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Endless Ocean: Blue World (Wii) artwork

Endless Ocean: Blue World (Wii) review


"Naturally, diving is what prevents Blue World from feeling much like "just another game." The waters of the world's most memorable bodies of water teem with life and play host to everything from seals to gray whales to eels to jellyfish. In most instances, you're able to move in close for an investigation and you can watch as shy fish retreat into their holes or hungry sharks circle in murkier waters as they make meal plans. The various residents of this liquid world seem apathetic about your presence. You're a novelty at best, hardly worthy of their attention because you mean them no harm."



The ocean is both beautiful and inconvenient. It's beautiful because, well... just look at it. Swelling waves, a deep blue expanse with no true borders in sight, schools of fish and the mesmerizing sight of shafts of sunlight could keep an artist busy for all eternity. The ocean also is inconvenient, though. Most of us will only explore it vicariously, through film and the writings of Jules Verne. Few gamers will ever live within easy walking distance, but that only means that we can steer clear of the things that you don't read about on the postcards and the travel websites: the stink of salt and seaweed, the freezing wind lashing a fine mist against your skin, the risk of seagull droppings and the nearly constant rain.

There truly is much to love about the ocean, just as there's much to happily do without. Endless Ocean: Blue World, the latest Wii release from Nintendo, wisely focuses on the former.

Developed by Arika, Blue World is the latest and most polished in a growing series of ocean-based adventure titles that dates back to 2001's critically-lambasted Everblue for PlayStation 2. The team responsible for that particular misfire has had a lot of time to polish its craft, most recently with the original Endless Ocean in 2008. I didn't play that particular game and thus can't comment on its quality, but people obviously enjoyed it enough that a sequel made sense. I'm thankful for that fact, as it gave me the chance to embark on a relaxing undersea adventure that's sure to please many gamers like me who are perhaps looking for something that feels more like an experience and less like a video game.

That's not to say that there's no gameplay. For better or worse, there will be many moments where your reflexes and gamer intuition must come into play. You still rely on the Wii Remote (no Nunchuk, though) and you still mess around on menus, wait for load screens and perhaps even choose to reattempt ocean dives that go seriously wrong. Such moments remind you that you're a gamer and still in your living room or game room, but there are other moments where Blue World rescues you away from the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life and lets you pretend that you're part of something magical.

Early on, the aquatic magic isn't entirely evident. The game takes awhile to fall into its stride. Your first hour or so is spent doing things like naming your character (I went with a girl that I chose to name SassyPants and was pleased to find that I had characters to spare) and learning about the various resources that will be available to you during the ten or twelve hours of play that it will likely take you to reach the closing credits if you hurry. The initial tedium quickly dissipates, though, because once you know the ropes you're allowed to enjoy the game's main attraction: the diving.

Naturally, diving is what prevents Blue World from feeling much like "just another game." The waters of the world's most memorable bodies of water teem with life and play host to everything from seals to gray whales to eels to jellyfish. In most instances, you're able to move in close for an investigation and you can watch as shy fish retreat into their holes or hungry sharks circle in murkier waters as they make meal plans. The various residents of this liquid world seem apathetic about your presence. You're a novelty at best, hardly worthy of their attention because you mean them no harm and will likely be gone once you find the treasure that ultimately beckons you to this nearly mystical realm. The nature of it all is sufficient to put even the most critical of gamers under its voyeuristic spell, except then technology gets in the way.

The most obvious problem is that Wii isn't a graphical powerhouse. I can't imagine that my aunt or parents would care when playing the game, but that's only because they haven't yet been spoiled by truly high-definition gaming. Arika's artists have done what they could with what they have here, and the result is typically quite satisfactory. It's just so easy to imagine how much better things could have been with more detailed textures, sharper resolution and perhaps more underwater architecture. Blue World triumphs over such limitations and offers a more vibrant and varied environment than you'll easily find elsewhere in the system's library, but it's difficult not to mourn what might have been.

Another issue that I have with the game also relates to the control scheme. Despite my extensive experience with numerous Wii titles throughout the years, I often found myself shaking the controller back toward the center of my screen so that it would register after drifting off to one side or the other. The game puts you in an immersive world where you worry not only about a horizontal plane, but also a vertical one. Perhaps such issues were unavoidable, but I've played other titles on the platform with silky-smooth controls and I miss them here.

My final concern has nothing to do with any hardware limitations, however. As you explore that underwater realm, you'll perhaps find that it can be difficult to keep track of where you've been, what you've found and where you need to go. Pressing a button produces a map and perhaps your next objective with a red ink circle around it, but sometimes that's not as helpful as you might suppose. During one late mission, for example, I had difficulty finding markers near an air tank that was deposited along the ocean floor because I kept switching between maps when swam in the direction that appeared to be my destination. You'll always have the tools to figure your way around such puzzles, but sometimes things grow a bit frustrating until you succeed at a given objective.

For the casual gamer who just wants to dive into some underwater exploration, such hiccups won't come up with the same frequency that they will for those who are in a hurry to view the game's ending. You can ignore the more demanding missions, finishing them only at your leisure. It's possible to offer guided tours, to explore every nook and cranny of each map and to catalog a wide variety of species. Stepping on land gives you new options, including choices about which attire you'd like to wear and how you'd like to decorate Nineball Island, the place that serves as your main hub. It's even possible to train your dolphin or to head to an aquarium in Japan and swim with critters that you've found. There's also plenty of post-game content for those who want to keep going, ensuring that your adventure will probably last as long as your interest in the aquatic playground does.

Endless Ocean: Blue World winds up being somewhat difficult to rate as a game, because as a game it has enough shortcomings that many people could find that they would prefer something else instead. It's hard to blame them, though I would hasten to add that the unique thrills this artificial blue world offers do go a long way to justify the occasional inconveniences and occasional technical limitations that you encounter along the way. Besides, you can experience every last bit of it without ever having to endure the smell of salty brine and seaweed. For this virtual aquanaut, that's enough to warrant a recommendation.

Rating: 8/10

honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (February 26, 2010)

Jason Venter founded HonestGamers in 1998, and since then has written hundreds of reviews as the site's editor-in-chief. He also is a prolific freelancer with game reviews, articles and fiction available around the Internet.

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bloomer posted February 26, 2010:

Have you played the first Wii game? The review doesn't say. I get the impression you haven't, but for people who have, I think you should say that you haven't, otherwise we're reading along thinking 'this sounds basically the same as the first game' - but without the qualifying statement.

> The most obvious problem is that Wii isn't a graphical powerhouse. I can't imagine that my aunt or parents would care when playing the game, but that's only because they haven't yet been spoiled by truly high-definition gaming.

Have you been in the ocean lately? It's blurry in there! And the wii still looks better ;)
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honestgamer posted February 26, 2010:

I live on the Pacific Coast, bloomer, a quarter-mile or less from the ocean and within easy access of an underwater aquarium or two (which I've visited recently). My complaint was that the animals and sea life and underwater landscape all could have benefited from more textural detail and the animals could have done with the same.

And no, I haven't played the first game. I probably won't, either, seeing as how the last time I priced it online, it was in "over $100" territory.
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bloomer posted February 26, 2010:

Yeah, I mean... say in the review that you haven't played the first game. My opinion is that would be just one line which suddenly adds a lot of value to the review.
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honestgamer posted February 26, 2010:

I hope that I didn't come across as defensive. I'm actually considering your feedback and right now I'm leaning toward adding just such a line. Thanks for the feedback. It was most welcome, as always.
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honestgamer posted February 27, 2010:

Alright, slight updates have been made to the review. The review will surely be ten times better now. :-D
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zippdementia posted February 27, 2010:

I find this review a little bit hard to take seriously when you throw in lines like "I named my character Sassypants" or "my dolphin, mr. Frecklesworth." In another review, such things would probably be funny. Here, though, while you're trying to explain the magical beauty of the game, it feels out of place.

Otherwise, it seems like one of those tough reviews where a reviewer is not sure whether to talk about this as a game or as an experience. I'm having similar difficulties with my Heavy Rain review, though I think I'm going to go the "experience" route because obviously that's what the developers of Heavy Rain were trying to do.

Similarly, I think the developers of Endless Ocean are looking to present an experience more than a game. In the case of your review, you do a nice job of getting to this and showing where, when it falls back on being a game, everything goes to hell.

Nice job.
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radicaldreamer posted February 27, 2010:

Jason does those things because he is a strange individual.

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