You'd think being trapped on a cruise ship under the influence of some mysterious malevolent entity would engender a sense of urgency, but Dread Nautical seems content to take it easy. It's all very casual stuff. World's collapsing, sure. Lines between realities are bleeding together. Sanity's starting to look like a scarce resource. But hey, no pressure. No hurry. You'll need to investigate all 20 decks of the ship to get to the bottom of the mystery at play, rescuing survivors, battling nasty monsters and scavenging scrap for character and base upgrades. Typical tactical RPG stuff.
Lengthy loading times don't do much to endear one to Dread Nautical, though they do contribute to its leisurely pace. You pick your initial player character from a selection of fairly generic stereotypes, then get to exploring the various decks of the ghost ship, digging out weapons and items from plainly-marked "searchables" such as chests of drawers. The exploration aspect of Dread Nautical is, not to put too fine a point on it, barely existent. For an RPG, even a tactical one, that's not exactly ideal. You're basically limited to clicking on shelves and hoping that the loot is either new and useful, or a decent replacement for what you're already carrying. Thankfully, the basic act of getting around is pretty effortless – simply point your cursor at the square you want to visit and tap A.
Durability is a constant factor, with weapons and armour having a strictly limited number of uses. There's a degree to which credulity is stretched by just how feeble your offensive implements can be, but it's all ultimately just systems. It can lead to a pleasing sense of tension as you gradually wear down your best weapon bludgeoning it against a Thrall's head. Your initial lack of equipment is exacerbated by a frustratingly limited inventory; having to leave behind almost everything you find isn't so much anxiety-inducing as plain annoying, but it's not a major issue.
When you initiate combat by approaching enemies, things shift to turn-based battles akin to a vastly simplified XCOM. Oddly enough, even Mario + Rabbids has more tactical scope, but Dread Nautical manages to make combat breezy, if unremarkable. For the first several decks you'll find the going so simple that it's almost tiresome, though thankfully most monsters succumb to just a couple of turns' worth of punching, thwacking, shooting and/or stabbing. You know the drill – you have a certain amount of AP (action points), and you've got to balance moving with attacking, using special skills, healing. All the usual sort of things you would expect. It's fitfully fun and engaging, but overall completely unremarkable.
Exploring the decks you'll find new survivors and be able to bring them back to your safe space in the foyer, with the capacity to repair and upgrade your gear, as well as ensure that said survivors are well-fed. Food isn't easy to come by, though, and hungry people aren't helpful people. This adds another little bit of management to the proceedings but it's fairly simplistic to keep the survivors you want in your corner pleasantly on-side and with full bellies.
A major issue is the gameplay not feeling at all smooth, due to lacking performance. The strange thing is, we can't imagine why a game this visually unimpressive seems to run so poorly – characters are bizarre, misshapen puppets who flail like NPCs in an N64 game, and the locations are hardly anything to write home about. The UI is fine and functional and it's perfectly playable, but it's hardly slick. It doesn't feel right, and that's the crux of decent play control.
Performance issues could be (at least, partially) ironed over with likeable, interesting characters and a compelling mystery, but Dread Nautical just doesn't deliver one. It's all rather trite and lacking in atmosphere. Yet despite the generally negative tone of this review, there is fun to be had here. It doesn't seem to do anything new whatsoever, and even Mario + Rabbids (ostensibly a game for children) has more tactical depth to it – nonetheless, it's occasionally fun to nip onto one of the bite-sized decks and wail on some Thralls. We just wish it was a little deeper; this kind of thing is acceptable on Dread Nautical's original home of Apple Arcade, but not on Switch, where the likes of Mutant Year Zero vie for the same audience.