One of the rare games that Europe gets first before NA.
Otherwise known as "Forever Blue" in Japan, Endless Ocean allows you to explore the fictional ocean depths of Manaurai while learning about real sea creatures. I'm sure the beautiful blue boxart alone already catches attention.
Starting the game, you're given a diver's license and allowed to create your character which can be male or female. There aren't much customisation options at this point really. Just your hairstyle and tan.
Once character creation is complete, you arrive on the Gabbiano ready to freely explore the ocean. The cabin acts as your main point of operations. Inside you have access to your mobile phone to read e-mails and accept requests, develop photos you take underwater, access the guide to marine life which records creatures you touch, move the boat and save. So, even though Manaurai might appear to be a fairly large area for you to explore at first glance, you don't have to worry about travelling cast distances at least.
Right from the start of the game, you really are free to explore the ocean at your own pace but, without progressing to a certain part of the story, some areas are blocked off. Once you're underwater, the controls are very simple and only makes use of the Wiimote. You point in the direction you want to swim in and the diver will do so. From there you can touch any sea creatures you see by tapping the A button to learn more about them and you can even stroke them by waving the Wiimote. You can also scatter some food to attract fishes, shoot pictures once you have the camera and hold onto larger creatures to swim with them. It's all very relaxing.
And yes, there are dangerous creatures such as jellyfishes and shark but don't worry. You don't get hurt no matter how close you swim to them. If you wanted to, you can have them in your own aquarium later too.
There is a time cycle in the game but it's not in real-time. Perhaps an hour in-game is around ten real minutes or so. During this flow of time, a lot of e-mail arrives when you return to the ship or wakeup the next day giving you a number of requests to do. Most of the time you're acting as a guide to a certain part of Manaurai. Each of the clients are always after a certain fish but they won't tell you beforehand so in this way, the game encourages you to know the areas before you accept these tour requests. After the tours are given, you're given a grade that will help raise your reputation as a diver.
Besides the main story requests, you're also given ones where you must snap pictures of certain creatures or go survey areas. By completing requests you unlock new items to help distinguish your character from other players.
It's a pity that the game doesn't let another player join in with a second Wiimote but if you your Wii can connect to the internet, you can go swimming with another player. I haven't tried this yet but once you've obtained another player's Friend Code, you can invite them to a swim or vice-versa. There is no text input so you can't really chat with them. You're stuck with pre-defined phrases that the game gives you and you are also limited to players that use the same version of the software as you (i.e. in this case, the PAL version of the game).
Aboard the Gabbiano, there are a number of things you can do too. You can sit on a chair and enjoy the view but unfortunately, you can't look around. You're stuck gazing at a single angle which is odd, considering how you can do so when you surface above water when diving. Despite that, it can be very soothing just listening to the waves crashing and a dolphin splashing away in the distance. Sometimes various animals such as birds will appear on your ship and you can interact with them the same way you can with the underwater creatures.
And of course, we can't miss out befriending a dolphin! During the course of the story you're given a dolphin as a partner that you can choose to swim with. On deck, you can train it to do tricks too and set records for actions such as jumping. You do this by tapping on its nose or fin then creating a sign for the dolphin to follow. However, the problem I found was the software didn't recognise the "Go" sign very well. Too many times I waved the Wiimote left and right as directed but the dolphin wouldn't react.
The next problem appears in the form of the custom music player. Endless Ocean comes with a number of calm soothing BGM tracks, a few vocal sung by Hayley Westenra but, if you ever grow bored of them, you can stick some MP3s onto an SD card and play them from there. Problem is, you can only select one track which you can't change while underwater. You'll be listening to it on loop which can get annoying. Especially when you're swimming one of the deserted areas of Manaurai. The only way you're going to get round this is to merge multiple songs into one big track. I myself chose to stick with the default music which changes depending on where you are.
You don't actually set the track on board the ship. You do so only when you go diving during the loading screen which leads us to the next problem with Endless Ocean. Loading times last around 10 to 20 seconds when you go diving which is pretty short considering the visuals you get to feast on. However, there isn't a progress bar so it's hard to know when it's finished loading the area you want to explore. The only way you can tell is by listening to the whirling of the disc in your Wii or keep tapping the A button. You have to select the music track you want every time and only after loading is completed.
Above water, the world of Endless Ocean doesn't look very impressive. The Gabbiano looks very plain, the water effects aren't convincing, land looks like toy models and character animations are stiff. The human figures don't walk naturally and the creatures you get to interact with are clearly stuck on a looped animation. The repeated sound effects doesn't help either. That said, the lighting effect is very good as time cycles by.
The underwater world in contrast, look very impressive for the Wii. Various creatures swim in their unique ways, light rays come bursting through holes and the plants such as coral look very photo-like. Some of the creatures that you've probably seen on documentary programs can also be found and that's good. You would never be able to see them in real life even if you went diving due to the extreme pressure in areas such as the Abyss. It can all be fairly convincing apart from poking at every creature you see! You can make the diving experience as peaceful or as mysterious as you want it to be.
The most exciting area will have to be the ruins so far which appears to be modelled after the real-life underwater "pyramids" found near the Yonaguni Islands in Japan. It's great to be able to explore something as mysterious here. Some are saying the ruins could be a sunken city while many others are saying they are just natural formations. Whatever the case, it's become quite a tourist spot for divers now.
The only thing that spoils the diving experience are the boundaries you're limited to. You see, you can only swim around in the area your ship covers which is represented by a circle on the map. The English title maybe "Endless Ocean" but, you'll very likely find yourself bumping into an invisible barrier that tells you to turn back so that can be a little off-putting.
Endless Ocean took me 8 hours to work through the story events and by that time, I had explored the entire Manaurai map but, you'll be glad to know it lets you play on afterwards. If you are keen enough to continue exploring to complete the guide to marine life and collect all salvageable items, it could last you quite some time I would say. It's just a shame that you're only allowed to store up to 40 photos and they can't be sent or transferred to an SD card.
It's not a title for everyone but as a "Touch Generation" title, I'm sure it'll help Nintendo keep their new market of casual gamers entertained. If the idea of pointing your Wiimote around the screen and watching ocean life swim about doesn't interest you then, you should probably just keep away from this title because that's what you'll be doing most of the time. For me however, it's been a fairly relaxing and exciting experience discovering what you can find in the ocean depths.