Endless Ocean: Blue World

Endless Ocean: Blue World

While it did enjoy a fair amount of media publicity, the first Endless Ocean was hardly a smash hit. It also didn’t necessarily seem to qualify as a gamer’s game; it was purely casual by any definition. Chastised by many on internet forums as yet another example of a Wii “non-game”, it didn’t receive the attention it probably deserved.

Having said that, it partially had itself to blame for the labeling—there was definite room for improvement. Endless Ocean: Blue World seeks to refine various aspects of the formula in hopes of fostering a stronger sense of purpose and accomplishment and roping in a greater audience. It feels more like an actual game as a result, with a sensible increase in the linearity of the gameplay and a considerably stronger storyline leading the way. But don’t worry; in spite of these alterations to the formula, there is still a strong sense of wonderment and adventure lining the bedrock of the sequel.

An actual story

For starters, let’s recap the basic premise of the game, as well as how precisely everything fits together. I’m going to assume you haven’t played much of the original because, well, most people haven’t.

In tandem with the move toward greater (optional) linearity is a stronger and more prominent storyline. In Blue World, you’re a newcomer to the L&L Diving Service team, a small group of just three individuals (including yourself) who are obsessed with everything aquatic. Your leader, Jean-Eric Louvier, is a legendary diver who now has a condition which restricts his ability to participate; as a result, he spends his time aboard the boat as you dive. He also is proud owner of Nineball Island, a tiny, peaceful tropical paradise featuring an old house and all of the basic amenities required to run the diving service (he won the island in a game of—you guessed it—Nine-ball).

Then there’s the annoyingly-named Oceana, granddaughter of Jean-Eric and, frankly, a little bit annoying herself. Her father died in a tragic diving accident years ago while searching for the truth about an ancient legend. As you might expect, she’s now dead-set on learning the truth herself about both that particular legend and her father.

The good news is that this legend is quite a compelling tale: it speaks of ancient treasure and a lost civilization which thrived around the time of the Mycenaeans. As you roam the seas, the team quickly becomes fascinated with the mystery of Oceana’s pendant (a gift from her late father) and its connection to the mythical Song of Dragons, an eerie melody which is said to be heard echoing throughout some of the strangest, most forgotten corners of the undersea world.

It may be cold here, but the mood is warm.
It may be cold here, but the mood is warm.

Exploring the deep blue

Your adventure begins in the south pacific in beautiful Gatama Atoll, a tropical paradise filled with a striking variety of colorful creatures. Here, you’ll be taught the basics of diving and interacting with the sea life, though there’s a lot more to do even in this one area than is immediately apparent. The first thing you’ll probably notice is how much better the game looks than almost every other Wii title out there. Even in spite of the restrictive 480p resolution, Blue World is proof that Wii games can still visually impress in the shadow of their high-def competitors. The textures are remarkably detailed and the creatures are beautifully animated. Sunlight filters down through the waves above, dancing along the surfaces of the coral and the skins of the fish around you. This is truly a visual triumph, and a marked upgrade over the original game.

Basic motion is simple: hold B to swim and point the Wii remote to turn. Like the original game, your primary goal while swimming is to encounter new creatures and interact with them. All told, there are around 350 of them in the game, each one featuring detailed animation and behavioral programming, as well as a good deal of factual information about its nature. It’s easy to catalog creatures—simply swim within several feet of them and press A to identify them and lock the camera on them.

At this point, you can press Down on the D-pad to bring up a menu of different interactive options. For starters, you can read about them from here. You can also feed them, take pictures of them, and even use items such as the sea whistle or underwater pen to interact with them. If the creature is injured, you can heal it electromagnetically with the Pulsar (this also works to calm hostile predators). Really large creatures can actually be ridden as well—a cool touch. After certain requirements are met, you can unlock additional facts about each creature. There’s certainly a lot of depth to the explorative aspect of Blue World.

Speaking of which, you’ll notice glowing spots scattered across the landscape as you explore. Pressing A while pointing at one of these allows you to zoom in macro-style to examine tiny creatures and cool hiding spots. These zoom points are extremely cool and are a highly valuable component of the whole. They’re often photorealistic, and since they’re actually polygonally rendered, you can pan around them by dragging the Wii remote around the screen. The motion is admittedly a bit finicky and rigid, but it’s still highly immersive. Sometimes you’ll also find collectible coins hidden in these zoom nooks—just one more incentive to actually take the time to check.

The zoom points are really cool.
The zoom points are one of the coolest aspects of the experience.

Other hidden items include buried artifacts, which can be located now with the help of an indescribably convenient multisensor. This fortunate addition to the lineup provides you with the ability to scan the ocean floor as you swim via a series of sonar-like wave pulses. These pulses stretch out to 100 feet in front of you and cover the majority of the center of the screen. They make it easy to identify buried treasure, though keep in mind you’ll actually have to equip the multisensor for it all to work. Once you’ve dug up treasure, provided your bag is big enough, you can take it with you to have it appraised for a small fee back at the HQ. With the help of your map (which records the areas you’ve yet to explore and rewards you monetarily after filling in those blank spots), it’s fairly easy to make a mental note of where you’ve been and where you still need to explore more thoroughly.

For the most part, this is pretty much how things go. The vast majority of the time, the game is completely stress-free, even while you’re following the storyline. Although you are restricted by an extremely generous amount of air, you can return to the boat at any time by simply opening your menu and selecting Return to Boat. There is no penalty for exploring whatsoever; in fact, it’s strongly encouraged by the game’s reward structure of interesting creatures, beautiful zoom mode points, and hidden coins and artifacts in special places.

However, there are sequences where you will encounter larger numbers of dangerous animals. During these parts of the game, the Pulsar is used as a sort of stun gun to keep the threatening creatures at bay. Your air, meanwhile, doubles as a life meter of sorts. Plenty of different threats inhabit the waters, from sharks, to whirlpools, to piranhas, to even poisonous luminous fish in secluded areas at night. All of the threats are conveniently announced, however, by a noticeable “DANGER” symbol on the screen with an icon representing the nature of the threat. This helps separate the active “game-style” gameplay from the relaxing explorative aspects.

Traveling abroad

As you progress through the storyline, you’ll be treated to more and varied locations around the globe which you can visit to dive—and all of them feels completely different from the rest. Without spoiling anything, let’s just say that you’ll be treated to frigid arctic environments and even a river. All of these places factor into the main story, of course, and around half of them are truly enormous (though none by itself is as large as the original Endless Ocean main area).

This is one gorgeous game for 480p.
This is one beautiful game for 480p.

In between such trips, however, you’ll need a headquarters to keep the operation organized. Conveniently, Jean-Eric’s Nineball Island is perfectly suited. Here, you find living quarters in a quiet, tropical environment filled with palm trees and seagulls. Also, you’ll have access to:

  • A marine encyclopedia, a record of all creatures you’ve seen

  • A camera, to develop photos (you can save them to your SD card!)

  • An album, to view photos

  • A radio, to contact Nancy for appraisals, shopping, and haircuts

  • A dive Log, where you can save your progress

  • A notebook, containing info about where you’ve been and more: treasure rumors, special optional requests, plot recaps and more

  • A collection of items you’ve picked up (including coins)

  • A place to change clothes and equipment

  • A house where you can rest to advance the time of day

  • A dock where you can interact with pet marine animals you’ve befriended, shove off to your next destination, or sign onto Nintendo WFC, where you can visit friends’ islands or invite them over to yours.

The chick you contact with the radio (Nancy) is a sea-renowned expert trader. You can purchase new equipment, decorating items for the island, and other stuff from her, as well as have items appraised (and sell them) and get your hair styled. Many of the items you can purchase are purely cosmetic, such as colored gloves and tanks, for instance, which serve no real functional purpose apart from their styling. But others actually affect your abilities or serve some function on the island. For instance:

  • Secondary air tanks provide longer dive times

  • Bigger bags allow you to carry more and larger salvaged items while diving

  • Silencers allow you to swim more closely to dangerous creatures without being noticed

  • Batteries improve the life of the Pulsar

  • The telescope allows you to survey localized events and can clue you in on items of interest near your headquarters.

It's not all fish and giggles.
It’s not all fish and giggles.

Going Deeper

And that’s really just the surface. As you progress, more and more options and activities unfold in front of you to keep you engaged. For starters, you can accept photo requests from people who want pictures of specific things, or fulfill guide requests from people who wish to be guided through certain areas or see specific animals. You’ll earn titles by meeting certain requirements and accomplishing specific tasks. You’ll even get rewarded for collecting increasing numbers of titles.

As you play, you’ll level up your Diving Level and earn the ability to dive for longer. You can also improve your Salvage Level to be able to sense when something valuable is in your possession. To really know what salvaged items are worth, you have to bring them back to Nineball Island to have them appraised for a fee by Nancy, of course. However, with a high salvage skill, you can save time and carrying space by discarding items which you know are not worth hanging onto and having appraised.

You’ll earn big bucks for completing your maps, and in certain areas you can even go ashore and walk around on dry land. Here, you’ll encounter even more types of creatures, including birds and even lizards. Diving at different times of the day will yield different encounters as well, and you can even choose among several different diving partners to feed off each one’s unique special abilities. For instance, diving with your pet dolphin grants you the option of hanging onto its fin and moving at a higher speed through the water, while a salvaging specialist can help you carry a greater number of items and let you know how many are left in a particular area to salvage.

And that’s still not all. After some time, you’ll get a chance to play curator of a massive aquarium and even cultivate your own private reef–where you can place coral to grow an ecosystem of organisms in a secluded, protected environment. Countless side quests and special requests arise at every turn, as well as “treasure rumors”, which encourage you to revisit areas you’ve previously explored in search of hidden riches. Every item you collect and animal you encounter is neatly catalogued in a detailed book at your headquarters. The game as a whole has quite a tangible Indiana Jones undertone to it, and it really isn’t a bad thing at all—it renders the story exciting and unexpected. You can advance at whatever pace you wish through the story, and you’ll find your rewards spaced intelligently and regularly along your path.

This is a massive game; a parade of exploration and adventure with the greatest attention to detail and a seriously impressive scope. The environments are undeniably gorgeous, and they even occasionally manage a spiritual sort of ambiance. It’s a torturously enticing formula for all us completionists gamers which, in spite of its mere half-classification as an actual game, somehow manages to captivate in a way that, for the most part, only gamers can truly appreciate. There are still a few hang-ups—predominantly related to camera quirks and lackluster multiplayer—but this is an unquestionably complete experience. It’s entirely different from anything else out there, but that’s much of what lends it its appeal. It’s also a truly relaxing contrast to the typical modern videogame, and it comes highly recommended for anyone with an open mind and a love for exploration.

Oh yeah, and it’s only $30.