Post Christmas releases are always a true test for publishers. On the one hand, new consoles bought over the holiday season see people being reasonably interested in anything new arriving. On the other, in the wake of all the pre-holiday hyperbole, games are often held to higher ground than they maybe ought to be. With the Wii, given its two major releases just prior to Xmas were the likes of Metroid Prime 3: Corruption and Super Mario Galaxy, anything hitting the machine over the next few months really has a lot to live up to.
Endless Ocean, is a game that - like so many other Wii games – doesn’t really fit the normal videogaming standard. Here there are no stars to collect, enemies to defeat or high scores to beat. This game is an arcade simulation of scuba diving. It sounds odd, and for its purpose alone is ultimately unique and will take a lot of patience and fortitude to get the most out of. It’s not going to break any visual barriers or deafen you with true 9.1 surround or the like, but it is going to branch the Wii concept of gaming, just that
little bit more, and for those willing to invest the aforementioned patience, will become a rewarding and rich experience.
That isn’t to say it definitely has its own niche though. If you like blowing things up, raiding dungeons or scaling buildings to jump into haystacks, Endless Ocean is going to take some getting used to or just plain may not be for you - it’s a light and happy game with almost no threatening elements at all. In fact about the only way in which you can poorly perform here is to not keep your customers happy on hosted dives. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s start at the beginning.
Endless Ocean begins with you, the main character, arriving at Manauri – a secret tropical paradise in the Paoul Republic. You’ve come here to help out the Manauri Oceanic Research Society by diving locally around the island to study the area’s myriad of marine life. As a diver, and being that Manauri is probably in dire need of some tourist dollars, you’re also asked to take customers on scenic dives where they’ll usually request a particular marine animal they wish, above all other marine animals, to see. Ultimately, even before your first job as dive host, you’re given reign to swim about and look
at the fish around you. This is just like Pokemon Snap, only with free movement and real-life creatures – but the concept is the same: Observation.
You almost never
interact with the environment in Endless Ocean. Instead, you’re really only charged with manoeuvring about the segmented underwater areas available to your current level of expertise to simply look
at what’s about. Eventually you’ll be asked to study particular species, or be told of rare natural occurrences to check out. You can also take pictures which will then be submitted for study (they’re also graded) and can also be kept in a log book for you to go over again at any time.
The game’s structure is fairly free-for-all, despite its slow and simple nature. Your game-hub is your own ship called the Gabbiano, from here you’ll perform all of your dives and will be able to relocate anywhere you wish on the world map. There are also several things you can do on the deck of the Gabbiano (the least exciting of which is to lounge about. You can actually choose to sit in your deck chair and watch the horizon which has no bearing whatsoever on the game, but is included as something to do nonetheless). From your cabin you can check your progress, while your mobile phone is used to hand out missions and performance reports. Performing well usually gives you new equipment which you can switch to at any time, some is purely aesthetic-based, but other equipment will allow you to dive deeper and longer which you’ll need if you want to explore all that Endless Ocean’s not so endless ocean has to offer.
Beyond looking at and researching marine life, you’ll be able to zoom in on areas of the ocean floor to look for treasures (or see smaller animals you couldn’t before). These can be as mundane as an old photo frame or as cool a shark tooth necklace, among many more examples. On your ship’s deck you’ll find a treasure box where any such items are stored once recovered from the depths, and the further you get into the game, the more you’ll find. This is the game’s secondary most form of interaction, with the first being with the actual marine life you’ll be swimming amongst most of the time.
Controlling your diver through the ocean couldn’t be more simple and intuitive, and it’s in this area the game shines most. You wouldn’t think it, but simply swimming about the ocean’s depths is wonderfully invigorating with the Wii Remote and it’s a simple matter of holding down the B-button and tilting the controller in the direction you wish to swim. If you see an animal you want to interact with, you just stop swimming and point the Wii Remote at it then press A. Once this is done you’ll remain focused on the creature and have a handful of commands at your disposal such as touching, feeding and more. The more you do this, the more the creature will be likely to give up its details (name, characteristics, etc). This becomes one of the game’s main goals – to identify the some 214 different species found within the game-world. It’s actually a daunting task though as the actual swimming environment is incredibly vast with countless nooks and crannies just waiting to be explored. Moreover, some species will only appear when conditions or timing is right, making this a game of patience.
While the overall concept is interesting, the biggest let-down for Endless Ocean is its visual presentation. At times the game does look beautiful, but it’s just another Wii game that screams a need to be presented in HD, especially when looking at some of the reef life up close. Above water, out on deck, the game is barely passable in the graphics department. Animations are robotic and devoid of life which is shame because you actually do spend a bit of time on the Gabbiano.
It’s difficult to rate this as a gaming
experience. Endless Ocean is unique and different and for people interested in something a little slower in pace without too much need for thought, this is definitely worth checking out. I often found myself caught up in the exploration of the sea bed and even obsessing over uncovering as many different types of marine life as possible. I was also pleasantly surprised to notice just how much the environments do change (at one point I was aimlessly swimming in an area I had spent a fair bit of time in only to find a massive humpback whale encroaching), which adds to the idea of playing to get the most out of the oceanic setting. The lack of anything substantial to do, however, does let the game down as well as seemingly arbitrary exercises such as guiding customers on dives just so they can see one particular species of fish. Casual Wii owners would do well to have a look at this, hardcore action and puzzle junkies, however, would probably turn their nose up. Still, good on Nintendo for yet again trying something different.