This is you driving on drugs

Pub date April 2, 2008
WriterKea Johnston
SectionArts & CultureSectionGamer

Endless Ocean: Dive, Discover, Dream

(Nintendo Wii)

GAMER I thought I was looking for some new, nonmayhem-oriented games, and someone recommended Endless Ocean. I read the box and said, "Hmmm. A game where you swim around and look at pretty fish. Yeah. I could do that."

Endless Ocean is a game about scuba diving: you play a young marine biologist tasked with helping to catalog the inhabitants of an imaginary coral reef. Your job is to explore the underwater landscape, to collect artifacts, and to observe as many new and different types of fish as you can, all while listening to a calming synthpop soundtrack. In other words, Endless Ocean is Valium on a disc — which has both good and bad implications.

First off, I’d really like to commend Arika for developing a game that obviously wasn’t destined to sell a gazillion copies. Although it involves the latest in a trilogy, it really brings something unique to the console game repertoire: the ability to delve into environments for their own sake, at your own pace. I stared captivated at the screen, late into the night, using my Wiimote to swim under coral and to follow fish, trying to get as close to the fish as I could in order to see the details of their bodies. Endless Ocean has one of the most user-friendly swimming controls of any game I’ve played. Usually swimming in a console game is an unholy pain. It’s still a bit awkward with Endless Ocean, but oddly enough, it lends realism to the game: steering yourself in an environment that is denser than normal with a giant tank on your back is awkward.

Endless Ocean‘s greatest failure is that it’s not realistic enough. I wished many times while playing the game that my Wii was a PS3 with a Wiimote so I could swim easily and have the detailed fish. I wanted to see their fins and scales. But the Wii just doesn’t support the high-resolution graphics that would allow this. They do a lot with what they have, but it isn’t enough.

Part of the game mechanic is that you gather information about the fish by "befriending them." In the language of videogames and toddlers, this means "poking them." The fish just keep swimming their scripted loops: they don’t care and they’re not real fish. I even used my underwater pen to tag the reef near one with an anarchy sign. Not even a dirty look.

Fish are not the astrophysicists of the animal kingdom. It can’t be hard to write fish artificial intelligence. They should at least swim off when you try to poke them. I feel that with an actionless game like this, the enjoyment needs to come either from being able to admire the environment like artwork or from being able to interact with it. The aim to create realism with all the detail that this implies is just unrealistic on the Wii, and the world’s responses to your overtures are dull rather than compelling.