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With the launch success of Wii-Sports and Wii-Play Nintendo were keen to capitalise on the casual market. Endless Ocean is a game that aims to do just that; with its break from directed high action gameplay it provides an almost relaxing experience for the casual gamer.
Action adventure games are enjoyed for two reasons. They provide a variety of fast action encounters where you are fighting, fleeing or evading some enemy. They also provide a large world in which to explore and adventure. This exploration is usually driven by some particular plot-tension introduced early in the game that you must resolve.
As you adventure through the world, you encounter the action sequences through encounters with enemies and general hazards. Success in these encounters opens up more of the world to explore and provide new equipment.
Whereas many action adventure games are set in some fantasy world with equally fantastical characters, Endless Ocean address a much more down to earth subject - diving. Rather than leveling up your character's ability to fight, run and jump, you slowly evolve their understanding and equipment to locate more varieties of fish.
Although this may sound a little pedestrian, it soon develops into a surprisingly rich narrative. Endless Ocean achieves an impressive level of connection between player and on screen character with its believable graphics, inspired musical backing and slow steady gameplay.
From the moment the Hayley Westenra title track greets you on the title screen, to the first time you encounter a new species, Endless Ocean makes it clear that this is a very different sort of gaming experience. To explain it as exploring the sea and finding fish is accurate, but misses the thrill generated by each new discovery.
Players are drawn to the game because it is unusual, but they stay playing because the diving experience is so realistic and enjoyable. Simply swimming around this living breathing ocean can be transfixing. The first time a player encounters a massive whale migrating through the play space is almost magical.
Although Endless Ocean isn't a demanding game in terms of previous experience or ability, it does demand a reasonable amount of time be invested. Dive sessions often extend to 30 minutes, and you really need to string a couple of these together to progress. The fact that there is always a new fish to find, instructed dives to take or emails to read mean that it is hard to put down and play time often stretches to a whole evening.
As with other games based on the Wii-mote's pointing control it can be a little fiddly for very young players. But provided a younger audience has the necessary dexterity and experience with other similarly controlled games, such as Wii-play, there shouldn't be a problem.
Older beginners and intermediate players will enjoy the laid back grown-up approach of the game, not least in being able to take things at their own pace. The game has a tutorial, but doesn't insist you follow this before playing. In fact my wife played happily for a good couple of hours before we even realised there was a tutorial and story to follow.
Experience players (particular those of a hardcore leaning) may find the action here a little staid. It essentially boils down to wandering the ocean blue meeting the fish. However, those who stick with it will discover a game that delivers a genuine story in a novel way, and one that is not without its own surprising narrative twists and turns.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
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