Endless Ocean Luminous Review

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Endless Ocean Luminous came along exactly when I needed it the most. Fourth months in and, personally speaking, this year has proven to be an unexpectedly turbulent one. The chance to submerge myself into an underwater world of aquatic wonder delivered a meditative, zen-like experience that quickly became a welcome escape from life’s unwanted pressures.

Arika‘s surprise return to its long-dormant explorative scuba diving series is unlike anything else that you can expect to play all year. It is part-educational in showcasing how games can be used to teach players of all ages about the creatures that dwell beneath Earth’s vast oceans. But, it is also an experience that largely thrives on the thrill of locating as-yet undiscovered marine life to completely fill your Pokédex-like Creature Log over time.

Story, Solo Dives and Shared Dives are the three modes that you can choose how to spend your time between. Where Solo Dives and Shared Dives procedurally generate a “dive-site” for you to either explore alone at your leisure or with up to 30 players online, the game’s Story mode looks to introduce you to its gameplay mechanics with pre-generated locations and an environment-championing storyline.

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You play as a researcher that the Ocean Research Project has sent to investigate the Veiled Sea, an ocean region whose topographical features are in constant flux. Supported by an artificial intelligence called Sera (Survey, Exploration and Research Assistant) on your dives, your ultimate goal is to work out how to save the World Coral. This large reef is critical to sustaining life in the Veiled Sea, but, for unknown reasons, some parts of it are dying. You must help the Project Aegis team identify why it is happening and stop the necrosis before it is too late.

The answer lies in Endless Ocean Luminous’ uncomplicated gameplay loop, in which, plunging to the depths of the ocean, you are simply tasked with documenting the creatures that you encounter, exploring the breadth of the area that you are in and retrieving any salvage that you find littering the seafloor. Every creature that you scan is coated in luminous bacteria which is repelled by the electromagnetic waves from the Ocean Research Project’s scanning arrays. This may be where the game plucks its subtitle from, but the process, referred to as “collecting light,” is how the World Coral can be restored.

The chaptered story is enjoyable enough for what it is, even if it is permeated with unlock conditions that periodically block you from bingeing your way through it in its entirety – scanning creatures 500 times before being able to move on to Chapter 2-1 only to then need to scan them 2,000 times to unlock Chapter 2-3 and then 3,200 times to unlock Chapter 3-1, for instance. This may push the player to participate in more Solo Dives and Shared Dives, but such barriers feel unnecessary and will likely prevent particularly younger players from seeing the story through to its conclusion.

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Everything that you do in Endless Ocean Luminous is beneficial, at least. Your dives are evaluated across four criteria – Teamwork, Research, Salvage and Exploration – with the points that you are awarded rewarding you with in-game currency and points towards ranking up. Your money can be used to customise your diver with new suit colour patterns, stickers and emotes to perform, while ranking up will increase your Sticker Slots and Dive Capacity – letting you choose to temporarily swim alongside ever-increasingly larger and rarer creatures.

Away from completing the 578-strong Creature Log and recovering the 340-odd items in the Salvage Log, further goals come from unlocking 89 in-game achievements and learning about the 99 mysteries surrounding the Veiled Sea that will illuminate the Mystery Board’s tiles. There’s also a Photo Mode so you can take snaps alongside your favourite aquatic creatures.

While Solo Dives offered the chance to slowly and methodically search around procedurally-generated areas of the Veiled Sea alone while I listened to a podcast or music in the background, it is in multiplayer that the experience really starts to shine. Teaming up in Shared Dives, the collaborative effort to map out the area and scan as many creatures as possible within the 60-minute time limit has much more energy about it. Starting separately from each other, finding other players will form Sharing Links – the more you have the greater the rewards will be that you receive.

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Whether in a Solo Dive or Shared Dive, the Ocean Research Project may inform you about a mission that, once completed, will reward you with the chance to scan an unusual creature in the area referred to as Unidentified Marine Life (UML). These tended to be Search and Scan missions for me, challenged to locate several creatures with unusual biometric signs before the majestic creature that came as my reward appeared. This will be expanded upon with themed Event Dives, although the content for the first of these remains unannounced.

With Tags – marking a creature or salvage for each others’ reference on the map – and emotes as the only means of communication, the lack of voice chat or text chat continues to hamper the Nintendo Switch Online experience years on, even if the family-friendly safety implications can be understood.

While the beauty of its underwater expanse can frequently mesmerise, it is the realistic detail given to the creatures that inhabit it that astounds. It’s a constant joy to discover something new, rounded out by the informative descriptions that accompany each creature so that players can learn more about the aquatic life that calls our planet home.

Endless Ocean Luminous is worth the plunge, and, along with other experiences like Nintendo Labo and Game Builder Garage, demonstrates a commitment to broadening what Nintendo Switch can offer beyond simply being a “games” console. It’s a welcome change of pace from the regular bustle of modern-day gaming experiences, offering a relaxing underwater diversion that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Nintendo

7/10
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