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Shipwreck (Xbox 360) artwork

Shipwreck (Xbox 360) review

"A passable diversion, but not much more."

Early in 2014, The Legend of Zelda came to the XBox 360. Actually, that's not exactly how things went… but indie title Shipwreck was so obviously inspired by the early age of Zelda games that it might easily be considered some sort of half-cousin to Nintendo's franchise.

As with many indie games I've played, this is a generally solid effort and a decent attempt to replicate the experience of the earlier entries of a classic game series. Or, to be less charitable, it costs only $1 and most players will probably feel they got roughly that much entertainment from it. By the standards of "it's super-cheap," this game works. By the more exacting standards of "it's a video game," it's a passable rainy day diversion but not much more. I bought it, played through it, and then deleted it from my hard drive because I couldn't imagine myself taking the time to play it again.

Look at the entire series of Zelda games and you'll likely conclude that Shipwreck owes the most to Link's Awakening. Your protagonist winds up shipwrecked on an island that's regularly beset by severe storms. After running through a brief tutorial dungeon, you'll be asked to gather four seals and unlock a haunted lighthouse, which grants you access to a final confrontation with the evil being causing the local calamities. Then you can save the day and depart the island.

That early-game tutorial dungeon is very simple, and it nicely demonstrates the solid job the game does of paying homage to Zelda, from the top-down perspective to the way the world operates as a large collection of rectangular rooms arranged into various maze-like structures. You kill baddies, snag keys from chests to unlock doors, find hearts to increase your life meter, and fight bosses to advance. None of it feels original, but this is the good sort of "familiar" where you appreciate what you're experiencing because it reminds you of the olden days when a new Zelda title was less a game and more an invitation to a magical world loaded with mysteries (without all of the busywork and padding that modern installments have inflicted upon gamers).

After you reach the end of that simple maze and beat an even simpler octopus boss, you'll gain access to a much larger slice of the game's world, which contains a town and an incredible amount of wildly-varying locales for such a small space. To the east, a large forest borders a small mountain range, while to the west a desert and swamp rub up against each other. You'll talk to the town's mayor to gain access to these places, and then search the dungeons they contain so you can find the seals.

By the time I finished Shipwreck, I had noticed two big flaws that prevented it from serving as more than a simple diversion. The first of those flaws is the sparsely populated overworld. Other than the townspeople in the village and a couple who run a more distant training facility, there are no forms of life with which to interact. Instead of fighting your way from dungeon to dungeon, you simply traverse one barren screen after another until you reach a dungeon. There are no monsters and no well-hidden secrets. That might be good for speed runs, but it doesn't make for an interesting world.

As for those dungeons, they're the sort of thing you'd expect from a Zelda clone, with the exception that you often find the key items necessary to clear them even before you even set foot in them. For example, after finding the first two seals, you'll be ordered to visit that training facility and complete a course to win the crossbow that will allow you to collect the remaining seals. Upon arriving in a dungeon, you'll just have to make it to the boss, while possibly taking optional detours to collect treasure, including extra hearts for your life meter.

The problem is that if you compare this experience to the one offered in a retro Zelda, the difficulty gets stuck at around the level you'd expect from a second or third dungeon. I found all of the labyrinths here to be fairly easy. The only death I suffered the entire time came when I was battling the mountain dungeon's boss. That defeat had more to do with me being too lazy to utilize proper "use shield to block attacks and then strike back" tactics than it did any actual threat my foe posed.

As for the mazes, they're simple enough that I only ever found myself stumped when I was working through the final dungeon. That was brief, though, and lasted until I realized I had to intentionally fall into pits--losing half a heart in the process--in order to advance. Otherwise, you're mainly just running around and searching for switches to open doors to new rooms. Monsters, which rarely consist of more than bog-standard slimes and bats, also don't seem to respawn. Maybe they will if you leave a dungeon for some reason and return, but switching floors or even dying doesn't cause them to replenish. That turns backtracking into pure tedium.

Also, after you acquire the crossbow and sufficient ammo, any foes you come across that might otherwise be difficult (such as bosses) suddenly grow much easier because you can assault them from a safe distance. The final boss could have broken that pattern, since it moves around way too quickly for the player to get a proper bead on it with any regularity, but its attacks cause so little damage that I never felt like I was in any real trouble while fighting it.

Don't get me wrong, though; while this game is kind of disappointing compared to Zelda, it is at least a decent homage to that series. At times, I even noticed some good ideas that could be placed in my "Man, why didn't Nintendo think of that?" file. You know how in Zelda games, when you pick up small hearts by defeating monsters or slashing grass or whatever, they are automatically applied whether you need a pick-me-up or not? That's not the case here. You can store those little health replenishment trinkets for when you actually need them. It was nice of the developer to give players a little more control over things than they would naturally expect.

I suppose I could leverage similar complaints toward a good number of indie titles, ultimately. I've played a few very good ones that even introduce new elements to old genres, but a lot of them exist almost purely to appeal to your nostalgia. So it goes with Shipwreck, which is neither a particularly original nor even great Zelda clone. It does at least provide a few hours of mild entertainment for only $1, though, and that alone places it firmly above the average "date simulator" or "zombie slaughter-fest" that seemingly provides 90% of Xbox's indie store offerings...


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (January 13, 2015)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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