During the last generation of consoles, the Wii was widely regarded to have inferior graphics when compared to its competitors. Aesthetically speaking, despite some truly stunning titles – most notably the Super Mario Galaxy games – the plucky 480p console couldn’t compete with the HD powerhouse consoles of the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. The Wii of course was never about graphics, it was about gameplay experiences; Wii Sports, Mario Kart Wii, Wii Play, these were games that you played when you wanted to have a good time with mates, not when you wanted to gaze in awe at your television screen. That being said there were a few exceptions; one of the most interesting being Endless Ocean.
Developed by Arika and released to the Wii in 2007, Endless Ocean is a game all about the experience of scuba diving… and that’s all there is to it. All you do in the game is dive underwater and explore the depths of the ocean. You can go spelunking in submerged crystalline caverns or delve deep in to the dark depths, but beyond exploration there really isn’t much to the game. Similar to series such as Fallout or The Elder Scrolls; Endless Ocean gives you this vast game world to explore at your own pace but unlike those series there are no enemies, no power ups, and no obstacles in your way. Endless Ocean ignores the conventions of modern gaming and instead urges players to just relax and lose themselves in its vibrant marine world dominated by colourful coral reefs and vast stretches of open water.
Endless Ocean ignores the conventions of modern gaming and instead urges players to just relax and lose themselves in its vibrant marine world
The game’s proposal of captivating players with its underwater environments is certainly an ambitious one given its underpowered platform, yet somehow it still manages to blow me away 8 years after its release. Listening to Hayley Westenra’s angelic rendition of Prayer whilst nosediving down into darkness only to see a gigantic whale emerge from the inky abyss, left me wide eyed and open mouthed the first time I played through the game. The game’s beautifully tranquil soundtrack, subtle lighting effects such as light glittering down through cracks in submerged caves, and sheer scale all combine to make Endless Ocean one of the most visually impressive games of its generation.
Not to mention the impressive range of aquatic creatures that you will encounter from the minuscule sea cucumber and dime a dozen Blue Tang (aka Dory from Finding Nemo), to the gargantuan whales and foreboding sharks, contribute surprising longevity to the experience. There’s even a mechanic that allows you to befriend dolphins and have them accompany you on future dives. With regards to presentation, the only time that the game shows its standard definition roots is when the player leaves the water and returns to his/her boat. Whereas the underwater animations are fluid and lifelike, above the waves low polygon character models that move in a bizarrely robotic manner serve as an unwanted break from the relaxing immersion that the rest of the game works so hard to achieve.
Despite the chilled tone of the game, there are still things to do as well. You can accept jobs via email to photograph specific kinds of fish or take clients on dives with you. Also there are a few overarching objectives such as the Pokémon inspired scrapbook which calls for the player to catalogue every kind of fish and marine animal in the ocean.
The main plot which takes you to the most interesting locations that the game has to offer, can also be tackled by the player at any time. The objectives of Endless Ocean feel like guidelines on how to play and never impede on the player’s own personal play style. Ultimately it’s all about the discoveries that you make.
Unfortunately, that is also the game’s biggest flaw. Scuba diving is by nature a slow paced activity, so it makes sense that a game based on the activity would be equally as slow. If the notion of swimming through the oceans and discovering new kinds of fish doesn’t excite you then Endless Ocean will ultimately put you to sleep. Also another annoying trait of many Wii games was the forced implementation of motion controls. In Endless Ocean, players point the Wii remote at the screen and move the pointer around to change the direction that the diver is swimming toward. It’s intuitive, but it does take some getting used to and initially feels a bit clunky.