Review: Endless Ocean Luminous – My Nintendo News

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Review: Endless Ocean Luminous

Nintendo is certainly keeping players on their toes with all manner of surprise releases in 2024, which many believe to be the final year of the Switch. With titles such as Another Code: Recollection and Mario vs. Donkey Kong, the focus on remakes and remasters of less well-known series means that nearly anything could be just around the corner. Endless Ocean Luminous, the third instalment in the Endless Ocean franchise, is another title that many probably weren’t expecting. Over 14 years have passed since the Wii release of the previous instalment, Endless Ocean 2: Adventures of the Deep (Endless Ocean 2: Blue World in North America). After so many years of absence, is this a series worth diving into?

Endless Ocean Luminous features three different modes: Story, Shared Dive, and Solo Dive. Story Mode serves primarily to introduce you to the gameplay mechanics and setting. As a new diver, your mission is to scan the various aquatic life that inhabits the Veiled Sea, collecting the light that emanates from them in order to save the declining World Coral. You’re assisted by Sera, your trusty AI companion, and also occasionally joined by another human diver, Daniel, as you explore and uncover the various mysteries that surround the Veiled Sea.

Despite the vague promise of a deeper mystery, the Story Mode is unfortunately quite disappointing. Some chapters are only two minute cutscenes with no accompanying gameplay, and do little to progress the narrative. Upon completing a chapter, to unlock the next one you will also need to scan creatures a specific number of times, with the number growing larger and more onerous as you progress. The end result is a disjointed, lacklustre experience that often feels anticlimactic for the time you’ll need to invest to witness all of it, but to its credit, it is very clear from the outset that this is not the main focus of the game.

Fortunately, the majority of your time in Endless Ocean Luminous will be spent in Shared Dive and Solo Dive. In these modes, you’ll be deposited into a procedurally generated map and left to your own devices, free to take the game at your own pace. These maps are gigantic, and even though you can traverse them from end-to-end relatively quickly, it will take several hours to explore them in their entirety. You’re given very little direction or assistance from the game on how to best make use of your time here; as you explore, the map will slowly be uncovered, and you’re given a percentage completion rate for both the map and the marine life that you’ve managed to scan as the only indication of your progress. To aid in your exploration, you have a radar which will flash when you’re in the vicinity of salvage. At times, this can make it difficult to orient yourself, and with salvage in particular, you can be searching an area for a tiny flash of light that can be hard to pick out in the environment. However, overall I felt that this hands-off approach facilitates the more relaxed pace of the game, and it allows you to discover things in a way that feels more natural than if they were clearly marked on your map. 

As is often the case with open world titles, the focus of the game is more on exploration and discovery than it is on collection. With that said, Endless Ocean Luminous is a little too hands-off at times, and this is particularly noticeable with the Mystery Board, a 99-square board that you will gain access to early in the story. This is integral to completing the story mode, and you’re given absolutely no guidance on how to go about unlocking the squares. After fifteen hours of gameplay, I had just managed to fill out a third of the Mystery Board, and this was entirely by accident through collecting specific items, unearthing small passages of lore in highly conspicuous (but easily missable given the size of the map) boxes, or stumbling across hidden locations. As these are all randomised elements, this makes collecting them down more to luck rather than skill, which can be extremely frustrating. Hints on the Mystery Board about what you needed to do to unlock that square, or an additional function on the map or radar to indicate an objective, would have made the process less arbitrary, without compromising that element of discovery.

Different types of terrain and environments within both Shared and Solo Dive maps are also selected from a limited range of options, meaning that you’ll experience the majority of what the game has to offer within the first few hours. The location of these miniature biomes may differ each time you start a new map, but the species that inhabit them will be almost exactly the same, and after you’ve explored them a few times they begin to lose their appeal. The thrill of discovering a dark cave filled with prehistoric life is much less impactful the third time, and it can be disappointing to explore a brand new map only to find that you’ve seen most of, if not all, of its distinguishing features in an earlier dive. But there is still a wealth of content that affords the game a high degree of replayability, and makes it suitable for both shorter and longer play sessions. You’ll never know quite what you’ll find when diving into the game, and the lack of information makes each new discovery feel that much more satisfying. This is not a game I would recommend for completionists however, as the randomised nature makes new discoveries come through at a much slower pace after your first few dives. 

The main attraction is, of course, the various species of marine life that you’ll find as you explore. A staggering 578 different species are present in the game; freshwater and saltwater fish, mammals, crustaceans, and even a few prehistoric and mythical creatures are all waiting to be discovered. Registering them in your log is as simple as holding down the L button whilst they are in your field of vision, scanning them in a way that reminded me of the Metroid Prime series. You can also photograph them using a variety of different filters and take them with you as you explore for a limited time. Unfortunately, different species do not interact with one another on the map, or display a very wide variety of behaviour, swimming listlessly in a small area waiting for you to discover them. However, this does nothing to detract from the impressive variety within the game, and each has a detailed entry in the creature log, giving you some insight regarding its behaviour and history. 

Despite the occasional lulls in engagement I found Solo Dives to be an extremely satisfying experience, filled with unexpected surprises. There is perhaps a little too much empty space on maps at times, but specific areas are miniature maps unto themselves, filled with various species to catalogue and salvage to collect, and they’re never more than a few minutes away from your current location. It’s easy to get lost in a network of caves, or stumble across a hidden area. As creatures are rendered almost entirely to scale, more than once I found myself discovering multiple species when scanning a group of fish, or an area that didn’t appear to have anything in it. On top of this is the chance of encountering a rare species or anomalies which, once you have found a select number on the map, will result in a UML (Unidentified Marine Lifeform) appearing somewhere on the map. 

Shared Dive follows much the same format as Solo Dive, with a group of players being placed into the same map at different starting locations. In order to interact with another player, you’ll need to find them first, at which point they’ll be registered as a Dive Buddy. You’ll then be able to share map progress, see each other’s tags, and teleport to one another’s location at any time. The lack of voice or text communication makes it difficult to truly coordinate your efforts, but makes exploring a much easier and generally more satisfying process, especially if you’re more interested in finding points of interest as quickly as possible. Up to 30 players can explore a map at the same time, and although I did not get to test this feature with the maximum capacity prior to launch, I found the Shared Dive that I did participate in to be almost a completely different experience to exploring a map alone. Despite the limited communication, there is a great feeling of collaboration, and it makes the process of uncovering points of interest and tracking down anomalous marine life to cause the UML to appear a much faster process. Most notably, I did not experience any performance issues during the event, which makes this a very appealing game if you have friends to play with.

Endless Ocean Luminous favours a more muted colour palette and I felt that its scenery often failed to impress as a result of this, as it often feels flat and lacking in detail, even on an OLED screen. In handheld mode, it can be especially difficult to make out what detail it does have in more packed environments. However, this is perhaps more by design than it is a lack of quality, and the natural murkiness of the Veiled Sea makes draw distance and a lack of notable textures in the environment a non-issue. I also, thankfully, did not encounter any noticeable pop-in when exploring. The various creatures you’ll encounter are mostly easy to spot thanks to the blue (or in the case of rare creatures, yellow) glow that they give off until they are scanned. The majority are rendered to a realistic scale compared to the player and have excellent (albeit somewhat limited) animations, which gives the game a satisfying degree of realism. When viewed close-up, both in-game via the camera and in the creature log, the models also have an impressive amount of detail. The game has some excellent particle and lighting effects at night which help to give the environment a different atmosphere without compromising visibility. Although loading times can stretch on noticeably when entering a map, the game runs smoothly whilst exploring, making this quite a pleasant experience overall.

The game has a light, ambient soundtrack which, although it doesn’t detract from the experience, does little to complement it, and it seemed to stop and start at random times whilst I was playing. The only sound that could be heard was often the rhythmic swimming of my player character, which was more unsettling than relaxing when traversing the empty spaces of the Veiled Sea. The option to adjust the frequency of the music, rather than just the volume, would have been welcome. Endless Ocean Luminous also features extensive AI voicework, which is both to its credit and its detriment. Within the Story Mode, this feels unnatural and awkward, as the AI attempts (rather unsuccessfully) to capture human emotions and mannerisms, whilst your human companion, Daniel, is restricted to unintelligible bubbling sounds. However, each entry in the Creature Log is fully voiced by the AI, making it an entirely understandable design choice in the face of the sheer volume of information presented in the game. 

As long as you don’t approach it with a completionist mindset, Endless Ocean Luminous is a relaxing and overall fulfilling experience that is perfect for short solo gameplay sessions or group dives with friends. The limited variety in the procedurally generated maps means that the novelty of exploration will likely wear off for most long before they catalogue everything, and the story mode is disappointingly sparse and disjointed, but what it lacks in depth it more than makes up for in sheer volume of content. If you are looking to try something with a slightly different flow, this might just be worth diving into.

6.5/10

A copy of Endless Ocean Luminous was provided by Nintendo UK for the purposes of this review

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Article source https://mynintendonews.com/2024/04/30/review-endless-ocean-luminous/

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