Endless Ocean 2: Adventures of the Deep
The ocean? Brilliant. I bet there are all sorts of things to kill down there, like the batty inhabitants of an underwater capitalist society free of religion and governments. Maybe there's some mutant sharks you need to shoot with harpoon guns, or even underwater terrorists. This is a videogame, after all.
Endless Ocean 2 promises plenty of danger and intrigue with its subtitle 'Adventures of the Deep' - a race of evil octopi with acid ink, perhaps? It kicks off with a bit of action, with your character engaged in some banter with veteran sea-dog Jean-Eric and his lively jail-bait granddaughter Oceane. Then it's time to hit the brine, where you waft about for a bit and then help guide a baby whale to mummy whale, who promptly tries to - bam! It's on! - ram you. Before you blast that bad mother into a pile of floating sea gibs you stop to work out what got her so agitated and then watch her suckle her baby. This isn't action! We've been had: the game's most aggressive action is calming down boisterous sealife with a gun-looking device that administers a non-violent electrical massage!
It barely even qualifies as a game. It's a calming, meandering saunter across the oceans of the world. Developers Arika have tried to spice up the series a little with the inclusion of a mystery: your character is a student, studying Folklore at university, trying to chase the fabled 'Song of Dragons' on a gap-year, though the plot is nothing more than a wafer-thin framing device designed to get you in the waters. It's all nonsense, as the only reef a real student would ever see is the orange-flavoured alcopop.
Much like its predecessor, the highlights of the game are the underwater animals. They're impeccably animated and detailed, and whilst the Wii lacks the processing punch of its high-definition counterparts its creatures swim about with an uncanny sense of authenticity. Meeting some of the rarer creatures elicits genuine excitement.
A good chunk of the game comes from identifying and cataloguing the inhabitants of the unnaturally diverse oceans, which is now done by looking at the animal and pressing A instead of having to pet/poke, although that remains an option. The first Endless Ocean was almost a one-trick pony in this regard, but the sequel likes to branch out a bit. It's still very much an aquarium screensaver you can swim around in, only now it features an unmistakable hint of capitalism. Everything is monetised, with completed missions earning you oodles of dosh to go blow on jazzing up your apartment.
The main plot can be punched through in a few hours leaving the bulk of the game coming from your own personal explorative whims (with invisible walls only at map boundaries this time around) and penchant for rummaging through mini-games. Old favourites such as photography and guided dives make their return, with new distractions coming from healing poorly fish, dabbling in cartography, chasing off birds and keeping your eyes peeled for swanky loot to salvage. Along with the calm satisfaction obtained from identifying everything and working through the in-game achievement list, it quickly becomes the kind of game you can sit down and play for an hour without even realising it.
A little more flavour is added by an ever-swelling cast of characters who don't hesitate to get into their scuba gear and accompany you on a dive. The most amusing (partially due to his ridiculous, and probably slightly offensive, portrayal) is GG, an American treasure hunter who speaks entirely in ebonics. It's more of a human adventure this time around - you can even walk about on land, although these bits aren't very good - with the game focusing more on its divers and their reasons for being in the ocean over the former's focused fascination with marine biology.
It feels like a more complete package than the original, with a bite-sized economy to its missions that means you're being constantly being rewarded with new gizmos, characters and entries in your database. It's a unique experience, and Arika have made themselves champions of the scuba diving genre. It doesn't matter that the population of said genre can be counted with a single finger.
That said, there are a few things that jar. There's a Wiispeak-supporting online mode, only it doesn't remember any animals you've identified back in the single-player game. There's support for the Classic Controller, but it's completely dire and far worse than the perfectly satisfactory Wiimote option. And the wooden character models and complete lack of voice acting, along with some wonky game mechanics, make it feel like a game designed in the past and fired into present day - it's evident the game is heavily based on Arika's decade-old Everblue series.
It's not the most exciting game in the world, but to criticise it for that would be missing the point. Endless Ocean 2 is a calming slice of entertainment in a medium that revolves almost entirely around gore-splattering action. Even the soundtrack, full of the kind of histrionic wispy ballads you'd expect to hear padding out Elaine Paige's Sunday afternoon Radio 2 show, helps contribute to the game's chilled mood. It's definitely worth a look, if only to have something on the shelf that's gently mesmerising and a very nice break from the norm.
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