Before I start this review, I have a confession to make: I’m scared of whales and other large sea creatures. I’m not talking about orcas, belugas, or even those right whales – I’m talking about blue whales, sperm whales, whale sharks, etc. Needless to say, this game shouldn’t be frightening for anyone, but it scared the crap out of me. It’s an amazing game, though, and I’m happy to review it! Can’t wait for the sequel!
The plot is basically this: you’re a diver whose boss takes you to a place called Manoa Lai to explore. She (your boss) is very interested in the local legends from natives and you eventually wind up on a quest to discover the Ancient Mother. The plot isn’t amazing, and completing it isn’t even the game’s main objective. It’s simply something you can go back to if you want something to do other than immerse yourself in the game’s tranquil oceanic atmosphere, which is exactly what the game sets out to do.
I’ll get the bad out of the way first, at least concerning the artwork. The two human characters in the game are pretty bland. Catherine isn’t the most attractive video game character ever, but maybe that’s why I like her so much. She’s not supposed to turn anyone on so much as just be another person.
As far as your avatar goes, it doesn’t really matter whether you choose a male or female – neither is spectacular. I’ve beaten the game and my diver, Fred, is still sporting his exact same hair cut and diving gear. There just wasn’t really anything interesting to change, despite all the stuff you can unlock.
Now, the ocean itself is the highlight. You’ll be spending most of your time here, so the bland human characters don’t detract much from the game. The ocean creatures are amazing! They look very real, complete with light shining off their backs and flickering through the ocean. Each little fish or giant mammal looks true-to-life without any liberties taken, except to scale down some of the whales to a size acceptable for the game.
The scenery is gorgeous, with various blends of coral and other plant life scattering the ocean floor, Manoa Lai is one of the prettiest game locations I’ve ever seen. It’s meant to help you relax! You can just swim serene waters forever, looking at all the beauty nature has to offer. The ocean is very different to those of us stuck on the land.
And how can I forget the abyss? The single most frightening location I’ve ever been in. In all seriousness, I still go down there only when I have to – I have a tendency to have nightmares after playing in it. Don’t ask why, but when I see that huge sperm whale I mentally freak out. Give me Resident Evil, Parasite Eve, Bioshock, etc. there’s nothing scarier than the Abyss!
When it comes to how the game is animated, it’s almost as though you’re playing two different games, really. While you’re on the boat deck (which isn’t a whole lot), the movements are rigid, clunky, and not very graceful at all. Your avatar doesn’t behave like a normal person. Once you’re in the water, however, everything becomes fluid, graceful, and enthralling. You completely forget what the boat deck looked like and you find yourself absorbed in the calmness of the ocean.
Your diver looks great in the water, and the fish all behave relatively normal. It’s easy to tell with some creatures that their motions are repetitive, but when it comes to a lot of fish, their movements are repetitive in real life, too, so it looks very normal in the game.
The schools of fish and dolphins are amazing to watch, and I really enjoy stalking sharks and other predators that I would normally avoid. For people like me who will probably never get to see the ocean in their lifetime, let alone go diving in it, Endless Ocean is a more than acceptable substitute because of the realism it provides!
Eh, there are not many sounds in the game. On deck, you can hear birds and some of the animals that randomly appear on your boat, but not much else. In the water, sound effects are mostly limited to your diver’s Darth Vader-like breaths and your partner’s squeals and other alerts. Things are pretty much muted in the water.
Anyone who’s seen the preview was impressed by Haley Westenra’s haunting song “The Prayer” that plays through the trailer. Her songs are the only music in the game aside from the cheesy deck music, or whatever music you stuck on your SD card for that matter.
I thank the game for introducing me to this angelic voice. Her songs add immense value to the game, in my opinion, and it’s one of the chief reasons I bought the game to begin with! “Benedictus” is one of my favorites, as is “E Pari Ra”.
Now, if this type of music isn’t your piece of cake, no problem! The developers must have foreseen this so there’s the option to import your own music. It’s not hard, takes practically no time, and allows you listen to the Jaws‘ theme, “Zora’s Domain”, or any of the other cool music you want to hear while swimming. A great feature, in my opinion!
For such a great game, the gameplay is relatively simple. You point where you want to wit the wiimote, hold A, and navigate that way. You can zoom in on any piece of scenery you want for ultra-precise details and to find tiny fish, shrimp, and other creatures.
You can also lock on to any animal life you wish and ride your partner (a sea animal you befriend, like a dolphin or orca whale) as well as any whales you come across. Riding stuff is fun, but I don’t do it often.
There’s more you can do with an animal you lock onto than ride it, though. You can pet it to learn about it, toss food at it, and even take pictures of it Pokemon Snap-style! In fact, a lot of people compare it Pokemon Snap (especially the photo request bits), but unlike Pokemon Snap, Endless Ocean is open-ended. You’re not on a fixed track and out to get the perfect picture, but your roaming free and able to choose if you want to snap a picture or not.
I mustn’t forget the aquarium! Here you can basically stick any creature you want into a local aquarium. This doesn’t do much except allow you to have fun, but it’s not vital to the game.
There’s also a lot more to do than discover new locations and animal life. You can also collect artifacts and other objects lost at sea, explore hidden locations, etc. There’s also plenty of stuff to unlock, including new hair, diving equipment, or new creatures. For example, collecting a certain item will unlock the orca whale.
You also can’t die. You can reach out and grab any shark you want, they may thrash around for a second, but you’ll never be attacked. This game is all about relaxing.
Given the game’s simplicity, they do manage to incorporate character development. You learn early on that Catherine can’t swim, despite her fascination and passion for the ocean. Later you learn about her father, why she won’t swim, and what drives her. This is all little more than trivial knowledge, but it’s nice to see that the one speaking character still has something of a personality!
With all the locations in the game, each one sets out to invoke different emotions. Most of the game is relaxing, but there are a few locations that manage to get a more fierce response from the player. You already know that the Abyss gives me nightmares, and I’m pretty sure it’s purpose is supposed to remove the player from his comfort zone, but it’s also awe-inspiring. Truly, the very idea that such fantastical creatures exist that deep into the ocean is astounding! It’s also terrifying, but that’s just me.
Another location that sticks out in my mind is Ship’s Rest, a graveyard of sorts for sunken vessels. A ship’s remains lie there, as does an old fighter jet. It reminds me of Titanic, as strange as that is.
Do I recommend it? Yes, although some gamers might get bored. It doesn’t really have any excitement, so to speak, and it takes a great deal of patience.