Release Date: February 22, 2010
You have to admit, Wii was not exactly the best place to find adventure games. Outside of Nintendo’s own efforts in Twilight Princess and the sprawling techno-fantasy Xenoblade Chronicles, there were few games in the console’s library that could channel the explorer in all of us. Even Mario pared down the adventure aspects of his series for his seminal Wii debut, foregoing the open-worlds of Mario 64 and Mario Sunshine for a more streamlined– though no less challenging– approach to level design.
It seems a little odd, then, that the answer to this problem would come in the form of a scuba sim, but that’s exactly what happened. Developed by Arika, who would go on to produce Nintendo’s line of 3DS Classics for 3DS, Endless Ocean: Blue World (and its immediate predecessor, Endless Ocean) bears very little resemblance to a typical adventure game, but its unique brand of exploration made it one of the most compelling titles on the adventure-starved platform.
It’s easy to see why hardcore fans may have initially passed it up. On the surface (no pun intended), Blue World seemed like just another cynical attempt at courting non-gamers. Bereft of challenge and set against the peaceful, underwater backdrop of the world’s seas, Blue World came off more as a pretty screensaver than a “real” game. There were no actions that you could perform (outside of some basic interactions with the wildlife); there was no antagonist to overthrow at the end of the game in a climactic battle; there was barely even a story to tie all of its set pieces together.
Yet what made the game so compelling, especially as an adventure, were its detailed environments. Blue World took gamers across the globe in pursuit of the mysterious “Song of Dragons,” from the murky, Mediterranean depths of the Ciceros Straits (complete with the decaying hulls of ancient ships lining the seafloor), to the icy floes of the Arctic, to even the caiman-infested waters of South America. Each locale was visually distinct from the last and featured an array of unique aquatic life to study, which could be recorded in your log– if you so choose to interact with them– for more information on the species. Seeing the vast spectrum of marine life in the game, all of which was beautifully rendered and realistically animated, was a pleasure in and of itself, but what truly brought the adventure to life were all of the underwater landmarks you got to explore. Some of the most memorable moments in the game came from stumbling upon a new location, like following a tunnel to a large cavern inside of a glacier, or finding a secret passageway to the submerged Valka Castle, which was said to have sunk into the ocean, Atlantis-like, countless centuries ago. These moments gave Blue World a sense of grandeur and mystique that were typically reserved for a traditional adventure game (like the aforementioned Twilight Princess), drawing players into its world in a way you wouldn’t normally expect.
The game even made use of Nintendo’s Wi-Fi connection, so you could team up with a friend for a bit of co-operative exploration. Even if you weren’t particularly interested in unraveling the mystery of the “Song of Dragons,” you were always free to indulge in the game’s many “sidequests,” which took on the form of guided tours and photo requests (and were far more enjoyable when tackled with another player). You could also simply just dive together and explore areas you’ve already visited, discovering new wildlife and filling out your maps, which became something of a sidequest itself as they could be sold for money once they were completed. The amount of content in the game was actually quite surprising, giving players another incentive to explore its depths as thoroughly as possible.
I doubt Endless Ocean: Blue World will be mentioned anywhere near the same breath as Nintendo’s other Wii titles, especially as a genre-defining example of adventure games on the console after it is inevitably relegated to history, but for Wii owners who are open to a bit of leisurely exploration, it’s definitely a trip worth taking before Wii moves on to that great storage bin in the sky. It might not pose much of a challenge, but it features some of the most compelling and best-realized locales in a Wii game, particularly if you like exploring virtual environments. It’s also one of the few adventure games to allow for co-operative exploration, giving fans the chance to dive with other adventurers and plumb the ocean depths. After all, nothing brings people together quite like discovering a shark-infested, underwater castle.