Nantucket is a whaling management game that I really wanted to love…

I browse the Steam upcoming games list quite often on the lookout for new great indie games, which is precisely what led me to Nantucket. It’s not very often that I see interesting management games on the upcoming list but that was precisely the impression I received from its store page.

My time with Nantucket was enjoyable but it’s pretty rough around the edges. Far too rough considering this is not an early access title. There many frustrating aspects of the experience that deserve mentioning, and while I had fun with the game, I can hardly recommend it as a result of these frustrations – but perhaps that could be salvaged.

Possibly the biggest barrier to entry with Nantucket is it’s price. The presentation in this game is comparable to, and even trumped by, some browser games – and yet it has a $20.49 CAD price tag. At $10 or $15 it may be a different story, but a $20 price tag is going to deter some people.

Speaking of the presentation, Nantucket feels like it’s busting at the seams at times. There were several instances of poorly formatted text, text that is too small, numerous spelling errors, text escaping from boxes, and other blemishes that shouldn’t make it past testing let alone through to the final game.

The game’s presentation, including it’s UI, is simply clunky. Everything is really small for some reason and there aren’t any ways that I could find to increase the UI scale or change DPI settings for hi-res displays. There are a lot of icons in the game to learn but they’re far too small to be easily identifiable, leading to a lot of time spent hovering to view tooltip explanations.

Moreover, tooltips behave strangely in this game. Hovering the mouse over the icon briefly shows a tooltip, but there were many times in which there wasn’t any useful information divulged in that tooltip, and I had to click again to get an expanded one. Coupled with the aforementioned abundance of small icons, a new player will be going through this tooltip cycle a lot. Since the UI is so small, I don’t see why the tooltips couldn’t have received a size upgrade and had all the information on the one enlarged pane. I’m not talking about World of Warcraft or Diablo II levels of tooltip monstrosities, but as it is now, it could stand to be improved.

The graphical elements in the game actually look really nice, they’re simply not integrated into the UI in a pleasing manner a lot of the time. Perhaps my biggest gripe is with the in-port screens that you’ll be dealing with a lot in this game. The art is beautiful, the music is nice, sound effects are great, and the paperboy’s waggling arm is a nice touch. But this screen is driven by menu buttons that don’t make sense. Instead of just clicking on the paperboy to get to the newspaper screen, or the dock to get to the shipwright screen, etc., the game places small circles with icons as the interactable elements. It makes the UI look a bit.. strange, with these floating circles arbitrarily placed around their respective elements.

This is a minor gripe but the newspaper screen looks weirdly positioned, far from centered on screen. It almost looks as though the bottom is cut off. I’m really unsure as to why it’s not just centered on screen.

I think the music in this game is one of its major redeemable qualities, along with the sound effects. The sea shanties in particular are very charming – you can check out an example here. While the shanties and other melodies are very nice – they’re also very minimalist. But I quite like that for a management game. It works.

The game’s tutorial is shamefully spartan. With so many systems at work, new players deserve a bit more of a helping hand. The tutorial just sort of… ends, before it even introduces the skill tree and skills in general.

The game will throw game over screens at you, and I faced a few of them in my short time with Nantucket. But these screens aren’t effective due to the autosaving present when sailing. I ran into an issue where my ship was losing hull integrity and I was stuck somewhere between Africa and South America. When it hit 0% integrity, the game hit me with a pop-up event saying I had to save the ship, which I failed, leading me to a game over. But through autosaves I simply encountered the event over and over until I managed to save the ship, as there was a small percent-based chance to do so. In this case the game over was essentially meaningless.

One of the mechanics driving the moment-to-moment decision making is a random encounter system. These random encounters require a decision to be made, and depending on the skills that the crewmen have, these options are greater in number and more varied. One of your crewmen might fall off the crow’s nest, for instance, requiring a decision to be made about his badly injured broken leg. If you have a sick bay, he will have a much better chance of making it through unmaimed. But alas, I did not have a sick bay or surgeon when this happened to me, and the only feasible decision was to amputate poor Lani’s leg.

As you could probably guess, the random element to these encounters can render the experience quite frustrating at times. Not to mention that I kept running into the same encounters repeatedly, even on one journey. And that was the most frustrating part of all. There was one particular encounter that was the worst culprit; it had to do with one or more of your crewmen drinking more water or eating more food than they normally would be. Let them continue, or stop them – and the consequences were just as droll. I swear I encountered this same event five or six times in the same short journey.

The loading screens are surprisingly long and obtrusive for such a simple game. It always seems to be the worst when leaving a port back to the sailing interface. Perhaps what I am about to say is fallacious, but if World of Warcraft can be as seamless as it is coming from pre-2004 technology, I don’t see why Nantucket requires such lengthy loading screens in 2018, even despite it’s indie roots.

From my experience there was a lack of variation in the mission types, but this could have been due to the fact that I hadn’t progressed far enough into the game to experience the other ones. There were three different types of mission – delivering goods from port to port, finding a new whaling location, or venturing off in search of a lost vessel. There was one really cool quest involving a legendary spear, but when I eventually encountered the ‘boss’ to retrieve the spear, I realized I stood absolutely no chance with my current setup, and had no way of retreating either. But still, it was more interesting than the other missions.

Does it not look strangely askew?

And yet, with all of these negative things being said – I found myself enjoying Nantucket. I was utterly compelled by it’s unique premise and the other redeemable qualities hidden among it’s rough edges. But those edges are edgier than pasting MCR lyrics on your Facebook wall, back when both of those things existed.

The game is set in the 19th century, loosely based around the Moby Dick narrative. It’s a whaling management game – one of those premises that immediately had me interested. You’ll be sailing the seas, hunting whales, exploring legends, and traveling from port to port in pursuit of making a name for yourself as a whaling captain.

The game is difficult, too. I found myself constantly replacing the members of my crew, some because they died to a whale, and others because they had become horrible, maimed, diseased monstrosities after just a few months at sea on my ship. I didn’t think I was Euron Greyjoy levels of twisted, but I suppose Lani’s amputated leg and Cecil’s blind eye might object to that. I was just pressin’ buttons, man.

Nantucket is an enjoyable game, but it’s like a car with big panel gaps, or a guitar with frets that protrude out of the sides of the neck. It feels unfinished – sloppy, even. While I had fun with the game for a few hours, it’s hard to recommend as a result of its shortcomings – especially its price point.

But it’s 2018, and that’s not where the story ends for Nantucket. I’m going to keep up with the development of the game and see if it’s rough edges are eventually dulled and polished, hopefully to a mirror-shine, and update this article accordingly.

I really wanted to love this game – it has so much potential. But potential is just wasted energy. Let’s hope these devs are worth their weight in grog so that they might be able to get Nantucket afloat.

–Lou

 

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