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Monday, September 22, 2008

Game Play: Endless Ocean

Endless Ocean is one of those games that is quite simply a hard sell. You don't blow anything up, the graphics already feel a bit dated and it wasn't made by Will Wright. It's hard to even get "scuba diving arcade sim" out with a straight face.

And insert "of course it's the best scuba diving game out there when it's one of the only scuba diving games..." at any point (actually Endless Ocean is an extension of the Everblue games for the PS2). The truth is - Endless Ocean shows some extremely smart design choices. There is a simplicity to the game that makes the whole thing a joy to play. The fundamental rule of the game seems to be: you can't really do anything wrong.

Basically you drive your boat around, dive into the water and poke fish around. Want to go somewhere else? Just select "Return to Boat" at any time. You can't get hurt. You can poke sharks to your heart's content. You don't have to worry about air or pressure or anything. Theoretically you can run out of air, I haven't done it yet but I'm pretty certain you just get magically teleported back to the boat.

Endless Ocean is a rare subgenre of gaming based pretty much solely on exploration. It's entirely possible this game would bore the heck out of you. But if it doesn't within the first ten minutes or so - you'll probably get many hours out of the game before repetition sets in. Even by the time you've scoped out most of the Manoa Lai sea, you'll have reasons to revisit areas and discover new things. Heck, I thought I had covered nearly everything only to run into a derelict ship last night.

And when it works, when you get that kind of cool chill because some enormous sea creature just emerged out of nowhere - it works really well.

Cons: it looks like it might be somewhat short and once you've gone everywhere there may be little incentive to simply complete your knowledge by poking even more fish. Honestly, the whole poking thing is not my fave and it occupies a lot of the game (to learn about fish, you interact with them, sometimes by clicking A repeatedly). It seems like the camera mechanic is underused here - I would have rather snapped shots of fish and analyzed than tapping buttons.

Also, and this totally and completely not fair and some Wii fanboy will rightfully smite me for it - but I really wish for a PS3 version of the game. With dense HD visuals and a large hard drive with downloadable content, this game would be an easier sell. This doesn't mean Wii users should pass it up though and the game is certainly a safe rental title at least.

4 comments:

jvm said...

Please see Aquanaut's Holiday on PS1. Also a version coming for PS3. Also see Afrika (and hope the Chinese/English version has enough English to make it worth importing).

Josh said...

Found Aquanaut's a bit after posting this and looks like it could satisfy that HD underwater jones...

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

I have to agree on the desire for an HD version (on 360, in my case)---a game that's all about "look at that cool thing" kind of needs the thing to look as cool as possible. Endless Ocean's art design isn't quite interesting enough to overcome its low-resolution, which is really unfortunate, as I love the concept.

There actually was an XBLA game built around a similar idea, now that I think about it---swimming through reefs taking photos, sort of like Pokemon Snap. Anyone else play that?

Josh said...

Sea Life Safari might be what you're thinking of...

I will add this - kids would adore Endless Ocean, and might accidentally learn something too...