In a week where the PS3 got its very own white-knuckle suspense thriller, Nintendo quietly released a game whose mission is very nearly the complete opposite. Endless Ocean: Blue World, a sequel to a game that debuted on the Wii back in early 2008, is about the ocean--ocean exploration, scuba diving, cataloging aquatic life, and, for the most part, being serene.
Here in New York, amid a series of snowstorms and clogged storm drains, a virtual trip to South Pacific and Aegean locales never seemed more appealing.
The original Endless Ocean was more a virtual aquarium visit than a game, focused on lazy swims through surprisingly beautiful undersea ecosystems. Blue World operates the same way, but a number of miniquests and side missions written down in journals offer more structure and tighter chapters of game play. You're basically taking miniature dives in a variety of locales for a few minutes at a time, or as long as your air tanks last.
Though accomplishing mission goals like healing fish or finding treasure are part of the game, it's equally compelling to just slowly paddle around and discover new fish species. Like many recent Wii games, Endless Ocean ditches the nunchuck part of the Wii controller and operates off very simple controls, aiming at the screen for direction and squeezing the Wii remote's trigger button to swim.
The game's characters and soundtrack feel very Japanese, with some of the old-fashioned awkwardness that we either love or hate in old-school RPGs. All the game's aquatic species are real, as are the general locales, so the game also operates as a kind of educational title--although the weird bits of mythological lore that pop up in the unfolding story certainly veer off from fact.
One of the greatest disappointments we felt in Endless Ocean: Blue World was the Wii's lack of advanced HD hardware. Though the fish and environmental effects are still stunning, having them rendered in true HD and with the graphics capable on a 360 or PS3 would have made the dive experience more immersive. Endless Ocean: Blue World also allows co-op play with a friend online, as well as Wii Speak support for in-game chatting, should you be bothered to make it through Nintendo's ponderous friend-adding system.
If you're an aquarium nut, however, you've found your dream game. Until Nintendo's next batch of action-packed mainstream games hits, this might be a Nintendo B-side worth checking out. And it's cheaper than a flight to Aruba--in fact, at only $29, it's cheaper than most console games.
Endless Ocean: Blue World is certainly an improvement over the original; long gone are the jokes about "playing a screensaver." Instead, Blue World does a convincing job of telling a story, placing you in the role of a college student who is on the hunt for an underwater treasure.
If anything, Blue World feels much more like a video game this time around by implementing some basic mechanics, like oxygen limitations, a laser weapon, and a few tools that help you locate valuable items on the ocean floor. There are also many more objective-based missions and a better understanding of how you're progressing throughout the game. Kudos to the Arika development team for creating this sort of pacing, a much improved experience over the original.
Graphically, Endless Ocean: Blue World is certainly an achievement. There are only a handful of Wii games that can compete with the level of detail seen here. Though you'll spend most of your time deep sea diving, there are plenty of distinguishable environments from around the world that are sure to captivate you.
Endless Ocean is definitely an enjoyable underwater exploration title, but players still need to understand that it doesn't conform to most action or adventure games. There is plenty of downtime in Blue World, so if you don't mind soaking in a little scenery, it may be able to provide a rarely seen compelling-yet-relaxing experience.