It's kind of like Lost, but without a mysterious smoke monster or evil number sequences...
Stranded is a great embodiment of what I love about mobile gaming. The entire experience doesn't overstay its welcome, but neither is it too brief. The gameplay remains simplistic and accessible, but is designed in such a way that you still feel like you're accomplishing something as you advance the plot. The premise isn't the most original in the world, but its one that's still plenty ripe for videogame exploitation.
As the name implies, Stranded opens with our protagonist and a few shipmates washing up on a (seemingly) deserted island. The beginning tasks (as doled out to you by these characters) are intelligently designed - they make sense in a logical way and fit into the narrative, but they also have purpose from a game design perspective.
Your first goal is to collect enough driftwood to get a fire going, for example. This makes sense in the context of the game, but it's also a great "excuse" to get the player out and exploring the island. But only the safe areas - the more dangerous, forested sections remain off limits at first. After gathering the driftwood you'll be introduced to fishing, and suddenly your newfound knowledge of the beach area is put to good use. Tasks build on previous knowledge of the island and of gameplay mechanics and run parallel to the building of the storyline, as it increases the tension. It all works great.
The plot itself isn't super deep, but it's still commendable for featuring genuine twists and turns. Characters will be poisoned. The deserted island will turn out to not be so deserted after all, and the climax features one final, neat surprise. I can't say that I developed any kind of real attachment to the characters, but it's still nice to experience a mobile adventure that isn't afraid to venture down a road less traveled.
The gameplay itself is slightly more predictable, unfortunately. Most actions in the game are context-sensitive, which keeps things accessible, but it also keeps them a little mindless. Walking up to a tree and hitting the center button chops it down with your ax after a few swings. When standing over patches of dirt, the same button digs for bait or plants seeds. When facing an animal like a chicken or wild boar, it fires your bow. And so on.
The "gameplay" in Stranded is focused much more on the adventure than in the details, however, so most actions practically being completed for you doesn't detract much from the experience. I didn't focus much on the fact that it was pretty much impossible to not succeed at whatever I was attempting - I was just having a good time exploring hidden caves and hunting boars to get enough meat to cook. The scenario is what brings the fun, basically - not the mechanics.
Adventure games have been, for whatever reason, under-represented in the mobile medium. All kinds of genres have been successful that wouldn't initially seem like great mobile fits (Gameloft's Splinter Cell and Rainbow Six titles come to mind), so hopefully Stranded turning out so well will lead to more developers taking a chance on a mobile adventure.
What's Hot: Great Premise; intriguing storyline; underexplored mobile genre
What's Not: Core gameplay mechanics could use some more depth