There’s something about sailing the high seas, raiding ships and just living that good old pirates life that is somewhat appealing to the video game world. Black Flag, and the more recent Sea of Thieves show that this can not only be appealing, but done really well. While being a far more low-key release, King of Seas is another pirating adventure, but unlike the aforementioned titles, it doesn’t quite come together.
Initially my start with King of Seas was somewhat ropey. I’m a “Bed Time Switch Gamer”. There’s nothing I like more than to lay in bed and play half an hour of something before falling asleep. I was hoping this would fall into that category, pillage a few enemy ships before bed, or complete a quest etc. Sadly this all came to an end when I saw the size and font used for the text. Now, I don’t exactly have the best vision (I wear glasses), but I’ve still been able to play most games in handheld mode with zero issues. King of Seas was borderline unplayable for me without having the Switch stupidly close to my face. Even on my 49″ TV there were some moments where I had to really concentrate on certain parts of the screen to understand what the awful italic font was saying to me. I was not a good first impression. And I was expecting the sometimes jittery framerate and pop-in of certain wave effects to be reduced in docked mode, sadly this was not the case.
Thankfully there were some good moments that followed. After an initial story prelude that see’s your characteer (either a boy or girl depending on your choice) end up turning to piracy after being accused of murder, you’re left to mess around with your ship. Controlling it is very simple, by pressing the left and right bumpers you can control how many sails you have activated which in turn controls the speed. Then there are the two triggers that shoot cannons depending on which side you want to fire them. There are also special abilities that you obtain that can give you an advantage in the ship to ship battles. These are played out exactly as you’d expect. You need to get into a good position before firing, hopefully hitting, which then pops up a damage number. Rinse and repeat. Ships have different “Levels” and normally you can hang with ships that are a few levels higher than yours. That said though, I was playing on the easiest difficulty as for some reason that’s what the game picks for your as a default. And my rule for reviewing is, always pick the difficulty the designers recommend.
Unfortunately, my good time with King of Seas only lasted a couple of hours before frustrations set in. Firstly, the game is played from an isometric perspective, and this sort of camera viewpoint doesn’t lend itself well to some of the main quests and side missions you’re given. Early on a couple of the quests require you to destroy a set number of ships. This is easy you may think, until you actually have to find them. Now, I’m no pirate, but I have consumed a fair bit of media related to them and I’m pretty sure most, if not all, have some sort of telescopic device. Here though you can only see in your isometric camera view, so due to the procedural nature of the game (ships just randomly sail the open seas) you’re left just randomly wandering until you hope to find a ship you need to destroy. Made even more annoying when said ships are faster than you so unless you’re coming at each other close to head on, then you may as well look for another one elsewhere. It made what felt like it should’ve been a ten minute quest into half an hour.
Sadly the game is made up of these little frustrations that soon add up, which is a shame because there’s a surprising amount of content here. There are side quests, a ton of ways to upgrade your ship, a good nunber of settlements to interact with and it just feels good to sail around and doing pirate stuff. Something which I was grateful for because a couple of hours into the game and you’re practically forced to grind for gold so you can complete the next story mission. It does feel like the developers knew the main story wasn’t all that so decided to use this story beat to artificially extend the games length.
King of Sea’s does have a nice look to it (aside from the BBC kid’s cartoon character drawings, though that may be a personal preference) and the music when it plays is suitably pirate-y. The mechanics are all here and work extremely well, they’re just begging for a better game.