Like Doshin the Giant and Electroplankton before it, the western release of Endless Ocean was one of those somewhat inexplicable Nintendo moments. They’re all games that could quite easily have remained in Japan without anyone being particularly bothered, and when they were launched over here – relatively unheralded, considering their first-party status – hardly anyone seemed to notice.
So we weren’t too taken aback when Endless Ocean 2 was announced to us in a casual ‘oh, that thing – it’s out next week’ sort of way. Presumably they know what they’re doing, but bypassing the games press seems an odd thing to do when the original was so highly rated and the sequel is, if anything, far more gamey.
If the aim was to say that Endless Ocean 2 isn’t for the likes of us, it hasn’t worked. We love it, and we reckon that even if you’re the sort of player who didn’t pick up the original because you were turned off by the idea of floating in a virtual sea and tickling fish for hours on end, this excellent follow-up is sufficiently more involving to merit a second chance.
The main difference is that there are loads more to do once you’re under the water. Last time the experience was all about looking and learning. Endless Ocean 2 still has that aspect, but it also gives you a bunch of tools, so you can interact more with the environment, and a plot that takes you around the world on an aquatic treasure hunt.
Treasure is buried under the sand in certain locations, and once you’ve dived in the general vicinity you have to scan the seabed with a sonar gadget to highlight the right location to dig. As well as the stuff related to the main story there are many small treasures that you excavate and sell to pay for snazzy new gear from a vendor who flits around the ocean on a jet ski.
There’s stuff above the water, too. In the original game you could walk around your boat and maybe meet a hulking great walrus that appeared on the deck to get its picture taken. This time, all of that has been relocated to more sensible places, such as islands. When you find a suitable one, you can climb out and walk around, getting honked at by sea birds.
Things that live on dry land don’t seem to be dangerous, but that’s not the case when you’re out of your element, breathing from a cylinder. The routes to some areas are patrolled by hungry sharks, and they’ll gnaw at you until you have to surface – presumably to have your legs reattached. Getting past those monsters usually involves zapping them several times with a weird sort of pulsar weapon, which persuades them via the power of electricity to go and eat somewhere else.
The pulsar is also used for identifying and healing sick animals – yes, as well as being a treasure hunter, naturalist and explorer, you’re also a kind of unsolicited underwater vet for wild animals. This is where we’d invoke the ghost of Steve Irwin to remind us all that most of the time these things don’t really like being messed around with but, hey, it’s only a game.
Your base is an island that looks small and flat enough to be completely swamped by the wash from your boat. You can park up there and save your game. On one half of the island there’s a gazebo with a table where you can read your journal and possibly have a barbecue with your mates, assuming anybody could find you out there in the salty vastness. There’s also a shed where you sleep.
If you head out to the end of the jetty you can play minigames with dolphins. You get one for free right at the start of the game, and others can be persuaded to join you if you manage to zap them during a dive.
Apart from the new shore-based parts, it looks much the same as the original – no bad thing, as that’s still one of the prettiest Wii titles around. A close-up camera for looking at coral and interesting bits of the sea floor is the only new visual treat, but it’s annoyingly restricted in the amount you can scroll around these super high-res shots – you can only pan the camera a tiny bit before you hit a barrier. And after a while you start spotting the exact same coral all over the place, which is probably when it’s time to take a break from all the swimming.
This thing really eats up the hours. You can get as far through it as you like, as long as you have the time, and the only parts that require any skill are when you’ve got a shark bearing down on you and you’re fumbling for the pulsar button.
But it definitely feels like a proper game, unlike the original, and there’s a real sense of achievement when you find your way through an underwater maze and chance upon something truly spectacular – of which there are many instances in Endless Ocean 2. Will anyone notice that it’s been released outside of Japan? Well, at least we’ve spotted it, and we dare say that if you’re hankering for something completely different from the average Wii title, you’ll be glad you found it too.
Feb 22, 2010