nearby island. To do this, you must sail from island to island, taking on small jobs and earning money. Occasionally you’ll find treasure to loot, but your primary money-making comes from the rather unglamorous task of delivering goods.
With your earnings, you’ll need to buy and then monitor your supplies (such as water, food, cannonballs, and wood planks) so that you can feed your crew, repair your ship, and defend yourself from attackers as you sail between islands. For the sea is a merciless place–not the water itself, which is always calm and perfect for sailing. I’m talking about rival pirates who patrol the ocean looking for ships just like yours, ripe for the picking.
To be perfectly honest, for the first half hour, I hated this game. It gives you absolutely no help whatsoever as far as explaining the mechanics. The first time a ship attacked me, I just pushed a bunch of random buttons to see what took. Nothing really did, and my ship was destroyed. Eventually I did get the hang of things, but only after several frustrating and rather unfair early deaths.
But as it turns out, there is very little strategy involved in Don’t Sink. It’s actually impossible to lose a battle to a ship of equal or lesser size provided you keep your hull repaired, don’t run out of cannonballs, and always fire the first shot. Then ships simply trade blows until your opponent sinks first. And if you run into a larger ship, you can always flee the battle with no consequences.
For a bit of variety, you can try boarding the opponent ships rather than sinking them. In these cases, you’ll battle one-on-one with that ship’s captain. Even though the controls for these duels are needlessly complicated (it involves pressing A and the indicated direction on the D-pad), don’t worry if you don’t get it right away. It’s basically impossible to lose these fights since the other captains seem to be barely trying.
Don’t Sink‘s graphics may be minimalized, but they are still colourful and pleasing. The dialogue is clever and feels very 21st century. Likewise the names of the ships I battled frequently made me laugh (such as “The Tsunderes,” “Throwing Shade,” and “Shut Up Heather”). The sidequests also encourage you to be an honest, honourable pirate, which is a bit confusing considering you’re meant to take over the entire map by force, but I suppose it’s a nice sentiment nevertheless.
After I finally got the hang of things following that brutal first half hour, my captain’s hat was held high, and I was having a pretty good time. The lack of strategy meant that I could tick off sidequests and island conquests in rapid fire succession. Within an hour, I’d finished the supposed main quest of the game of setting up my pirate colony, and from there, I was simply in clean up mode, waiting to be awarded for a job well-done.
But that “congratulations, you’ve won!” moment never arrived. As I neared the four hour mark, I’d pretty much run out of things to do. I’d already completed every sidequest and conquered every island. There were still endless delivery jobs, but as they’re the primary way to make money (yes, somehow more so than being the sole landowner in the whole archipelago), I have a feeling that those continue indefinitely. Once I began seeing repeats of ship names in my sea battles, I concluded that Don’t Sink had given me all it had.
Did I beat the game? Your guess is as good as mine.
Charming, colourful entertainment for two or three hours, but ultimately a shallow experience with little replay value. If only it had an online multiplayer mode…
Beard Score: 5/10
Nintendo Switch Essentials:
Platform: Steam, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 03/01/2019 (Switch)
No. of Players: 1
Category: Adventure, Resource-Management
Developer: Studio Eris
Download link: eShop