Castaways starts off well, but it’s marooned on a clump of repetitive gameplay with few variations
The problem with Castaways is probably also its strength. Long stretches go by where you merely wait, your progress stymied by your stamina bar as the minutes inch pass like ants across the sand. The scenery rarely changes, and when it does it bears a strong similarity to what you’ve already seen. You hunt, you scavenge for food, you look for scraps for shelter, and then you get back up in the morning and do it all again. It’s probably quite similar to the life of a real castaway.
But that’s not necessarily a good thing. For one, missions borrow heavily from the dependable but dated Mafia Wars-style text formula, and the descriptions never get more complex than “Explore the jungle” or “Catch small animals.” Small icons take the place of more impressive visuals, and even your makeshift shelter gets only a tiny image to the left of your mission bar after your build it. And since each mission costs a hefty chunk of your limited stamina and it takes five minutes to renew one point of stamina, it’s possible for days to go by before you venture anywhere past the beach.
Exploration technically lies at the heart of Castaways, complete with a map that clears as you undertake more missions and head ever farther into “the mysterious island.” And judging from the map and its descriptions of “unsettling noises” in the fog, plenty of surprises lie in store for players who see the game through to the end (to the point that we found ourselves wondering how much Castaways owes to the television showLost), and the game’s description even hint at the possibility of rescue. As you progress, you learn new skills, such as how to sharpen sticks for spears, and a few rare journal entries provide some much needed immersion.
But is it worth it? As it stands, the sole strategy in Castaways is keeping your health and energy bars filled with food that you acquire through hunting or gathering missions. Draining your health bar by not eating results in draining your energy bar, which increases the time it takes to perform survival tasks. Additional related challenges arise from keeping your food spoiling by cooking it—but, again, this simply involves clicking on text-based missions once you have the requisite materials. All of this takes a ridiculous amount of time thanks to the stamina limit, and it’s tempting to start marking the hours that go by until your next action on the nearest rock.
There are social options in Castaways, but they’re limited to seeing your friends’ basic statistics and writing them messages. Considering that you’re marooned on a desert island, this makes sense. Castaways‘ social options also let you get one type of award per week depending on how many friends you have playing the game (for instance, refilling your stamina once per week takes 10 friends), which may go a long way toward improving the ridiculous lengths of time it takes to do anything.
Still, if it weren’t for its severe demands on time, Castaways could be an decent game even in the face of its over reliance on text-based missions and its comparative graphical deficiency. We discovered no bugs, and it’s possible some unexpected surprises await further inland. But Castaways looks much the same at level seven as it does at level one. The text-based missions beg for meatier flavor and the lack of variation leaves you less than satisfied after a few levels. Castaways might be a winner if it’s all you had with you on a desert island, but there are much better experiences to pursue elsewhere.