You batten down the hatches to overcome the towering waves caused by a tumultuous typhoon in order to escape the Royal Navy galleon chasing you down, all for the promise of plunder and booty at the end of your journey…if you survive! Come on, who wouldn’t want to be a pirate? The quest for loot and riches makes the pirate life a wonderful space for video game shenanigans. From the classic adventure of Sid Meier’s Pirates! to their inclusion in the epic open worlds of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, pirates and the promise of plunder and freedom in the open seas have always had a welcome place in gamers’ hearts. The prospect of a pirate adventure on a portable device is a pairing almost guaranteed to work. Almost. King of Seas is a promising maritime adventure that never hits open water because of performance issues and confusing design decisions.
King of Seas, available on all consoles and PC and reviewed on the Nintendo Switch, puts you in the role of either the son or daughter (your choice!) of the King of Seas, the central figure maintaining peace between merchant and pirate factions. Within minutes of starting the game, your father is murdered, you are accused of treason and left for dead, and you spend your time seeking revenge and regaining your empire. It is a basic premise, but provides an adequate through-line to provide purpose to your questing. The other characters you meet are colorful, if not memorable, and mostly serve to provide exposition or indicate where the next quest might be.
Characters are drawn in a vibrant, exaggerated style, and the wild caricatures are appreciated to help differentiate them. The graphics are clean and simple with a colorful, cartoony style, but the visuals are hampered by some performance issues that plague the game as a whole. The music is surprisingly excellent, but as with other areas of the game, it is impacted by a combination of performance problems and odd design-choices.
King of Seas is a rough game on the Nintendo Switch. The opening animation, a simple video animation providing the game’s backstory, starts the game off with a choppy framerate and the problems only get worse from there. The game stutters and pauses for half-seconds at a time frequently, which can be frustrating trying to navigate around a rock or engaged in battle. Wave “textures,” for lack of a better word, disappear and appear randomly. The radial menu used to trade items in settlements doesn’t always “stick” in one place, making simply buying and selling your inventory a dexterity mini-game by itself at times. Music stops and loops at odd intervals: sometimes the ferocious “battle” music will come on when no enemy ships are nearby, while the rousing “adventure” theme will be playing while an enemy ship attacks out-of-nowhere. It is important to note that there is nothing game-breaking in the performance; it is simply the accumulation of inconveniences that adversely affect but do not ruin the overall experience.
In addition to technical issues, there are a number of unfortunate design choices that undermine the gameplay. King of Seas suffers from incredibly tiny-text in handheld mode, which is unfortunate because there is no voice-acting to add a level of accessibility that might have helped. This is especially disappointing because the game is perfectly suited for dropping in and out and completing missions in short intervals. The camera system is a bit perplexing, as the game offers a fixed camera with the option to zoom-in for more detail. However, zooming-in is pointless from a gameplay perspective because you need a full range of view to see enemies and obstacles around you. The map system is cumbersome and confusing, and you have to actually zoom in each time to see the names of locations. There is no mini-map, and you need to click on the right stick to pull-up the map to make sure you’re heading in the right direction. The map doesn’t auto-update and you actually need to buy maps for the world map to be drawn, but the information is mostly useless and I quickly stopped buying maps and just used the map to make sure I was on the right course to reach the waypoint. The lack of a fast-travel also becomes frustrating quickly, especially if you fall in combat. The game puts you back in a controlled dock and you have to manually travel the seas again to re-attempt a quest, which can take a few minutes if the quest was a bit further away. While some things are explained well, others are not at all, such as damage mechanics and the number of repair kits you really need to have on hand. Talent Points are spent to acquire skills and improve abilities, but if you accidentally hit “A” when looking at one, you are stuck; there is no way to go-back or reassign points. In addition to a performance patch, a quality-of-life patch is desperately needed for King of Seas.
Buried beneath these performance and design issues, there is still an intriguing game that almost fulfills the promise of a handheld pirate adventure. The ship controls are precise and intuitive, and the boat controls with a good sense of weight and momentum. The naval combat is the game’s best feature. It might look silly circling your little ship around another little ship until you get the right angle of attack, but the arcade-action feel and tension of a good naval battle is a thrilling experience. Not only do you get to use cannons, but you can equip magical abilities that give you an extra edge needed to achieve victory. The game cleverly skins traditional gear as ship components, such as a hull for armor, sails for movement, and so on. In typical action-RPG fare, as you defeat enemies and complete quests, you obtain higher-level loot and experience, and you continue to grind your way up the improvement ladder. This is repetitive but standard fare for the genre, but the loot drops themselves are more infrequent due to the more isolated nature of combat, and the navigation in-between combat and quests might make the loot grind a little more noticeable.
Outside of combat, you spend your time sailing your boat around the map hitting “A” to collect things, most of which you trade or bank for later-use at the many settlements across the world map. Players must be mindful of a weather system that impacts combat and navigation. The back-half of the game adds a port conquering mechanic to help keep things interesting and give you tasks to complete, but attacking docks isn’t nearly as satisfying as attacking other ships. Overall, there isn’t much depth to what’s offered, but there is a solid framework that provides decent entertainment for now and the possibility for updated challenges in the future.
King of Seas feels like an early-access version of a game that doesn’t want to admit it’s still in early-access. There’s an interesting game waiting to be played beneath a sea of performance issues and incomplete design choices. When everything works and the design comes together, King of Seas is a delightful pirate romp that briefly holds in its hand the map leading to the treasure of a portable pirate adventure. Unfortunately, the map blows away before the location of the treasure can be found. Developer 3DClouds and publisher Team17 have indicated that there is a roadmap for performance patches, quality of life improvements, and additional content updates. If they deliver on that promise, then King of Seas might get the upwind its sails desperately need. As of now, it is still sitting at the dock, decent enough for a quick tour or visit, but not yet ready for the open seas.
- Excellent ship controls
- Combat is fun
- Great music
- You are the most ferocious boat since Jaws on the NES.
- Many minor performance issues
- Incomplete-feeling design
- Tiny text and no voice-acting is almost as bad as a case of scurvy