2007’s Endless Ocean was a true original: a diving game that made little attempt to be a game, basing most of its gameplay around just touching fish. As part of the Touch Generations range it clearly appealed to enough aspiring divers to merit a sequel, but it’s certainly changed from the inviting warm waters of the Manaurai Sea.
This time around the game takes in seas and rivers all over the world, from the tropical Gatama Atoll to the Antarctic’s Wendell Ocean, with the species and ecology changing accordingly, bringing a far greater variety to proceedings. Interacting with the fish is slightly different too – gone are the three levels of information, replaced by a single info screen, some unlockable trivia and a map of the animal’s habitat, showing where you can find higher concentrations of each species in the game. It’s a small change but one that removes much of the repetitive marine massaging from the predecessor, as well as making it far easier to track down individual fish when needed, a welcome enhancement. Two other major additions come in the form of the Pulsar gun and the Multi-Sensor.
Taking the Pulsar first, it’s a new kind of seemingly-magical gun that can both heal sick animals and subdue dangerous ones. Those requiring medical attention have a coloured reticule around them, showing the severity of their injuries, with as many as five or six accurate shots required to bring them back to full health. If you encounter a predator that requires subduing, a danger marker will appear on-screen alerting you to its presence, with a few Pulsar blasts sending it swimming away.
The healing aspect works fine with the game’s eco-friendly attitude, but the “combat” poses a few problems: for one, there’s no way to lock onto a target and fire, and the realistically sluggish turning speed makes it frustrating to track a fast assailant such as a shark. The combat elements are thankfully few and far between, but their presence interrupts the peaceful feeling of exploration and contentment that the original did so well. Granted, there is plenty of danger in the real ocean, but it’s one addition that feels unwanted.
Other new features are far more welcome. Initially you’ll only be able to spend a short time underwater, but going deeper and further increases your diving level, improving your breathing and allowing you to explore for longer. As you progress through the story, you’ll also be able to purchase improvements for your equipment, granting you a larger oxygen tank, extra charges for your Pulsar gun and more room to store your salvaged goods.
As in the predecessor, the ocean floor is teeming with treasure, and the new Multi-Sensor tool will pick up on any hidden secrets invisible to the naked eye. By sending out waves it can tell you if it finds items made of stone, wood or metal, as well as an indication of its size: if it’s too big, you’ll have to return after upgrading your bag, necessitating repeat visits in order to grab everything. It’s a nice gadget that fits in well, and it’s undeniably addictive to check every area in the hope of finding something amazing.
That sense of discovery is now extended above land, with the ability to walk on solid ground included for the first time. Having left the boat from the first game, you now live on Nineball Island, a small getaway you can customise with hammocks, telescopes and other trinkets. It’s not the only terra firma you get to explore though – bob your head above the water’s surface at certain areas and you’ll get the chance to go ashore, letting you interact with birds, lizards and more for the first time. The land controls aren’t quite as intuitive as they could be – holding moves you forward with the Remote pointer used to direct, but it feels a little slow. It’s not a huge problem – on Nineball Island you can open your menu with a press of , removing any need to walk about, but it’s a shame it doesn’t feel as natural to walk on land as it does to swim in the big blue.
There's quite a lot of features on old Nineball Island, though. It's here that you accept quests, teach tricks to your aquatic companions and read much of the story exposition.The photography and guide side quests from the original return largely unchanged, though photo fans will be pleased to hear you can now transfer your photos to an SD card, which is a big bonus. You may see some of our shots around this review or as the first five images on the game’s screenshots page. Graphically the title is improved but not in any enormous way: textures still repeat and there are some issues with animation on smaller fish, but it has just as many moments of beauty and the larger fish and mammals look stunning. Sadly there’s no ability to listen to your own mp3 tracks using the SD card; a shame as some tracks get horribly repetitive, though you can adjust sound levels if you only want sound effects or music.
If you don’t fancy using the Remote controls, you can plug in a Classic Controller to explore the ocean. The left stick functions as your pointer with the right stick turning your character, meaning you can examine areas of interest at the outskirts of the frame. It works well but doesn’t quite have the same feeling of inertia and physical involvement of the Remote scheme, and although it’s good to have it included you're unlikely to use it over the standard method.
Completing various objectives along the way unlocks different titles you can assign to your diver, with 150 in total to collect. There are titles for healing 100 fish, befriending a dolphin, visiting the aquarium and more, and with extra content available at certain milestones there’s plenty of incentive to explore the world and beat certain records. In fact, this is probably the biggest improvement over the predecessor: with countless quests, salvage items, titles, photographs and of course the fish and birds, Endless Ocean 2 is very much a completionist’s wet dream.
Taking the original’s core diving experience and adding more traditional game elements both helps and hinders Endless Ocean 2. On the one hand, there’s a huge amount more to see, and crucially far more to do – you can whiz through the story’s chapters in eight to twelve hours, but chances are you won’t want to, preferring instead to soak in the new sights and sounds. What was once a simplistic diving experience is now fleshed out with gadgets and guns; you’ll rarely dive without a mission or objective in mind, which means the pleasing pleasure of diving for diving’s sake has been subdued somewhat. You’ll still want to take a dip just to see what’s going on, and with the Pulsar, Multi-Sensor, titles and more there’s weeks of content here, and that’s without going into the online play with Wii Speak support, which sadly we were unable to test out at the time of review.
Essentially, you’re getting a lot more game for your money with Endless Ocean 2; it’s less free-form and meandering than the original, with greater purpose and direction. Whether that’s what you want from a diving game is up to you, although truth be told there’s few other alternatives. If you liked the first one, you’ll enjoy the sequel every bit as much; if you're still a diving novice, it doesn't get better than Endless Ocean 2.