Endless Ocean

Scuba diving isn’t necessarily stupid subject matter for a video game. Well, maybe it is for a video game, but in this day and age of Nintendogs and Animal Crossing, it seems that there is plenty of room for interactive experiences. Endless Ocean is one such experience.

It appears that someone somewhere saw Arika’s Everblue series and decided that a refined version would be a good fit for the target demographic of the Wii. You know: those little old ladies with arthritis who sing the praises of Wii Sports on TV. Endless Ocean aims to be a relaxed, enjoyable exploration of the deep blue that anyone can enjoy. The game even eschews the nunchuk controller in favour of a streamlined control system.

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Endless Ocean casts you as a marine correspondent exploring the fictional Manaurai Sea in search of wildlife and treasure. The game is non-linear and allows players to explore at their leisure. There are very few game-related elements – for example, there is token lip service to a narrative – and a large amount of a player’s enjoyment comes from merely exploring the virtual environment. The problem is that even if Endless Ocean is an accessible and relaxed adventure, it’s also dull.

The first thing that strikes you about Endless Ocean is the presentation. It’s awful right from the word go, from the front-end menus to sound effects. Take, for example, the graphics. They are terrible, even for the graphically anaemic Wii. Animations are stiff and wooden, textures are bland and lack detail, and aliasing is ludicrously salient.

Graphics might not make a game, but they are definitely important – even more so in an interactive experience. Given that a large majority of the game takes place in water, it’s practically inexcusable that the water effects are substandard even when compared to first-generation GameCube games.

Additionally, while exploring the ocean floor has the potential to provide a variety of vistas, the lacklustre graphics coupled with a lack of imagination means that exploring Manaurai Sea soon becomes repetitive and tedious.

The second thing that strikes you, especially as a New Zealander, is that the soundtrack features a ridiculous amount of Hayley Westenra. Although her warbling might seem like a good fit for a relaxing game, by the time you are pounded by Pokarekare Ana for the thousandth time you are likely to wonder why they didn’t just go the full nine yards and torture you with Enya. Fortunately, Endless Ocean is the second game to offer custom soundtracks, so you don’t need to suffer needlessly.

Once the initial shock of the presentation wears off, the grim reality of the gameplay, or lack of it, becomes even more lucid. While the list of activities offered in Endless Ocean might sound impressive on paper – exploring the sea, training dolphins, filling aquariums with fish – the reality is that none of these activities are particularly fun for more than five minutes.

The core gameplay basically revolves around exploring the sea at your own pace. However, it quickly becomes apparent that this means that you will constantly stare into the blue darkness, occasionally patting and prodding fish while listening to the obnoxious breathing that makes it sound like Darth Vader is stalking you. Endless Ocean certainly has its moments, such as the time you encounter your first whale, but these moments are few and far between.

In terms of realism, the game is (and this is an assumption) pretty accurate. The game offers a comprehensive list of the wildlife – although it’s beyond ridiculous that you have to pet fish to discover their names, even more so after times when you’ve just been told what they’re called – and the game could almost serve as an educational tool. However, such a statement only reinforces how dull the game actually is. Edutainment: it’s a portmanteau that makes your skin crawl.

One of the more interesting parts of the game amongst all the tedium is being able to train dolphins and have them explore with you. In honour of Greenpeace stupidity, I decided to name my first companion Mr Splashy Pants. Unfortunately, the name didn’t fit within the archaic character limits and I had to resort to Mr Splashy.

If you have your Wii online, you can also forsake a dolphin and engage in some undersea exploration with a friend. This is of course assuming you know someone else just as boring as you and that they actually own the game too.

Perhaps the biggest problem with Endless Ocean is its focus on realism. It’s not that it needs to look to Finding Nemo for inspiration, but had it perhaps gone out of its way to be a little more concentrated, it would be easier to recommend. There’s an odd pleasure that comes from obsessively collecting information and filling your aquarium, but the expansive sea often proves, ironically, lifeless and exploring becomes obnoxious filler. Relaxing for some, boring for most.

Ultimately, the game is obviously aimed at a certain audience who will find the game endearing no matter how much criticism is heaped upon the game. Maybe they’re one of these new fangled non-gamers who train their brain and walk their Nintendogs. Maybe they’re someone who’s always had a fascination with the ocean. Maybe they spend a bit too much time flying high, if you can smell what I’m cooking.

Whatever the case, the simple fact of the matter is that this game is not for gamers, and gamers are likely to feel bored quickly and feel cheated out of $80 even quicker. Endless Ocean might not represent the entire direction of the Wii, but its certainly yet another title aimed at cashing in on a market that shuns traditional video games. Purchase for your grandmother rather than yourself.

"It’s a game your Gran would love…"
- Endless Ocean
Follow Own it? Rating: G   Difficulty: Too Easy   Learning Curve: 5 Min


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