Endless Ocean: Is this even a game?

2008-01-22 20:57

I’m not exactly flush with cash these days, but the new Wii title Endless Ocean just came out, it’s only $30 (most Wii games are $40-50, and many other games are $60 at release), and I had a Best Buy discount card.

I… I’m not sure whether this is a game. I have heard people griping about Wii software and referring dismissively to some of the less traditional stuff as “non-games”, and I’ve always disputed that. If you can play it, it’s a game, right?

I’m not sure this is a game.

EO is a diving simulator (or “sim”, as gamers would call it). Not a very accurate sim; for instance, if you run out of air, you just automatically return to the boat. So far as I can tell, you simply cannot engage in any sequence of actions or button presses or anything that will cause your character to die. The location is pristine and unspoiled, another clear sign of a fairly loose use of the term “sim”.

You, uhm. You look around. You find interesting-looking things. You interact with them. There’s occasional “missions”, which are apparently all optional. I did one, where I guided someone into finding a fish called a “humphead wrasse”. (It turns out this is not merely an invention of the game; apparently, it’s a real fish!) I have otherwise mostly just, well, wandered around, admiring the scenery.

Make no mistake; the Wii’s not a graphical powerhouse, and this title hasn’t got the kind of painstaking fine detail and texture work that goes into trying to blur the line between Playstation 3 games and Pixar films. It’s possible to see some blurs, and the textures aren’t always perfect. The underwater tone does seem to rather mitigate that, though, making it much less distracting than it has been in some titles.

What this title does have is absolutely beautiful graphics. I don’t mean technically impressive; I mean relaxing and beautiful to look at. Despite being a confirmed lover of Minnesota’s winter weather, I can almost understand, when I play this game, how someone could come to want to live in a tropical environment.

I keep waffling on whether or not this is a game. Games have purpose, and direction. The comparison I’d make, I think, is that every game I’ve ever seen has been like fireworks. Fireworks are beautiful, and I know I enjoy fireworks. And now… I’m looking at a cozy fire crackling in a fireplace, and there’s marshmallows, and all I can do is try to figure out whether or not this is fireworks.

I don’t think EO is exactly a game. I think it is a member of a broader category I don’t know the word for, of which games as I’ve usually played them are a likely and common example.

It’s $29, and I think at that price it’s well worth it. I am taking a couple of vacation days soon, and I’m guessing that one of those days will be spent mostly just swimming around enjoying the scenery and poking fish to see whether they like it.

Peter Seebach

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Comments

  1. Nice impressions -- I'm intrigued by this game and can't wait to get my web order.

    — Blake · 2008-01-23 01:07 · #

 
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