Somewhere in the Carribean...

Friday, April 24, 2009
"Turn around," she said, into my earpiece.

We had been out for a few days, tediously but not unenjoyably cataloging for hours at a time. She had been out more than I had, exploring on her own, and she had excitedly forced me to join her this time.

There were rumors floating around about this find, which I had dismissed. I didn't believe a creature so rare to begin with would be in this part of the world.

I was wrong. I awkwardly turned around and widened my eyes. She had even seen it before, the reason for her excitement, and was still silent as it swam slowly by. Which took some time for a sperm whale.

Taking out my new underwater camera, I took a few shots, but without a wide angle lens, it was somewhat pointless. It wasn't close enough to touch, but it was close enough that I was completely unaware of its scale. I felt overwhelming gratitude to her for showing me this amazing creature.

We got back to the boat, and I wrote the sighting down in my journal, and said goodbye as she jetted off on her ski-doo. Nighttime had forced us to stop diving, as we had no lamp, but it was just as well. Hard to top her find.

I sat down on my deck chair and watched the sun retire behind the low mountains to the west.

Then I shut off my Wii.

Endless Ocean isn't really a game, as such. But to call it an "ocean simulator" robs it of a lot of its playability. It implies that there's no point as you can't affect nearly anything in the game world. No, there's no boss, to fight to save the world, no conflict. No, there's no levelling up, no points, no frustrating throwing of controllers against the wall. There's even less plot than you get in Super Mario Bros. But as you progress through the game, taking would be Cousteaus out on tours, stocking aquariums, and other seemingly mundane "missions", you'll notice less and less.

I enjoyed this title quite a lot. Developed by Akira, the same team at Capcom responsible for the Street Fighter series (really), it is a spiritual successor to their "Everblue" series, available in Japan and Europe. Though somewhat less focused on intrigue as Everblue, Endless Ocean is perfect for diving into (ha?) and relaxing with.

You start off with a pretty feeble character-creation tool, which is ok, because like most everything else in Endless Ocean, it doesn't matter. You'll meet your research partner, who gives you an obligatory tutorial. There's no rush to learn everything; there's no rush to even do anything. The game is just above a screensaver in terms of excitement. Once in the water, you'll be delighted with a variety of sea life, beautifully animated. Your main "task" is to catalog, similar to catching all the pokemons, but you don't really have to if you don't want to. You won't be punished for just swimming about, enjoying the scenery. (And I'm not just talking about my diving partner).

Through the course of the game, you'll eventually get a lantern, the aforementioned camera, some fish food and a neato pen which is somehow able to allow you to draw shapes in the water. Whether you use this for communication, for helping yourself map (I used it more than once to find my way back out of a tricky underground cavern maze), or for drawing crude drawings is up to you.

You'll meet various non-fish sea life too, like penguins, seals and dolphins. The latter can be befriended and trained, and can accompany you on dives your partner can't be there for.

Let's talk about partners for a second. The game is primarily single player. Even with a partner, you'll often be off on your own, doing your own thing, but having a diving partner makes the experience much more connected, more safe (though the game does shield you from death, it's a good reminder for the kids: Always dive in pairs!), and just more enjoyable. Parners are invited onto your boat over the Nintendo Wi-Fi connection through an innovative in-context ladder. When you want them to show up, you lower your ladder into the water. When they want to show up, they arrive on their jet-ski and come up the ladder. Fourth wall saved.

The game isn't perfect. The first and most common criticism is that there's no end. If you're positive this game isn't for you, that'll be enough. But that sort of thing might be good for casual gamers just looking for a relaxing time. The second is the music - though the tracks are pleasant to swim to, they tend to get repetitive if you're in the water for very long, as the song you choose to dive to is the only one that will play while you're down there. And don't think you'll have a hard time making a choice. The game has two songs to choose from. It does however, have the option of awkwardly pulling MP3s off the Wii's SD card slot, so you can jazz up your dives with "Hot for Teacher" or whatever. The title Endless Ocean refers to the game's lack of endgame, not the ocean's breadth. You can't swim forever; you're restricted to your set of archipelagos, but it's large enough not to be boring. Finally, despite the amazing animation underwater, upstairs is a different matter. You lurch around on your boat with animations that are literally laughable. I found this charming, you may not.

All in all, it's a great way to spend the evening hours, and I heartily recommend picking it up, especially if you have someone to play with. Let her find all the goodies first, so you don't have to.


Anonymous said...

You still haven't found the shipwreck, have you?

Pseudonym said...

I told you: I don't play without you. So I'm waiting for you to show me where it is.
*awkwardly shuffles around deck*

Anonymous said...

Endless Ocean needs a points system. I'd SO be kicking your arse. By the way you didn't say anything about tandem diving without voice.

Pseudonym said...

@Gravity: Hard to kick my arse with flippers on. I say bring it on.

I suppose you could tandem dive without voice. The game uses a system of predefined phrases that pop up when someone uses them, but though they're generally useful for relating the sort of info you'd need on a dive ("Let's Dive!", "OK", "Ready?"), the level of interactivity and personality they provide is very limiting. This is a common factor in Nintendo games without wi-fi, an attempt to keep you from saying "And where do YOU go to school?" by giving you only phrases such as, in the case of Mario Kart, "I'm using my Wii Wheel!". You can be the judge about which one is sketchier.

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