IGN Review of Endless Ocean
In Endless Ocean, from Japanese studio Arika, you step into the wetsuit of a deep sea diver out to make a name for himself, but if this all sounds like the premise for a new Jaws movie, well, we're here to forewarn you that there is about as much straight-up action in this oceanic exploration effort as there are sharks at your local mall. You will swim with all sorts of sea life, discover seemingly endless abysses, befriend dolphins, and even come unto ancient underwater ruins, and you'll shoot it all, too, if you so desire – uh, with your camera, that is. We're certain that some players will find little point in traversing the beautiful underwater environments in Endless Ocean, but for those who are fascinated by the aquatic universe, the game will provide a tranquil and ambient escape into the depths below.
Interestingly enough, while Endless Ocean is a wholly originally undertaking on Wii, Arika has been experimenting (obsessing over, really) with underwater-themed videogames for several years in the form of its "Everblue" scuba-diving / simulation titles for the PlayStation 2 platform. Endless Ocean on Wii seems to use these efforts as inspiration, incorporation a similarly complex aquatic world to explore, but ditching the largely first-person experience of the PS2 titles for a third-person presentation that is also heavier on exploration and lighter on any RPG elements. In our experience, the strategy is much improved – and it doesn't hurt that Forever Blue happens to look much better, either.
As seasoned gamers, we're constantly trained to discover the main goal of any title. What is the objective? What is the point? In Endless Ocean, that answer may sometimes prove difficult to come by, which is exactly why it's a refreshing addition to the Wii library. Your primary quest is simply to dive and to explore, and everything beyond that is secondary. You drive a boat around a huge ocean and regularly dive below to interact with fish and observe different underwater terrain. During these moments, Endless Ocean feels less like a game and more like a leisurely oceanic stroll, enabling you to browse through coral formations and pet different fish using the Wii remote with no real purpose except to catalog them. However, as you dive into different locations, you inevitably journey back to your boat where you'll find e-mails in wait, all with new objectives. You might have to photograph a rare fish for an article in a magazine or maybe you'll need to become an underwater guide and escort another diver to a locale. How you choose to go about accepting these requests is completely up to you. The game has a very laid-back, no-hurry feel to it that extends into the scuba-diving portions, which are drowned in ultra-spectacular scenery and moody music.
Endless Ocean sometimes feels like it was developed by two different teams: one very talented group dedicated to the world beneath the water and another (less gifted, let's say) which busied itself with what is essentially an overworld hub: the boat. You can move your created scuba-diver throughout this boat, exploring the deck and interacting with secondary characters, or retiring to the captain's room, where you can pilot the craft to different locales, alter the appearance of your diver (with upgrades), look at your cataloged fish, and save your progress. The presentation of the pilot room is effective, but when it comes time to move your character about the boat, the lack of development care becomes evident. Not only do the above-water graphics lack detail, but character animation is stiff and unconvincing. Furthermore, you actually control your character by pointing and dragging him with the Wii remote, at which point he practically stumbles into whatever direction you've selected.
Dive below, though, and it's another story because Arika has painstakingly created highly beautiful underwater worlds overrun with different exotic fish of all shapes and sizes in addition to jaw-dropping abysses, caves and ruins, and a wide variety of stunning natural rock formations. The locales are complemented by convincing character animation, fish and scuba-divers included, not to mention moody lighting effects (the rays from the sun bleed through the water and filter down onto characters as they swim below; and when exploring at night, your diver's flashlight illuminates the terrain below with a per-pixel-like beam whose brightness depends upon the range of the object it is spotlighting) and one of the best soundtracks in any Wii game to date. Whether you like the slow ballads that accompany the diving bits or not, there's no denying that they are extremely well produced, crystal clear, and perfectly matched to the serene settings. The first time you come upon a whale, which glides slowly through the darkening waters of the deep sea, or make your way into an undiscovered underwater cave, you might just find yourself hooked by the slow-paced, but rewarding nature of the game.
There are a few frustrations to Endless Ocean's presentation of underwater diving, though. The first and most obvious is that in its attempt to make controls accessible, it has also made them slightly clumsy. You need only the Wii remote to do everything in the game; no nunchuk necessary. There are times, however, when the nunchuk's analog stick would be preferable to pointing at the corners of the screen with the Wii remote to make your diver glide through the waters. After a while, this functionality, while forced, becomes second nature, but the option for analog control would have, at the very least, been a worthy inclusion. Also, while you can drive your boat all over a map, once underwater you are restricted to a specific grid on the map. In other words, if you swim too far, you will eventually be redirected backward (the only way to keep going is to resurface, drive your boat to the next point on the map, and then dive below once more), a flaw that breaks the momentum of the otherwise relaxed and free presentation and nature of the game. Finally, while there are many marvels to behold in the waters, a distinct lack of action-oriented control options means that you can generally look, photograph and swim around said marvels, but there's little to do beyond that. (Thankfully, you can seek out and discover hidden treasures, which can be picked up using A + B-trigger) buried across the ocean floor.)
Somewhat surprisingly, Endless Ocean comes standard with Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection compatibility for two-player online cooperative games. We tested the mode thoroughly for the purposes of our review and found it to be a welcomed addition, even without a Wii headset (which is sorely missed). After you exchange friend codes, you can lower the "Wi-Fi Connection Gate" on your boat (represented as a physical gate), at which point you're free to go diving; when your friend joins your, you will be alerted regardless of what you're doing. It's a simple setup process and the two-player online component itself is lag and bug-free, as far as we can tell. You can even communicate 16 different greetings and commands like "Follow me!" or "Wrong," all executed by first tapping up on the D-Pad and then tapping again in any of the four directions. It works, but if you have a cell phone and a Bluetooth headset already, we highly recommend just using that because Endless Ocean is a slow-paced affair and you absolutely will just want to shoot the breeze with a buddy as you explore.
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