There's an optical illusion that sometimes appears to be an ugly hag, sometimes a beautiful lady. There's a Rorschach blot that looks like a butterfly and a couple making love. This is the Wii equivalent.
The people who run Nintendo might want me to describe Endless Ocean: Blue World to you as the Wii's second scuba-diving simulator. And it is. It is a vast simulation of scuba-diving and seal-life-spotting set in lovely locales around the world, all easily controlled with a Wii remote. But, sorry Nintendo marketing people, your secret isn't safe.
This game is also a stealth role-playing game, a game with more than a hundred esoteric side goals, and enough obscure side quests that it makes Rune Factory Frontier look streamlined and the average Final Fantasy quest for ultimate weapons seem as simple as a walk to the mailbox.
What in the world? Exactly.
The Quest For Beauty: The first and this second Endless Ocean are unusual games that propel the player through their adventure by dangling the disappointingly uncommon carrot of aesthetic beauty. Why keep playing an Endless Ocean? While the second one gums up the answer by adding so many traditional gaming quests to the formula and Xbox Achievement-like statuses to seek, you play these games in order to witness the next beautiful thing. As you swim through an Endless Ocean game, your reward for diving to the black depths is the majestic whale you find serenely swimming past your cave. Your reward for swimming to a new corner of your tropical dive spot is the school of fish that dances by the coral as a sea turtle gently flaps its flippers near two gliding manta rays. In real life and virtual life there are people who climb mountains to stand on a summit or to say how many meters they've hiked. But there are also, in real life, people who do it for the sights and the beauty. Endless Ocean: Blue World is a video game for those people.
Bigger, Better And More Blue: Endless Ocean: Blue World enjoys many of the advantages common in sequels. While the first Endless Ocean let the player dive into and explore one large sea of diverse climate, arming them with an underwater camera and pen, the new game sends the player from the Arctic to the Antarctic, under water, down to shipwrecks and occasionally up onto land, armed with camera, pen and a zapper gun that, goofily, heals sick fish and calms enraged ones. The game also adds a deeper companion system for diving with more characters, and being able to train and swim with more dolphin pals. It adds an optional aquarium simulator that allows you to worry about visitor attendance, exhibit variety and income. Also it gives you a base island to alter and upgrade as well as a coral reef that can be decorated with collected items and used to attract any of more than a hundred of species of sealife. There's more, but you get the idea.
And It Looks Good Too: When your character is on the boat from which he dives or chatting with the ever-expanding group of people in his diving team, the graphics are about as impressive as crayon scribbles I made in kindergarten. But when our scuba hero gets underwater, this game looks as lovely as most games in the so-called HD era. The kelp forests are magnificent, the jellyfish enchanting and, well maybe the sharks look a little stiff and silly when angry,but the penguins look darn good even as beaching killer whales are trying to eat them.
The Right Controller: Endless Ocean Blue World may support the classic controller, but there is a simple elegance to controlling your diver with the gentle pointing and tilting of a Wii remote. Motion control is ideal here, though some of the button assignments, which had me sometimes using two hands on one Remote, are unfortunately ill-placed.
The Fact That This May Be One Of The Wii's Best Japanese Role-Playing Games: I promise you this, prospective Blue World players: Play this game long enough and you'll think you are playing a JRPG. Characters dole out quests like they're applying for a job in Dragon Quest. The girl wants you to give diving tours to clients and will pay for maps you assemble of your diving spots. The old man will give you photography assignments. The brash guy will hint where exotic treasure lies, the better of the 200 pieces of treasure you can seek and dig up from the sea floor using an interesting CSI-style sensing tool. The aquarium curator will give you a whole other set of quests. Even buying firewood and lighting a fire on the beach starts a quest. So does playing a guitar (I think!) and staring into a telescope or petting the dog you find. If there's a corner of this game that isn't the first breadcrumb on another obscure quest to find a giant shark or sunken cache of machine guns, I haven't found it.
The Music: Endless Ocean: Blue World will make you a fan of New Age music, because it's only the moments when you find lovely underwater caves and such that trigger the Celtic Woman songs on the soundtrack. These songs thankfully interrupt the otherwise painful, looping game soundtrack ceases. A man dives underwater so he doesn't have to hear the world's most annoying soundtracks, dear developers.
The Main Quest: You can tell that this game is an RPG based on the fact that its main quest is not nearly as interesting or enjoyable as its sidequests. I'm being overly simplistic in my genre criticism, but trust me that this game's silly and supposedly emotional quest to discover the secret to the Dragon Song merely gives way to annoying cut-scenes of false emotion and frustratingly linear sections of a game that is best played as an open-world explore-anything-at-any-time wander. That this quest ends with the most unnecessary boss battle since the one in Bioshock is redeemed by the fact that you can keep playing the game well after that main quest is over and focus on the fun stuff.
Bad Menus: I thought JRPGs couldn't go any further backwards in their unfriendliness to players trying to keep track of the items they collect and the many quests which they accept, but Blue World proved me wrong. Keep a notebook handy as you play this game so that you can log your dozens of juggled quests. Otherwise, you will have to abandon your dive spot and sail back to your home island, then go to your "table," then open your notebook, then click a couple more times, just to see your quest-listing again. I'd rather get stabbed by a swordfish
Endless Ocean Blue World is a huge surprise. Not only does it provide a vast expansion of the interactive nature film format of video game that any of the older members of your family could enjoy, but it offers the depth of adventure and goals that make it one of the best role-playing games I've encountered on the Wii. That said, the game is as much an eyesore above land as it is a beauty below the sea and some of its menu and button configurations bear the fingerprints of a development team not remembering that Wii ethic of making gamers' lives easier. Thankfully, you spend most of your time in this game in its virtual aquatic paradises, chasing whales and having a lovely, relaxing time.
Endless Ocean: Blue World was developed by Arika and published by Nintendo for the Wii on February 22. Retails for the unusually low launch price of $29.99 USD, bundled with Wii Speak (for online co-op which I was not able to test). A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Dove for more than 8 hours, played for more than 10, and barely scratched the sea foam of the side quests. Found the dog and the stash of flamethrowers, but failed to complete the quest that unlocks the ninja suit, and, no, I'm not making that up.
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