Endless Ocean 2: Adventures of the Deep brings a gentle and calming underwater adventure to the living room that, in spite of the Wii's awkward motion controls, succeeds in transporting you to a serene world.
I was surprised to find myself enjoying the peaceful moments of diving amid the coral reefs and following the hokey story to its gentle conclusion and even more surprised to find parts of the game fairly intense. The only aspect that threatened to ruin the experience was with the Wii's motion controls that frequently tried to eclipse the game's overall beauty and calmness.
I couldn't say that I looked forward to playing Endless Ocean 2. The first game appeared to be nothing more than a glorified diving sim that had you cataloguing endless sea-life with blocky graphics and a perpetual new-age soundtrack droning along. It certainly wasn't a terrible game but it lacked drive and purpose. But not for the first time I found myself completely wrong about a series of games. In spite of my snooty attitude to the visuals, I found Endless Ocean 2 a tremendously relaxing and interesting experience.
The changes from the first game are apparent within the first few hours and I was relieved to see that the job of Marine Biologist had been pushed to the periphery in favour of a more interesting, story-driven career. The option to scour the reefs and sea bed for unusual sea-life is still available but the game doesn't require that same level of commitment to the cause as the first one did. None of that naming and photography business interested me at all.
I felt I shouldn't really have been interested in the story either, but Endless Ocean 2 has a certain charm - a friendly Tomb Raider-like appeal - that saw me exploring and discovering Lapis tablets and mysterious messages with relish.
I described the story as hokey, and while that's true it still fits the overall vibe of the game. This isn't in any way an accurate portrayal of scuba-diving. There's no danger in dying and attacks by sharks or poisonous fish merely mean a depletion of your air tank - there's no health bar to worry about and even an empty tank simply transports you immediately back to the boat. The characters are oddly portrayed and I can't be the only person slightly uncomfortable with having a close friendship with a 15-year old girl as my diving partner. There's even a jive-talking black American among the cast that immediately made me think this was a Japanese developed game - and, it turns out, I was right.
But all of these video game tropes fit together nicely and I found myself getting pulled into the globe-trotting tale of ancient civilisations and the personal voyage of discovery my young companion was on. There moments during the exploring that I found myself comparing the game to Tomb Raider Underworld and more specifically the underwater exploration sections that game did so well. Unfortunately this only made me see the flaws of the Wii's controls and despite getting hooked on Endless Ocean's environments and story, the awkward way of moving and using items nearly broke the whole experience.
The real reason I love Endless Ocean 2 is because it has an environment, a heart and soul that gave me beautiful moments that no other game could ever hope to achieve. One such instance occurs early on when I discovered an ancient castle. I was swimming through a long resplendent corridor and as the fish swum amongst me the pale light of the sun came through the crumbling windows. I found the portrayal of such a long-forgotten place amongst the sea-life as the song 'Nella Fanstasia' echoed within the walls quite magical. The fact it was the good version of the song and not some Sarah Brightman warbling nonsense all the more moving.
The other instance that impressed me so much is down to a personal fear of water. I find the idea of being under the sea terrifying and the game does a great job of portraying a sense of depth and scale that effectively made me sweat on several occasions. Endless Ocean 2 tapped into my personal fear and made my experience far more meaningful than I ever thought a mere diving sim would.
Endless Ocean 2: Adventures of the Deep feels like a game I shouldn't like. It should appeal to the ultra-casual Wii crowd and serve as a reminder that Nintendo's console is a true family favourite that offers experiences for all types of gamers. But it has a certain charm and genteel nature that sucked me right into its watery world. The special moments I found the game providing were sublime and down to atmospherics rather than obvious story-driven events. This is a very different video gaming experience, and proves games can still surprise us.