Trim the sails and hoist anchor, because Sail Forth has launched without warning on Switch. This relaxing, laid-back exploration game drops players in an ocean filled with strange locals and even stranger characters. Those looking for realism in their sailing game will find better options out there, but Sail Forth has an undeniable charm that will suck you in from the opening.
Sail Forth opens with Captain Toot awakening on their damaged boat with words of doom delivered by a glowing light in the sky. Within moments, they are setting off across the water, recruiting new sailors to their cause and, eventually, building a fleet of ships under their command. Despite the opening cutscene promising a tale of saving the world, that concept is quickly dropped for what becomes the focus of the game: wandering aimlessly.
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 Wind Waker-eque cel-shaded aesthetic. While there are plenty of pirates to fight wherever you go, the bulk of the game is spent wandering the seas, moving from one biome to the next to find the darkness that the talking star referred to in the opening. The oceans slowly open up to you, revealing more opportunities to do battle or to fulfil requests from the odd people who live on the randomly generated islands you find.
The map of the Deepblue opens slowly, with regions needing to be discovered before you can fast-travel to them. Sometimes characters will tell you about a landmark, which will mark it on your map, but more often you’ll discover map fragments as you explore which will lead you to the next key point in your journey. It is a bit disappointing that the world feels so barren and empty outside of the marked regions, leaving you with no choice but to fast travel between them. It would have been interesting to be able to simply sail from one end of the map to the next, but we got the sense that the game wouldn’t have been able to handle the load of a truly open world.
Movement requires paying attention to the direction of the wind and letting it partially guide your path. Trying to sail against the winds is technically possible but frustratingly slow, which is a feature rather than a bug in the game. As per the title, sailing is what you’re enlisting for here and despite the stylised visuals, Sail Forth’s boating is more realistic than many other games that put you at the helm. Trying to sail with a shortest-path mentality to your next objective will not only slow you down but will also cause you to miss out on key moments in the game. When faced with a stiff headwind, the best option is to trim the sails and change course to see what next surprise the seas have waiting for you.
Speaking of bugs, Sail Forth is certainly not free of hiccups. Most are relatively minor, such as the frame rate stuttering or your ship spawning high in the air when you move to a new section of the map only to crash down to the water a moment later. The worst bug popped up when our Joy-Cons suddenly stopped registering inputs for several seconds, usually at the most inconvenient moments. While this was rare, it was frustrating to be taken out of relaxing exploration so suddenly.
While it isn’t the focus of the game, there are moments when combat is necessary in Sail Forth. The Skull Clan pirates and the inevitable sea monster are an obstacle that pops up now and then as you research the nature of the strange Deadrock that seems to be corrupting the seas. There are multiple weapon load-outs to choose from, with some offering increased range or firepower. Most combat is a slow affair, requiring you to get your ship into the right position before you can unload on your foes.
Each ship you add to your fleet has different maneuverability and weapon placements, giving you multiple options in how you take on these enemies. Some point forward while others are on the sides of your ship, allowing for a more conventional ship-to-ship combat experience. Beyond cosmetic choices like the colour and emblem that flies on your sails, this is the main way that you can customise your fleet. It isn’t incredibly deep but it adds a much-needed wrinkle to keep Sail Forth from feeling one-note.
As you explore the oceans, you’ll come across a colourful cast of characters. Some will offer to join your crew, conferring bonuses to stats like ship repair time, attack speed, or sailing speed. Many will give you tasks like delivering snacks to a struggling chef or giving a box full of angry bees to a random stranger. Our favourite was the sea slug in a human suit that offered every stereotype of a used-car salesman as he tried to shift his wares upon us, but there are plenty of interesting characters that pop up as you set sail across the Deepblue.
There is a playfulness to the art design, which obviously takes its cues from games like The Legend of Zelda’s cel-shaded line. While none of the characters particularly stand out with their designs, they help set the tone and act as an effective reminder that this game is meant to be approached with a light-hearted mindset.
That playfulness extends to the members of your crew that pop up to warn you of approaching ships and other potential hazards. Much of their dialogue sounds like someone put vaguely nautical terms into a random generator and hit play, churning out sentences that don’t entirely make sense but still get their point across and add to the sense of whimsy that is this the highlight of Sail Forth.
While it isn’t perfectly put together, and the playful nature of the graphics might not be to everyone’s taste, Sail Forth has more going for it than against it. The cel-shaded visuals give a lot of charm to what is a simple but fun adventure of exploration and discovery. The music and ambient sounds draw you into the world, though their work is slightly undone by some technical shortcomings.
Sail Forth isn’t the best open-world game for the Switch, but it takes the procedurally generated formula presented in No Man’s Sky and gives it a much more approachable (and nautical) feel. The visuals are relaxing and effective, and almost every character has a lot of charm in the way they’re presented. Sailing is surprisingly fun despite some distracting bugs, and the fleet-building mechanics have just enough depth without feeling overwhelming. A good way to unwind if you’re happy to go with the wind.
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