Sometime back in 2006, Nintendo showed off a demo reel of game footage that included a particular underwater adventure game called Forever Blue. Initially very little was shown other then a diver swimming around a variety of sea creatures. Well now that the game has finally been released, we see that they were not being vague with the footage; Endless Ocean is a scuba diving simulator, nothing more, no less.
What may not be well known about this game is the developer Arika, is no stranger to this unique "genre". They have released previous scuba diving games in the past under the name"Ever Blue". Unlike those games, Endless Ocean strives to attract the newcomer gamers with its simplicity and laid back nature. The first thing you might notice is that there is no nunchuck needed. The entire game is played out by pointing at the screen to tell your diver where to look and pressing or holding buttons to swim, inspect objects, or bring up a menu screen with the D-pad.
While most of the casual games can get away with simple graphics by using a clean and stylized art direction, Endless Ocean is a game that actually relies on more on photo-realism. The inhabitants of the fictitious ocean setting in the game are all animated well and look good, however the game almost screams out for a larger draw distance and more variety in its textures. It is by no means an ugly game, but being that the central emphasis of the game is exploration and discovery; graphics almost become a part of gameplay. Above water on deck the human character models are pretty stiff, and the variety in character creation is laughably shallow. A far cry from even the simple options in the Mii channel.
The music in Endless Ocean depends purely on your taste in music. Haley Westenra provides much of the soundtrack, and the rest is instrumental easy listening. The music is highly appropriate for the game, but for some bizarre reason, the game only plays one track for each dive, looping from the start of the song over and over until you resurface. The game does support custom soundtracks off the SD card, but again you are limited to one track per dive.
For those who have played Endless Ocean it can be difficult to describe the "goal" of the game or simply the point of playing. I find that the game is very similar to an online RPG with the fighting completely stripped out. You have a large ocean at your disposal that you are encouraged to explore freely. However the game's extra equipment, modes, and items are unlocked by completing guided tours. Guided tours are thinly disguised mission objectives that you receive in your in-game email account. They work in the same fashion as a quest in an MMORPG. Upon accepting a tour, a diver will come to your boat and ask to go to a specific location to find a specific item or fish. After successfully providing a tour, the customer will bestow you with a positive rating and sometimes an item such as an underwater pen you can write messages in the water with.
If you thought there was no point and purpose to the game and were simply a virtual aquarium, you will be surprised to learn that there are mission based objectives within the game. Also within the game is the ability to train dolphins and have them accompany you on dives as partners. These partners are paramount to pointing out hidden creatures or artifacts hiding within the reefs. The game also supports an online system where you can either let friends come onto your boat or you can go visit theirs. There really isn't much point to the online set up other then to go diving in the virtual sea together and engage in Picto Chat like humor with the underwater pen. Perhaps more then ever Nintendo's' lack of online experience, namely its shortsighted views on voice chat, hurt what could have been an excellent addition to the game. Even with diving with a friend, it feels strangely isolated without being able to communicate beyond a preset number of responses on the D-pad.
For a game that costs less then most first party Nintendo DS releases, Endless Ocean actually packs a lot of content into the game, you have a large overworld to explore, missions to go on, things to find buried underwater, dolphins to train and an aquarium tank to fill. However this game is not for everybody and Nintendo knows this. This is a game for people who either love to explore every nook and cranny in their games, or the moms and dads who just want to enjoy a virtual getaway. Despite its laid back appearance the price is almost a bargain and recommended for those who know what it is and like the sound of it.
Final Verdict - 8/10
A great value with a surprising amount of modes and depth. While there is no overriding goal to the game, you still will have plenty of things to do and tours to give during your stay in the ocean. Recommended for those who love to simply explore open game worlds.