Ahh, the ocean. Nothing invokes a sense of wonder quite like it. It almost seems like an entirely different world from our own. Unfortunately, exploring this world isn't always easy, especially if you're like me and sink like a rock when put in any body of water over six feet deep. But for those of us unable to explore the real ocean, Nintendo brings us Endless Ocean. From Arika, the developers behind the PS2's Everblue series, Endless Ocean allows players to explore a not-quite-endless fictional ocean. The premise of the game might sound a bit foreign to gamers used to their games being filled with crew-cut space marines, murderous aliens, and guns powerful enough to wipe out entire hordes of enemies in a single shot, but gamers looking for something a little more laid back will find a lot to like about Endless Ocean.
When you first start the game, you're greeted with the ability to customize your character, though the options are slim at first. Male or female, light or tan skin, long or short hair, and that's about it. I personally chose a light skinned long haired male, because you know, I'm a rebel like that. You'll eventually unlock more personalization options, though, so don't worry if you don't see anything you like right off the bat. Once you start the game, you're thrown into the shoes, or should I say wetsuit, of a rookie diver. After doing a few tutorials, you're basically free to explore the ocean at will. However, if you wish, you can take jobs such as acting as a guide for other divers. However, none of this is mandatory. You'll gain new equipment for doing these jobs, however, so it is recommended that you do them.
Above water, the game doesn't look very impressive. In fact it brings to mind early PS2 budget-game graphics. However, you'll be spending most of your time underwater, and this is where the game really shines. Underwater, the game is simply stunning. From coral and small fish like Blue Tangs and Guitarfish, to huge coral pillars and whale sharks, everything looks magnificent (and don't worry, the fish can't harm you, not even the sharks). You can choose to play from either a first person or third person perspective, though I personally feel that the first person view is best, as it really makes it feel like you're there. The game controls solely with the Wii Remote. Simply point to where you want to go and hold the B button. By all accounts, this setup works far better than it has any right to. To view a fish up close, simply hold your pointer over it and press A. At first you won't know anything about the fish, not even it's name. But simply poke, pet, or feed the fish a few times, and you'll unlock information about it. And later in the game, you'll be able to populate an aquarium with fish that you've unlocked info on. Pretty good incentive for examining all the fish you can, I'd say. Also, it's worth noting that the ocean in Endless Ocean isn't really "endless". It is, however, quite large. Large enough to potentially get lost in. The game prevents this by limiting you to a certain radius around your boat every time you dive. Yes, it's disappointing that you can't freely explore the WHOLE ocean at once, but all you have to do is go back to your boat and move it if you want to see the fish that populate another area of the sea.
Of course, fish and coral aren't the only things to look at underwater. Sea lions, manatees, penguins, underwater caverns, ruins, and even sunken ships await you in the Manoa Lai sea. There's even treasures hidden throughout the ocean for you to find. Eventually, you'll also gain access to an underwater camera, which you can use to take pictures of the undersea world. With any luck, your picture will make it to the cover of a magazine after you submit it to your friend at the magazine. Sadly Arika left out the ability to transfer photos taken in the game to the Wii Message Board, which could have been a great addition. It would have been awesome to be able to send your favorite photos to people on your Wii Friends list via the Message Board.
Endless Ocean also features music by New Zealand songstress Hayley Westerna. And I must say that her songs, especially "Prayer", fit the game like a glove. However, if her brand of music isn't quite your thing, never fear. As long as you have an SD card, you can dive to your own custom soundtrack. Personally, I like to dive to Ulver's "Hallways of Always". However, if you want to dive to something a little edgier, feel free. I hear Dio's "Holy Diver" makes great underwater music. Endless Ocean also features support for Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, for two player co-op diving. An unexpected addition, for sure, but a welcome one. Sadly I haven't been able to try it out due to my Wi-Fi being messed up at the moment.
There's really no denying that Endless Ocean isn't for everyone. It's lackadaisical, laid back gameplay might be off-putting to those used to being told where to go and what to do in their games. There's been a fair amount of debate lately on whether or not Endless Ocean is even a game. It's been criticized as boring and pointless. However, I don't agree with these criticisms one bit. There's plenty to do and see in Endless Ocean. You just need to take the time to discover it. There's little more stunning in video games than diving in pitch darkness, only to have your diving light suddenly fall on a gigantic whale shark. I highly recommend Endless Ocean to all Wii owners. It's $30, has custom soundtrack and online support, and is simply an experience not to be missed.