Review: Endless Ocean: Blue World

You may think that a game like Endless Ocean: Blue World won’t appeal to you at all. The first Endless Ocean was a glorified diving simulator which led some people to complain that it wasn’t a game at all. I was right there with you guys; I could barely muster up the interest to slip the disc into my Wii. A title centered on diving was so out of my gaming wheelhouse that I thought I’d hate every blue-tinted minute of it. I don’t even like seafood.

I was wrong.

Let me put it in game terms you can understand. Have you ever tried to get all of the achievements in a game? Do you get a special kick out of completing quests in an RPG while collecting crafting materials and leveling up your riding skill all at the same time? Have you ever gotten a kick out of finding something in the sand, and wished it was part of some grand story involving sunken castles and ancient treasure? Do you have a completionist gaming attitude that drives you to purchase every unlockable item and level up everything? Is there a part of you that needs to explore every part of the map? Do you have even a passing interest in marine biology?

If you answered yes to one or more of those questions, then there is more than enough game in EO:BW to keep you occupied for hours more than most titles out there. There’s just so much to do. You can concentrate on the adventure story. You can collect ancient coins. You can design your own private reef. You can take clients diving for specific creatures, or you can take on photo assignments to snap pictures of marinelife for magazines. You can befriend aquatic mammals and teach them tricks. You can curate the three floors of an aquarium in Japan. You can salvage goods from ancient Greek shipwrecks in the Aegean Sea. Through it all, you are rewarded by leveling your skills and given currency which you can spend on more collectibles or better equipment to further advance your diving abilities. Even some of the items you purchase open up quests, stories to be told and even more things to achieve.

But the beauty of EO:BW – strike that, the beauty is the fish and other creatures you encounter, more on that later – the best designed part of the game is that it doesn’t force you to do any of these activities. You are free to progress however you like and the game incentive-ises each of them so that they do not feel worthless. And each system is integrated. I found it satisfying every time I recognized a new species of fish and was rewarded with another ding. That fish was then added to my encyclopedia of marine knowledge back on the base at Nineball Island and I could add it to a tank at the aquarium in Japan.

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The story is about what you’d expect from a Japanese game translated into English. You play a college student on sabbatical to research the “Song of Dragons” and you meet up with a grizzled ex-diver Jean-Eric and his granddaughter Oceana. She has a pendant given to her by her deceased father which may or may not point to the Song Of Dragons and the famous Pacifica Treasure. This story framework has you globe-hopping to different locales to investigate clues, which also allows you to meet up with renowned Japanese scientists and crazy American treasure hunters doing a bad Ali G impression. Yes, the writing is bad, but at least the translators seemed to know it and got in some zingers and inside gamer jokes. The cutscenes don’t feel as interminable as other games, perhaps because there is no voice acting and you can flip through conversations as quickly as you can hit the A button. Overall, the story has a Young Indiana Jones meets the Hawaiian episode of The Brady Bunch feel to it but I felt drawn in despite its hokeyness.

Diving is easy to control. You point your diver in the direction you want him to go and press B. You have an arsenal of tools at your disposal including fish food to attract, well, fish and a multisensor which lets you scan the ocean floor like a metal detector, except that it works for all kinds of materials and gives you feedback on which one the object contains. There’s also a Pulsar gun that alternately heals sick fish and pacifies aggressive predators like tiger sharks or piranha. Encountering these predators are the closest that EO:BW comes to combat. Get close enough to a shark and it will thwap you with its tail, robbing you of air and stunning you briefly. That’s it. Zap most bad fish with the Pulsar and they leave you alone, but predators are often used in the story progression as obstacles, and you usually have to solve a simple puzzle to get around them. There is very little sense of danger in the game, unless you count running out of air.

But that’s ok. It’s refreshing to have a game be more about exploration and discovery than mindlessly killing and wanton destruction. Those pastimes have their place, but so does respecting the abundance of marine life on display in Endless Ocean: Blue World.

Although I do love how the magic hour of sunset looks when you poke your head up and walk around, the Wii definitely shows its inferior graphics rendering ability in EO:BW in most of the above ground sequences. Under the waves, the scenery and wildlife can be breathtakingly beautiful. Little tropical fish and tiny shrimp are neat to see, and first time you glimpse a manta ray or a giant sea turtle is a thrill. I remember discovering a pocket of narwhals under the ice in the Arctic and their horns glimmered like unicorns. When you see a really big animal like a humpback whale, or better yet, a truly ginormous blue whale, it’s hard not to get as excited as you would watching a great marine documentary. Maybe I’m in the wrong line of work.

Eat your heart out Jacques Cousteau and Steve Zissou. There’s a new diver in the water. And his name is GG. *sigh*

Bottom Line: Endless Ocean: Blue World‘s story isn’t original but the game has enough fun things to do underwater to keep you busy for more hours than your average AAA game.

Recommendation: If you like diving, the sea, quests and/or collectibles, grab up EO:BW right away. If not, rent it for a pleasant weekend’s break from more nerve-wracking fare.

Score: [rating=3]

Greg Tito really hates seafood, but loves the beach. Go figure.

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