There’s not much in the way of a narrative to Don’t Sink. At the beginning of the game you are invited to create and customise your own character, a new captain of the seas in a Caribbean-style archipelago of islands. With a dinky little ship and a little bit of dosh in your pocket, you set out to conquer this swashbuckling universe. While you are tasked with being pirate-y, you also take part in trade and more ambitiously; own, govern and ameliorate the towns that populate the island group.
What I admire the most about Don’t Sink is that it tries to be everything at once, yet does so in the most palatable way in its short run time. It has action, adventure, management, survival; all bundled in to a 2 hour game. I’m sure that’s surprising for most of you and you’ll no doubt question what kind of depth this has, and, though it’s impressive they crammed this together, you’d have a right to be. It’s a simplistic game, but with a fair amount of heart.
The main task is to build up your funds and constantly increase your standing in the pirating world. In your standard boat, you must travel from island to island and earn money through various methods. Whether it be helping out some islanders with their woes or needs, or even taking part in trading jobs posted at the local store, you’ll find yourself earning decent cash, even early on.
It’s not all plain sailing, though. While traversing the big blue wet thing, you’ll have a few hurdles coming your way. The dastardly pirates that roam around will attack you constantly, usually once per trip between islands, and you’ll either have to defend yourself or run away. As long as you’ve stocked up on crew members and cannonballs, you should be okay. You may need to repair mid-battle and can do so as long as you have enough planks of wood on you. There’s little in the way of strategy, unfortunately. It’s basically pressing the fire button and hoping you outlast your attacker.
If you don’t fancy a cannon battle, you can board the enemy ship and engage in sword duels. I’ll be honest, the system kind of confused me and so, after the first time doing this, I went back to the cannon battles since I was doing so well with them and saw no reason to try again.
If you’re not fighting on the seas, you should be looking to make sure your crew are in tip top condition when it comes to their hunger, thirst and morale. These can be boosted, should they begin to run low, but once again it’s the basics of the basics when it comes to management. You just press a button to make everything okay again, as long as you have stocked up enough on food items, which isn’t really an issue.
You won’t be hard done by when it comes to cash at any point, you’ll almost always have enough to get by, feed your crew and repair your ship. The more you play, the easier it is to accumulate even more cash. You can buy even bigger ships and completely dominate your adversaries. Once I’d gotten to this point, aside from finding those little short cutscenes I’d missed, the game became pretty moot. I’d gone from having the starter ship, completing one very rewarding – albeit, easy – task, and buying the second biggest ship on the market. The game then became cursory. It was fun, and I was still enjoying what it was offering, but its meaning was waning.
The end game is where you’ll start invading all of the other islands by force and calling them your own. This sounds fun, but in practice it’s the most basic aspect of the game, which is saying something considering how simple everything else in the game is. All you need is enough crew members, which the game tells you how many you need, and to press okay. The island will be yours with a few casualties on your side. You can upgrade each town to have a few different buildings and increase the economy, but this is a very weak aspect and barely worth paying too much attention to. This particularly feels like the remnants of the developer’s initial ambition of creating something a bit deeper, but was later abandoned.
Don’t Sink makes no bones about what it has to offer. It doesn’t pretend to be anything that it isn’t. It has very simple mechanics and it knows it. It’s fun for a while and triggering the different cutscenes and situations give nice little surprises but after playing for a couple of hours you do feel like the game has run its course, or perhaps I should say run aground. It’s a little adventure that will keep you occupied for a short amount of time as you conquer the pirating world.
For the audio we have a nice, if limited, soundtrack. The traversal music conveys an epic journey like it should do in a similar style to the sailing music in Zelda: The Wind Waker, but obviously in a more retro way. The island music is a bit on the leisurely side, I didn’t really get as much pirate-y-ness as you’d expect, especially after experiencing the practically perfect Secret of Monkey Island soundtrack. Speaking of which, where are those remasters on Switch?
Visuals & Performance
Visually, the developers have gone for the classic retro look, to the extreme, in some cases. While the environments are fairly well detailed, the characters are pretty much Atari 2600 sprites. Probably a bit too extreme for me, as it does kind of devalue the game, if I’m being shallow. I enjoyed the visuals of the different islands, whether it be the snowy islands in the north east or your standard tropical desert island, I think they look good. The problem is that despite a few weather palette swaps, they’re all basically the same. They all share the same buildings and none of them are unique to each other. By the end of the game, when you’ve conquered everywhere and built everything, every island is just a copy of the others which is a shame.
In terms of value, Don’t Sink is priced at $9.99 in the US, £7.99 in the UK and, if I’m honest, I think that’s a bit on the expensive side. Not by much, but I think a dollar or two cheaper would have been the sweet spot for me. It’s a pleasant enough experience but one that you’ll only play for 2 or 3 hours – at the very most – and never go back to. It’s a simple “one and done” play through which does affect the value for me. I know shorter games have asked for more, but as cute as Don’t Sink is, it’s hardly providing the special experience that other games have.
Ambitious for a small game
Lacks meaningful depth