The original title didn’t promise much beyond a relaxing, almost hypnotic scuba swim through the ocean depths. The design dropped you in the middle of the open seas and let you go to town discovering an incredible assortment of marine life and underwater locations. Endless Ocean really isn’t a game in the traditional sense. Instead, it’s a Wii title that let you explore and experience at your own pace. Nintendo proved that games without goals can be just as fun as structured experiences — just look at its Animal Crossing franchise as a great example.
Endless Ocean: Blue Ocean is clearly built off the foundation of the original title. In the two years it’s been tightened up with far more tasks than the first game in the series, and at the very least there’s a sense of structure here. You’ll pet whales, train dolphins, ride sea turtles – and Casamassina’s biggest complaint in his review (“You don’t shoot anything”) has been rectified with a universal tool that allows you to safely shoot “sick” targets with a “curing” energy. The game’s even told in a bit of a flashback where you can see your end goal right from the start, and the entire game plays out as the quest that got you there. This new “flashback” structure establishes character and it gives you something to shoot for.
Also strengthening the progression is a “level up” system. An air meter limits the amount of time you can spend underwater in a single shot, but the more you dive the longer you can spend. It’s a nice sense of accomplishment when you earn extra oxygen after a dive.
All the same stuff that you did in Endless Ocean returns: the Pokemon Snap-like photos, the auto-journaling of the sea life when you uncover them, the sense of discovery of finding hidden locations on your map. And when you go online in Endless Ocean: Blue World with a buddy, it’s no longer a quiet experience like it was in the original: it’s one of the very few Nintendo online titles to support the Wii Speak peripheral, so you can actually chat it up with your buddy as you explore the ocean depths together.
What Endless Ocean: Blue World does, it does pretty well. The visuals are spectacular with wonderful 3D models of fish, sea mammals, coral reefs, and both natural and manmade underwater structures. Endless Ocean has a calming environment and presentation and as long as you don’t have inherent Aquaphobia it’s hard not to find yourself get lost among the oceanic locations.
But the controls – a carry over from the original game – are a little too stiff for my liking. It uses Wii pointer functionality to guide your diver in a “behind the flippers” perspective, but there’s a noticeable dead zone in the middle of the screen to prevent players from drifting off-center. Even with the “expert” controls you have to deal with this large neutral zone, so I found myself connecting up a Classic Controller for more defined movements. But since the game is reticule based for pointing at creatures and maneuvering menus, you still have to deal with targeting objects with the other analog stick. Why the designers didn’t support the nunchuk for a hybrid control scheme is baffling to me.
My biggest issue with Endless Ocean: Blue World is the fact that the game just never grabbed me. As good as the game looks and as unique as the game plays, I just don’t think the concept is all that engaging. Fish and diving fanatics will probably have a much more positive experience than I did. This isn’t to say that I think Endless Ocean is a bad game, because I don’t – it’s a well put together Wii-exclusive experience that has a hit-or-miss design. Though it’s a miss for me, I can see why it’s a hit for others.
I totally understand that Endless Ocean has its fans, but I can’t say in the exact same club. I appreciate what the game does and how well the game does it, but the overarching concept just never resonated with me with the same impact it had on other reviewers. Still, for a game that encourages casual exploration and marine appreciation, Endless Ocean’s a nice change of pace.