I can't afford to buy every game I want to play, so I keep our mail carrier busy shuttling orange envelopes between me and Gamefly. When I do decide to purchase a game, it's usually because I think that game is important--all very subjective, I know--or it's one that I or my family will want to play for years to come. So Bioshock is a BUY and Eternal Sonata is a RENT. Occasionally a RENT becomes a BUY (Crackdown), and a BUY becomes, well, regret.
Which brings me to Endless Ocean. I can hear some of you snickering, but I really thought this would be my kind of game. I've written about my interest in meditative games like The Endless Forest, Harvest Moon, and Animal Crossing, and everything I read in advance about Endless Ocean suggested it would be such a game. No rules. Leisurely play. Intentional repetition and cyclical rituals. As the box says, "Dive. Discover. Dream." I was ready for all three.
Ten minutes into the game I was certain I had made the right choice. The underwater graphics are lovely, the Wii-mote control works intuitively, and the game delivers a peaceful environmental message. Learn about these undersea inhabitants, catalog them, and promote the effort to protect them. The phone-it-in onboard boat graphics didn't trouble me much because you don't really spend much time there. This game wants you to be underwater, and that's where it shines.
The single most important element--by far--of a game like Endless Ocean is exploration. That's how you find the fish. That's how you get the photos you shoot. That's how you entertain the NPC's who contact you for a dive. That's the whole point of online co-op mode, which has no voice communication component. If you're not exploring together, what else is there to do? It's a vast beautiful ocean. Dive. Discover. Dream. EXPLORE.
Then I bumped into the "dive radius," and my meditative dreams were shattered. Endless Ocean imposes a limited area beneath the boat where you are free to roam. When you reach this invisible wall, the game stops you from going farther by restricting your movement or draining the air from your tank. Your exploration is limited to the dive radius, and your only option for proceeding farther is return to the boat (long load screen), enter the cabin (load) bring up the map, select a new area, confirm your choice, travel to that location (cut scene followed by load screen), choose Dive to re-enter the water, (long load screen) ... and Bob's your uncle, you're there! Dive. Discover. Dream.
I'm no diver, but I do understand that dive radius is a realistic limitation in real world ocean diving. Endless Ocean isn't real. It's a video game. I want to explore. Please let me.
I'm genuinely disappointed. I realize this game may not appeal to many hardcore gamers--and the subset of Wii owners who will buy No More Heroes and Endless Ocean is probably minuscule--but as a member of that subset I so wish I could defeat that boss assassin, towel off, insert Endless Ocean and freely explore, unwind...and meditate. Dive. Discover. Dream.
What a missed opportunity.