Review: Endless Ocean (Nintendo Wii)
by Alex Lucard on January 28, 2008

Endless Ocean
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Arika
Genre: Simulation
Release Date: 1/23/2008

Endless Ocean has received a lot of attention since Nintendo first announced it was publishing this game for the Wii. Many gamers and journalists have reacted as if Endless Ocean is something new and highly innovative. The truth is Endless Ocean is the THIRD game in this underwater scuba diving series put out by Arika. The first two games were published by Capcom as Everblue and Everblue 2. When the partnership between Arika and Capcom dissolved rather poorly, they brought the franchise to Nintendo who actually publicized the series because they saw a great deal of potential for it to take off with casual gamers. Capcom however had merely just printed the games and then never marketed it, ensuring the Everblue series would remain obscure and unknown to most gamers.

On one hand, I was really excited about reviewing this game. I love offbeat games and especially games where you can just run around and visit a whole world without worrying about anything like linearity or a set plot. It’s why I enjoyed the Elder Scrolls and Azure Dreams games so much. On the other hand, Arika is a developer I generally really dislike. They made the awful Street Fighter EX games, and worst of all, they developed The Nightmare of Druaga, which is the second lowest scoring game I have ever reviewed. WMXXI was the lowest for the curious. I honestly can’t think of a single game Arika made that I didn’t end up hating. And so once I realized they were making the game (because like most of you, even I had no idea this was the third game in the series. Fellow DieHard GameFAN staffers Mark B. and Mr. Rose clued me in. Yay teamwork!), I was really kicking myself for agreeing to review this.

The question remains? Did Arika manage to make yet another game that was so bad it made me want to rip my manhood off and bleed to death, or did it turn out I’ve been missing a quality series all these years simply due to my dislike of what else this company has made?

Let’s Review

1. Story

Endless Ocean tells the tale of an unnamed non-speaking protagonist straight from the 8 and 16 bit RPG’s of yore. When you first start a game, you able able to SLIGHTLY manipulate the characters look and gender to personalize them, but don’t worry – you’ll unlock more parts as the game goes on.

After a brief intro to the Manoa Lai, the fictional region the game takes place in, you’ll be introduced to your scientist partner Katherine, and you’ll be able to start diving. If you are Australian be warned, as the intro guide is HORRIBLY written containing every steriotype and outdated piece of slang your country has ever had. As a person who loved your country (and your koalas), let me say I am really sorry, but thankfully it is only five minutes long.

For the most part, the game is utterly open ended. There are some things you’ll have to unlock to proceed story wise, like being able to dive at night, or be able to deep sea dive, but for the most part as soon as the game starts, you can do whatever you want, whenever you want – even if it is just staying in one area and looking around for hours.

There are several mini story lines that can be unlocked through the game such as finding a hidden underwater series of caverns, a ghost ship, tracking whales and so on. Each of these quests comes up not in a linear fashion, but only after you have done certain events or gone to specific locations or seen a certain type of underwater life form. Completing these quests unlocks new creatures to see or items to collect.

There are also a lot of “Catch ‘em all” collections out there for you to engage in. From identifying every possible life form in the game, to helping out an aquarium, to retrieving old/lost objects from the sandy ocean floor, you’ll be spending dozens of hours just trying scouring Manoa Lai for those last few items.

We’re not done yet! There’s still more options in the game. You’ll also get photography and guided tour requests from time to time. With the former, you’ll have to take the best photo you can in for a magazine. Think of it like Pokemon Snap. With guided tours, you’ll meet one of several NPC’s in the game who will have very specific requests. Do your best to fulfill the request and after the dive you’ll received a 1-5 rating from the customer. If you get a perfect score, you’ll receive some unlockables for your effort.

You can also make friends with various dolphins in the game. Once they have befriended you, they can become your diving partner. You can also teach them tricks like how to swim or moonwalking. It’s a cute little extra that should make Nintendogs fans happy.

Still more! If you don’t feel like diving, you can sit on the deck and look out at the beach and sea. You can listen to various songs, including those you upload via a flash card. You can read your character’s email. You can change your characters outfit. You can read the catalog of found aquatic life forms you are making. There is always something to do and see in Endless Ocean.

There is so much to see and do in Endless Ocean I am still a bit overwhelmed by it all. While playing the game you barely think about all the options you have. You just go diving and look at the fishies and take pictures or identify new animals. Cataloging all that there is to do in EO makes me realize that this is one of the best open ended games I’ve ever played.

There’s not much in the way of epic storytelling in this game, but it doesn’t need that. It’s got a simple but amazingly deep story, where the focus is on action rather than talking. It’s masterfully done, and the game is basically Animal Crossing with twice the things to do, better graphics and sound, and a lot more fun. It’s simply amazing how much is packed on to this disc. My only real complaint is that the dialog is poorly written. Aside from that, you have a simply amazing game.

Story Rating: 10/10

2. Graphics

Endless Ocean is not the best looking game on the WII, but it’s still beautiful. All of the animals in the game are amazing, and some, like the giant squid or the whales, are simply breathtaking, especially when you see how huge they are compared to your diver. I know my jaw dropped on several occasions when I tried to swim up to a whale and realized I was a mere speck compared to it.

The backgrounds in the game are amazing as well. It really looks like you’re diving in a tropical ecosystem. You’ve got sandy beaches, coral reefs, decaying whale carcasses at the bottom of a sea trench, limestone stalactites and stalagmites and everything you can possible imagine.

Simply put the game is breathtaking at times. You can just sit and watch and gawk for hours and not even realize the time goes by. You’ll find yourself treating a lot of the fish as if they were real, just watching them swim around and do fish-like things. There was one time where I was able to see penguins and cormorants diving into the water and swimming after fish, trying to catch them for a meal. I knew it wasn’t real, but I still reacted as if it was. That’s the amazing thing about this game. I know a lot of gamers lead sedimentary lifestyles, but honestly, I can see Endless Ocean inspiring people to actually take diving lessons or convincing them to take a tropical vacation. If even one gamer gets off their butt and decided to take up scuba diving as an athletic activity, then EO has done it’s job better than any other Wii game yet.

There is one downside and that’s the human character designs. Wow are they ugly. They look like PS1 or N64 graphics. It’s a bit of a shock to see how blocky, and ugly the designs for the people in the game are after seeing such realistic and lifelike creatures below the waves. Seeing the NPC’s and Katheriner jolts you back to reality and reminds you that this is indeed just a video game. In the end though, it’s not the humanoid graphics anyone is concerned with, which gives the developers a bit of a free pass here.

Endless Ocean‘s visuals will make you fall in love with it. Sure it’s not as powerful or detailed as Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles or as bright and colourful as Nights, but the graphics are realistic and enjoyable. They make you keep playing the game simply to see what other creatures are lurking beneath the waves, and that’s all that is needed.

Graphics Rating: 8/10

3. Sound

The music in the game is amazing. You will unlock various tracks as you encounter new locations and places, and you also have the option to listen to music from your flash card when on deck.

The music can be separated into two categories. The first are comprised of the Endless Ocean score pieces that will change depending on what time it is in the game. Both of these are amazing. The second are all songs composed and sung by “Haley Westenra.” Although none of the tracks are ones I would listen to outside the game, in game they are amazing and I can’t imagine anything fitting this game better. They are very New Agey is sound and feel, but the songs are amazingly done and help to make Endless Ocean one of the most soothing games I have ever played. Endless Ocean is an amazing stress reliever. You turn it on, go diving and you can feel your tensions just dissipate into the virtual water. A lot of this comes from the music in the game. I wouldn’t be surprised if Nintendo put out a soundtrack to this game in the US, because it would sell easily.

Again, although the game’s score and music aren’t things I would ever listen to outside the game, it’s still one of the best I’ve ever seen in a video game. I absolutely adore it.

I should also talk sound effects. You can probably imagine what all there is here. Dolphin squeaks, the splash of water, the caw of various sea birds and the sound of surf hitting the beach. There’s not much in terms of these effects but what are here sound realistic and just help to make the game even better.

Between the graphics and sound, i can see a lot of people buying Endless Ocean just for the sublime factor.

Sound Rating: 10/10

4. Control and Gameplay

This is probably my only real issue with the game, but even then, they are minor issues compared to the rest of the game.

You’ll be using the wiimote by itself with this game, but you’ll find steering your character, especially on land is like steering a semi. You’ll press the B trigger to street your diver and the A to interact. You character will be guided by the Wii pointer dot on the screen, but he has a bit of trouble navigating corners. It’s a little sad that no matter how much you play, he’ll still always bonk into the corner of the main cabin.

Underwater diving is quite easy until you get to the more advanced bits. You use the wiimote to steer while holding down the B button to swim. If you tilt your Wiimote to the right, your diver will turn a bit to the right. If you tilt down, your diver will go deeper. Like I said, it’s all pretty routine.

When you come to a fish or underwater animal you want to interact with, aim the pointer dot at it, and then press A. Your diver will focus only on that particular animal and then you can begin to interact with it. You can poke it, pet it, yank it, or later on in the game, feed it or show it your magical underwater pen. Once you have become familiar with the animal, it’s name will appear at the bottom center of your screen and you’ll have real life facts about the creature entered into your encyclopedia. You can get up to three pages entered by encountering the fish in three different areas and continuing to play with it. If you become familiar enough with a fish, a member of its species will follow you around when you encounter it and pet it on your next dive. This can be a bit alarming when you notice several different sharks surrounding your diver though…

Steering your diver can be a bit of a pain when it comes to precision turns or inspecting very specific things. Shorty into the game, you’ll be able to search tiny areas for items or fish. You’ll know these areas as a little neon fish swimming in a circle will show up. Sometimes they’re in awkward locations and trying to aim/steer your diver to them can be frustrating.

My biggest issue with the game is button placement on the wiimote. The layout for the controls in this specific game isn’t very intuitive. And having to hold down the B or – button while pressing A and waving the wiimote back and forth all at once can be a little annoying. It’s hard to find a comfortable position or way to hold the Wiimote for a lot of these commands, and extended playing can strain your wrist or tendons. The game is also pretty unresponsive to partner training efforts. For some reason, the game only recognizes the hand signals or the “go!” command half the time. As you can imagine, that’s a bit annoying, and it eventually makes you stop caring about your various dolphins.

I think the gameplay could have been designed to be a lot more user friendly, and that choosing different buttons for different commands would reduce the weird ways you have to hold the wiimote at times as well as the wrist strain. Thankfully even with some issues in this area, the game is still a lot of fun to play. I will say I am unhappy with the overall control scheme of Endless Ocean, but I’m glad they are a lot of minor complaints rather than some pretty severe ones, like the game freezing and data losing bugs the Japanese version originally had.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 5/10

Replayability

Not much to say here. The game really IS endless. There is also something new to do or see or catch or take a photo of or train or to take on a guided tour or an area to explore. Sheesh! Is that even a real sentence that i just wrote? It’s all true though.

Endless Ocean has infinite replayability, and it’s unique properties to be soothing and utterly relaxing make it a nice alternative to games that make more temperamental gamers swear or throw their controllers.

Replayability Rating: 10/10

6. Balance

This is a hard game to describe in terms of balance. Everything is fairly cut and dry. There are some areas that fill no doubt frustrate you, like trying to find specific fish or salvaged items to complete your collections. There will also be times where you haven’t completely finished a specific quest and you’ll be stuck on where to go. Don’t worry, when in doubt – just dive and eventually you’ll find what you need to.

Probably the most frustrating thing is trying to get certain fish identified. There were two in the trench that I pet literally for five minutes and I couldn’t get them identified. I fed them, I poked them, I took their picture and even wrote on them, but still nothing. Eventually I got one identified, but I have no idea how. The other still shows up as “????” for me. Alas.

If you’re looking to complete everything you’ll be logging more time in this game that you would even a super long RPG like Dragon Warrior VII. Certain fish and items can only be found at certain times of the year. Thankfully the game does not use a 24/7 clock like Animal Crossing, and so you can advance time when you want/need to,

In all, the game is decently balanced, and the more you try to master the game, the harder the game will get. This makes Endless Ocean one of those games that everyone can have fun with to a degree, but only the most fanatical will attempt to find and do everything in the game.

Balance Rating: 6/10

7. Originality

This is the third game in the series, and it’s actually a step down from the second which has some solid RPG characteristics like leveling up your character’s diving skill, traits, gear and abilities. However, Endless Ocean deviates from the previous Everblue games by going full on into Animal Crossing territory.

I have to say, Endless Ocean really did remind me so much of Animal Crossing that I very nearly called it an AC clone. That’s a bit of an insult to EO though, as I find it does everything better than AC in every way possible. Not to mention the lack of that damned loan shark raccoon, Tom Nook. Oh, how I hate him.

There’s a lot of cliched and rehashed things in this game that Endless Ocean has managed to make innovative and fun again. I wasn’t really big on finding everything single object in the game for salvage, but I loved helping out the aquarium and seeing new fish each and every time I encountered one. Lots of fun all around.

Endless Ocean really doesn’t provide us with anything truly new or original, but it DOES provide new ways of looking at these things along with an excellent simulation based gaming experience. The vast majority of gamers will think EO is far more innovative that it really is, being unaware of the other games in the series, but even knowing that a lot of what is in this game is rehashed shouldn’t make it any less fund or enjoyable. Any game that can take what was done in earlier games that were much loved by the general public and them IMPROVE upon those aspects is a winner in my book.

Originality Rating: 5/10

8. Addictiveness

It is amazingly easy to lose yourself in Endless Ocean. The game is so vast and yet so simple, time will fly quickly by. You can’t spend hours straight playing the game as your wrist will start to hard from the controls, but for that one to two hour block you spend in front of your tv will feel like only minutes. Plus you’ll come back to the game several times a day just to try and find something new or complete the last branch of a quest, like the multi-part “Abyss” story.

Again, words can’t describe how soothing or relaxing this game is. I’m generally a very hyperactive person, but after playing a quick game of EO, I am utterly mellowed out.

Some gamers will probably complain that there is no death or violence or struggle between good and evil within the game, although that reality makes me sad, thankfully there are other options out there. It’s definitely not a game for the people who use video games as an escape into hype-aggressive violence because they feel impotent in the real world, but for the rest of us, you will be drawn into Manoa Lai and wishing it was a real place you could visit and swim around in. You won’t be filled with an obsession to beat the game, but you will find yourself wanting to return when you’ve had a bad day or stressful event. Endless Ocean – it’s better than a shrink.

Addictiveness Rating: 7/10

9. Appeal Factor

There is a certain portion of the gaming audience that makes me ashamed to be a gamer. The people who only want boobs and gore in their games. The people who think things like Pokemon or Mario are stupid because they are cute and for all ages. The people who are only happy if the game involved wanton killing for a few hours. These are the people that are a general embarrassment for the rest of us, and this is coming from a guy who loves 2-d Fighters and SHMUP’s.

Aside for the more psychotic and immature gamers who think it’s hilarious to get on Xbox Live and swear at strangers in an attempt to be cool or macho, I can’t imagine there being a gamer on the planet who can’t at least admire and respect what has been done with Endless Ocean it’s a masterpiece that will appeal to the casual and hardcore gamers alike. It’s as deep or as shallow as the gamer wants it to be, and it’s at a budgeted 29.99 MSRP, so it’s crazy affordable. With some strong word of mouth and marketing by Nintendo, EO can easily be this year’s Wii Sports in that it ignites a large cross section of gamers to remember while they fell in love with this form of entertainment in the first place.

There’s something for everyone here. Give it a try and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Appeal Factor: 7/10

10. Miscellaneous

Perfect score here people. There are so many things to unlock and see and collect, that the game easily could have been a full $49.99 priced title and no one would complain. At $30, this game becomes an amazing value and a must own for anyone with a Wii. Again, with some proper marketing behind it, it could be a system seller as people realize what a great game this is.

More importantly, Arika has impressed me so much with this game. In 2004, they created my nominee for the worst game of the year. In 2008, they’ve given me a game that right now, is going to be my standard bearer for the rest of the year.

I really loved this game and it earned its’ high score from me. From including real life factual information about each fish in the gamer so the gamer becomes smarter for having played it, to creating a game that removes tension instead of creating it, Arika and Nintendo have brought us yet another shining example of why the Wii is appealing to such a wide range of gamers.

Great job guys,

Miscellaneous Rating: 10/10

The Scores
Story: 10
Graphics: 8
Sound: 10
Control and Gameplay: 5
Replayability: 10
Balance: 6
Originality: 5
Addictiveness: 7
Appeal Factor: 7
Miscellaneous: 10
Total Score: 7.8
FINAL SCORE: 8.0 (GREAT)

Short Attention Span Summary
The first truly great game of 2008 and our first potential GOTY candidate. If this is a sign of things to come, 2008 is going to be an amazing year for gaming.



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