Endless Ocean is best summarized as the simplicity of Animal Crossing combined with a gorgeous National Geographic documentary about fish.
As a freelance scuba diver, you (or your somewhat customizable character) drift around in the waters off the fictional Monoa Lai island. You explore the region’s waters, learn about the various fauna that live there, collect sunken treasure, guide clients around the coral reefs, populate the local aquarium and teach your diving partner (a dolphin) tricks.
That’s about it. There’s no ultimate goal or way to “win” or “lose” the game. Much like Animal Crossing, there is no required order in which to accomplish the goals you encounter. And the fish you encounter seem to live in perfect harmony without trying to eat each other or your diver.
The controls are simplistic and well-suited to the Wii’s unique control scheme. B swims, A interacts with fauna and objects, + zooms in, and – does “auto swim”. Tilting the remote makes the diver turn or go deeper. Young children and casual gamers will have no problem mastering the controls as they swim around in their waterlogged sandbox.
The sound is… non-offensive. The sounds of the bubbles escaping the scuba gear, the diver kicking to go deeper, dolphins whistling and the radio crackling to life are all very nice touches that increase the game’s immersive feeling. However, the soundtrack is full of snore-inducing music. While the music is appropriate for the environments, it’s not something I would actively seek out for listening pleasure. Luckily, Arika takes mercy on people with more varied tastes and allows you to play your own MP3’s off an SD card.
The real gem of this game is in its graphic representation of the water and fauna. While the image of the human characters (usually on the boat) looks very similar to those in the Sims series, the sea bed and its fauna look like it came from National Geographic or Discovery Channel. Many of the fish act like they would in the wild when you interact with them. Moving to different areas is seamless, with no discernible transition period. Even general caves and walls look gorgeous. I half-expect to hear the voice of Jacques Cousteau to come out of my surround sound as my diver swims around.
The only real gripe I can think of is that the immersive experience may cause nausea in those prone to motion sickness. Even though I don’t generally get sick, I still felt a minor touch of queasiness after my first session. That went away once I got used to the controls and environment. Your mileage may vary.
All in all, Endless Ocean is a fascinating addition to the “sandbox” and “edutainment” genre of games. Small children will enjoy moving the diver around to explore the rich sea life (that strangely never eats or attacks each other). Adults will enjoy learning new stuff and meeting the small goals. There is a lot to do and discover, and players may even learn something.