Fans of the original EndlessOcean must be pretty happy to see that the sequel made its way to the U.S., considering the first title's lukewarm critical reception. It's a good thing that it did, though, for critics and fans alike, as Endless Ocean 2: Blue World does a really solid job of addressing the issues that plagued the original title. It also improves upon nearly every single aspect that made the original such a unique and relaxing game to play.
Like the first EndlessOcean title, Blue World has you taking on the role of a scuba diver who is currently enrolled at a nearby university studying folklore — specifically an old tale involving the Song of the Dragons. You hook up with a local diving service, which is run by an older, gruff man by the name of Jean-Eric. His granddaughter, Oceana, also helps out, and they station themselves on the fictional location of Nineball Island. While your character is supposed to be an intermediate diver, he's displayed as someone with an inherent skill for diving and interacting with aquatic life; he's also given all the necessary traits to be a typical video game hero.
When Blue World begins, you'll create your diver by answering a few questions, much like the Animal Crossing style of character creation. You can choose your gender, complexion, and two options to define facial features. From there, your character is generated and displayed by a photograph that's meant to be attached to your application. If you're unhappy with the picture, you can go back and choose new options, but it's not a random generation of facial features; there are only about six possible combinations per gender. I feel that this style of character creation is a little too limiting, and the game would have been better served by a traditional group of sliders and accessories.
Once character creation is out of the way, it's time to take on your first dive. The game supports two control modes, one for the Classic Controller and one for the Wii Remote. The Wiimote setup is going to be familiar for fans of the original title, as the controls haven't changed much from the initial release. You point an on-screen pointer in the direction you want to move, hold down the B button to swim, and tap the A button to interact with sea life and other objects. It's a really simple control mode that doesn't get much more complex than occasionally needed to tap down on the d-pad to access an inventory menu.
If you prefer a more traditional controller setup, though, the Classic Controller works pretty well. You can control movement with one of the two analog sticks, control the on-screen pointer with the other analog stick, swim by holding down L, and interact with things by pressing the A button. It's not too far-flung from the Wiimote controls; it just eliminates the use of any motion function. Either setup works fine, and while I played the majority of the game with the Classic Controller, I felt comfortable with either mode after only a few minutes. You have some customization options with the Classic Controller, such as inverting your horizontal and vertical axes and choosing which stick controls movement, so you can certainly find a comfort zone that fits you.
Moving through the water feels pretty good, and while Blue World doesn't try to drive home the realism of currents pulling on your character, the slow, methodical pace at which you move feels pretty natural. It's also not so slow that you feel like it takes forever to get from point A to point B. When you select a dive spot, much of what you need to look at or explore is right in front of you. There is some benefit to going off the beaten path, including hidden locations, caves and other secret areas that might reveal new fish types or other aquatic life, including salvage items and coins that you can collect.
Once you have a particular creature in front of you, you can highlight it with the pointer and press the A button, which switches you from the typical third-person view to first-person mode. This focuses on the fish you selected, automatically keeping close and following it around. From there, you can tap down on the d-pad to bring up a menu, which will let you select the food icon, displaying a hand icon that can either feed the fish in question or reach out and touch it. Most aquatic animals will give you a favorable reaction to touch, and they'll all swarm to food if you spread it about. For larger animals, like the humpback whale, you can press an icon that pops up on-screen to grab hold and ride on the creature for a bit, which is a pretty cool feature. The sense of scale in the game is incredible, and when you're coming up alongside one of these large mammals, it's quite the sight.
Not every animal you encounter is going to be looking for free food handouts or be particularly receptive when you try to pet them. For these more aggressive species, you'll gain a new tool called the pulsar, which is an electromagnetic gun that's meant to heal sick fish, but it's effective at calming aggressive sharks and the like, so you should carry it on your person at all times. To use the pulsar, you bring up your menu and equip it, and a display on the bottom right of the screen lets you know how many remaining pulses (shots) you have. It recharges over time and does so quite quickly; to use it, you should be in first-person mode to help with your aiming. Simply fire off a few rounds at the fish in question, and you'll get a notice that it's now calm and everything is fine. This isn't a particularly big part of the gameplay, but it switches up things from the original, wherein all the fish you encountered were always docile, regardless of their type.
The healing aspect of the pulsar isn't ignored, either, and it plays a pretty big role in a series of subquests at various diving spots. With the pulsar equipped, you'll notice that certain fish have a highlighted reticle over them, with different colors. These colors represent the severity of their sickness or energy, and you can use the pulsar to heal them. If you heal all the sick fish within a certain area, you can gain some bonuses that are definitely beneficial to your character, and it adds another thing to the pool of activities that Blue World provides this time around.
Another new aspect of diving that's featured in Blue World is the use of your air meter and how it relates to your diving skill, or level. In the game, the more you dive and explore, the more experience you gain, increasing your level and maxing out your license. This equates to making your air meter last longer, meaning you can stay underwater for extended periods of time, not limiting your exploration time or forcing you to return to the boat. On the flip side, if you're not careful with aggressive animals, you can take hits that will force your air level down, making your retire for the day a little quicker. There's no death or permanent loss in the game, though, so the penalty for getting hit or running out of air certainly isn't that severe, other than sitting through an additional loading screen or two.
Aside from diving, you can check out Nineball Island, the base of operations for your diving team. From here, you can access a save point, check out your journal that lists available quests and sidequests, check out your coin and treasure collection, access Trader Nancy and her store, or train your dolphin buddy to learn new tricks and skills. You can walk around the island a bit, but it's a pretty small location with not much to discover. Because of this, it offers up some quick menu shortcuts if you don't want to walk from one spot to the next, which is a nice option to have. You can also change out equipment here, some of which has a beneficial impact on your diving ability, while others are just color palette swaps.
One thing worth noting — and it's something that the original EndlessOcean lacked — is the story line. While the story isn't particularly exciting, it helps to tie together the different diving spots and give the game some sense of drive, something that the first was severely lacking. Going from locale to locale with Oceana in tow and talking to new members of your dive team along the way. It gives you some direction and reason to continue playing, aside from cataloguing fish species, which I'll admit has limited appeal. The game is pretty easy, so those of you who are looking for more of a challenge from your gaming time might be disappointed. I find that this game has improved on nearly every aspect of the original, including the visuals, so it's well worth checking out.
One last thing worth noting is the inclusion of online multiplayer, which also works in an identical fashion to Animal Crossing. If you have someone on your friends list who owns Endless Ocean 2: Blue World, he or she can open up the game world to let you visit or vice versa, so you can explore the ocean together. It's nice to see this included, but without allowing you to do random match-ups, its use will definitely be a little limited.
Overall, Endless Ocean 2: Blue World is a huge step in the right direction for the series, and developer Arika has pulled out all the stops to make this a heck of a sequel. Assuming they have one in the works, I'm really looking forward to seeing what they do with another game in the series because it's going to be pretty difficult to improve upon the groundwork here. Either way, if you own a Wii, I highly suggest checking out this title, even if the first one wasn't your cup of tea. It's vastly improved over the original, and it's definitely worth seeking out.
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