Four hours into Endless Ocean: Blue World, around the time you’re drawing obscene stick figures in luminescent, underwater ink to attract poisonous lionfish away from a sunken throne room, you might start wondering who this game was made for. Is there really a hunger for methodical fish-rubbing simulators among the legions who bought a Wii to play Mario Kart and Wii Fit? Do the soccer moms and tweens of Nintendo’s core demographic respond well to rewards based on expert cartography and their aptitude for salvaging lost pottery?
Blue World is actually the second scuba-diving game for the Wii, and the fourth by developer Arika. The games are sold as tranquility simulators, toys that let players doggie-paddle through low-tech but attractive reefs. But the truth is that Blue World is a traditional, linear adventure built on time-tested mechanics. The game starts with your customizable protagonist joining the family-run company L&L Diving, a company respected for its underwater services, but haunted by the “Song Of Dragons” and its curse. Traditionally, you’d get kitted out with swords and sorcery after that setup, but instead, it’s oxygen tanks, metal detectors, and weird guns that either heal fish or pacify squirrelly sharks. You unlock a variety of archipelagoes, shallow seas, and rivers to explore as the story unfolds, in addition to myriad side-quests that offer you new gear and new odd jobs. It’s all very familiar for anyone who’s played Japanese games over the past 30 years.
Which really throws the issue of the audience into stark relief. The game’s genre trappings aren’t deep enough to appeal to sim fans, and they’re nowhere near as accessible as in lifestyle games like The Sims. There may be a crowd out there for a high-end technology showcase that renders a convincing ocean to explore, but Endless Ocean’s presentation is middling even by Wii standards. (It looks nice underwater, but the fifth of the game played topside looks like a Dreamcast game.) There are frequent load times, pertinent information is buried under layers of menu and unvoiced dialogue, and the vocal theme song that pops up now and again is brutal.
All that said, Blue World does have a certain je ne sais quoi that’s entrancing at the right moments. The ominous quiet and dark when you edge too close to open sea and the tinkling notes when you find a new focus spot evoke surprisingly powerful emotions. It isn’t clear who the game is for, but it still has merit.