Clip your sails and anchor winch, because Sail Forth has been launched without warning on Switch. This relaxing game of exploration drops players into an ocean full of quirky locals and even quirky characters. Those looking for realism in their sailing game will find better options out there, but Sail Forth has an undeniable charm that will draw you in from the start.
Sail Forth begins with Captain Toot waking up on their damaged boat with words of doom transmitted by a glowing light in the sky. Within moments, they’re zipping across the water, recruiting new sailors to their cause, and eventually, building a fleet of ships under their command. Despite a promising opening scene with a world-saving story, this concept was quickly dropped for what became the game’s focus: aimless wandering.
Throughout our time with Sail Forth, it reminded us of someone taking the procedurally generated basics of No Man’s Sky and giving it a slick Wind Waker-eque aesthetic. While there are plenty of pirates to fight wherever you go, the bulk of the game is spent wandering the seas, going from biome to biome to find the Darkness indicated by the talking star in the opening. The oceans are slowly opening up to you, revealing more opportunities to do battle or fulfill the requests of the strange people who live on the randomly generated islands.
Deepblue’s map opens slowly, with areas you need to discover before you can quickly travel to them. Sometimes the characters will tell you about a landmark, which will mark it on your map, but more often than not you’ll discover parts of the map as you explore that will lead you to the next major point on your journey. It’s a little disappointing that the world feels sterile and empty outside of the designated areas, leaving you no choice but to fast-travel between them. It was fun to be able to simply sail from one end of the map to the other, but we felt the game couldn’t have been able to handle the burden of a truly open world.
Movement requires paying attention to the direction of the wind and allowing it to partially direct your path. Trying to sail upwind is technically possible but frustratingly slow, and is a feature, not a bug, of the game. by address, navigation is what you’re recruiting for here and despite the classy visuals, boating on Sail Forth is more realistic than many other games that put you in command. Trying to navigate the shortest path mentality to your next goal will not only slow you down, it will also cause you to miss important moments in the game. When you encounter harsh headwinds, the best option is to trim your sails and change course to see what the next surprise on the seas awaits you.
Speaking of faults, Sail Forth isn’t without its hiccups. Most of them are relatively minor, like the frame rate stutter or your ship spawning high in the air when you move to a new section of the map only to crash into the water a moment later. The worst bug appeared when the Joy-Cons suddenly stopped registering inputs for several seconds, usually at the most annoying moment. While this was rare, it was frustrating to be taken out of comfortable exploration so suddenly.
Although this is not the focus of the game, there are moments when combat is essential in Sail Forth. The Skull Clan pirates and the inevitable sea monster are an occasional obstacle as you research Deadrock’s strange nature that seems to be roiling the seas. There are several weapon loadouts to choose from, with some offering greater range or firepower. Most combat is a slow affair, requiring you to get your ship into the correct position before it can unload its cargo onto your enemies.
Each ship you add to your fleet has different maneuverability and weapon placements, giving you multiple options in how to counter these enemies. Some point forward while others are on the sides of your ship, allowing for a more traditional ship-to-ship combat experience. In addition to cosmetic options like the color and logo that flies on your sails, this is the main way you can customize your fleet. It’s not incredibly deep but adds a much-needed wrinkle to keep Sail Forth from feeling like a single note.
While exploring the oceans, you will come across a colorful cast of characters. Some will offer to join your crew, granting bonuses to stats like ship repair time, attack speed, or sailing speed. It will give you tons of tasks like serving snacks to a struggling chef or giving a box full of angry bees to a random stranger. Our favorite was a sea slug in a human suit that delivers every stereotype of a used car salesman trying to funnel his wares to us, but there are a lot of interesting characters that come to life when you’re sailing through the Deepblue.
There’s fun in the art design, which obviously takes its cues from games like the legend of Zelda shaded line. While none of the characters are particularly distinguished by their designs, they help set the tone and serve as an effective reminder that this game is meant to be approached with a light-hearted mind.
That fun extends to your crew members who appear to warn you of approaching ships and other potential dangers. Much of their dialogue sounds like someone put arcane nautical terms into a random generator and hit play, churning out sentences that don’t quite make sense but still get their point across and add to the sense of whimsy that’s the highlight of Sail Forth.
Although not perfectly put together, and the playful nature of the graphics may not be to everyone’s taste, Sail Forth has more up against it. The cel-shaded visuals bring a lot of charm to a simple yet fun exploration and discovery adventure. The ambient music and sounds draw you into the world, though their work is a bit held back by some technical shortcomings.
Sail Forth isn’t the best open world game for the Switch, but it takes the procedurally generated formula introduced in No Man’s Sky and gives it a more intuitive (and freely) feel. The visuals are relaxing and effective, and almost every character has a lot of charm in the way they are presented. The sailing is surprisingly fun despite a few distracting glitches, and the fleet-building mechanics have just enough depth without feeling overwhelming. A good way to relax if you are happy to go with the wind.
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