In late February, more than three months after its last Wii release, New Super Mario Bros Wii, Nintendo will finally launch its next, Endless Ocean: Blue World. This sequel has a twist: It's more of a game than its predecessor.
The first Endless Ocean was a January 2008 oddity here in America, a scuba-diving simulator set to New Age music, a game that encouraged players to take virtual photos of virtual fish or use the Wii's motion controls to pet them. The interactive underwater safari even supported online co-op play, a feature absent from any other Nintendo-published game on the Wii.
The first game was a wet sandbox, letting players transport a boat across a few dozen quadrants of fresh and saltwater diving areas, dunking their diver beneath the surface and scoping out the wildlife. A very light narrative layer propelled the player through some underwater artefact searches and the game climaxed with the search for a massive whale.
I played the sequel, Blue World, today at a Nintendo demo event in New York City. I was told by a Nintendo representative who walked me through that game that, well, it's more of a game than the last one.
This time there's a quest, one that the Nintendo guy didn't want to spoil too much, short of explaining that archaeological exploration is involved. I was told that we're looking for the "Dragon Song", whatever that is and that things might get a bit mystical. He said that diving can still be an undersea wander, but that there will be more quests, more tasks with goals. There's also, in this non-violent game, a sort of gun. The thing is called a Pulsar and I guess it makes fish more mellow. Using the Wii Remote alone, I swam my diver to a region accessible early in the game where a Tiger Shark was lurking. It started swimming toward me. Pulsar at the ready, I shot it a few times. It was subdued. Later, I saw some sick fish, their sickness indicated by red targeting squares hovering over their swimming bodies. In a first-person few, I should some Pulsar rounds at them, making them happier and healthier.
The new game's controls are simple and Remote-only as were the first one's. MotionPlus is not supported, though Wii Speak is, to improve the experience of the returning online co-op. The game is now set around the world, in four fictional locations in different climates, all populated by realistic and superbly animated sea life. The player has an island home-base this time, from where they can go on missions, take in-game characters on dives and learn what they must do to upgrade their equipment. Better equipment allows a player to dive deeper or for a longer period of time.
While I didn't see it in Blue Ocean, I was told that the new game will also allow players to once again have a dolphin buddy. The player will sometimes need to hang onto the dolphin and let it swim into new regions. In the first game the player was even able to cling onto full-sized whales.
The first Endless Ocean was one of the Wii's more graphically impressive games, at least in the 90 per cent of it that was set underwater. As with the first game, the above-water graphics and the non-swimming human character models look simple and stiff, but underwater the game is delightful to look at. Sealife swims with convincing realism, the ocean teeming with rays, sharks and schools of fish. A swim through a forest of kelp looks lovely.
As devoid of stated goals as the first Endless Ocean was, it still managed to drive the player through its adventure through the motivation of curiosity. When the world undersea looks as beautiful as it does in a well-rendered video game - to say nothing of real life - the pull is strong to swim past the next coral reef and see what is beyond.
Grafting more of a traditional goal-oriented game design to that could bring more players to Blue World's depths. But it could also disrupt the natural beauty of serene dive. We'll be able to determine which is the case on February 22 when Endless Ocean: Blue World is released for the Wii.