‘Endless Ocean: Luminous’ review from Mashable

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Endless Ocean: Luminous deserves credit for one thing: There’s not much else like it.

The latest Nintendo Switch exclusive, courtesy of Nintendo and developer Arika, is an unconventional sort that challenged my notions of what a game needs to be considered “good.” That’s because Endless Ocean: Luminous doesn’t have much at all; it’s pretty much just a game about swimming around and scanning fish. 

To be clear, that’s not a bad thing in and of itself. Endless Ocean: Luminous combines an immaculately chill attitude with a potent sense of mystery in the opening hours, but the game’s single player structure occasionally feels like it’s there to waste your time. A promising multiplayer mode could give it some (sea) legs, but the point is, you better really like looking at sharks if you want to get the most out of Luminous.

Endless Ocean: Luminous plot

There is cool stuff to find in the Veiled Sea.
Credit: Nintendo

This section is going to be short because, frankly, Endless Ocean has never been about story. 

For those not in the know, Endless Ocean started out as a couple of reasonably well-liked Wii games before going dormant for nearly 15 years, only now re-emerging in the dying days of the Switch. Each game has a thin veil of plot to give some context to your diving activities, but it’s not the main appeal — at least not for me.

Anyway, you play as a faceless diver whose job is to document the various marine lifeforms and other treasures to be found in a fictional region called the Veiled Sea. All of the unique qualities of the Veiled Sea scream “setting for a video game”; it randomly changes every time you dive, you can find fish from all over the world in it, and none of them show any hostility towards humans whatsoever.

The early portions of the story mode do hint at some more interesting ideas, like ancient dead civilizations for example, but it’s immediately undercut by mechanical gatekeeping. Endless Ocean: Luminous blocks progress in the story mode based on how many total scans you’ve performed, so sometimes, you need to load up a non-story solo dive and scan stuff for a while just to do the next mission.

I can’t lie: This totally killed my interest in ever finishing the story mode and seeing what, if any, more juicy concepts it plays around with later. This happens earlier in the progression than it should, and frankly, feels like a way to cheaply squeeze more engagement out of the player. Not a fan.

Endless Ocean: Luminous mechanics

Whale sharks are so cool.
Credit: Screenshot: Nintendo/Alex Perry

It’s unfortunate that the story mode in Luminous grinds to a halt at points because the game, overall, makes a pretty sweet and unique first impression. 

On my first few dives, I could totally see the vision. Literally all you can do from a mechanical perspective is swim and scan. It’s beautifully simple and eminently approachable, even for people who are more interested in the ocean than video games. Aside from a very minor and unnecessary technique for maximizing swim speed, there’s almost no nuance to it at all.

To be clear, I don’t think any of that is bad. It’s just that Endless Ocean has never been interested in being anything other than what it is. This series originated during Nintendo’s Wii heyday of making games to appeal to non-gamers — and it shows. This is a game where fish don’t attack you and you can’t die.

The thing is, it works, too. Those first handful of free dives feel a little magical, as you can easily spend an hour just exploring a randomly-generated seed of the Veiled Sea, scanning marine life that ranges from the real and mundane to the fantastical and technically extinct. You’ll also occasionally find artifacts around wreckage or just by itself on the sea floor, but that’s not as exciting as finding a great white shark for the first time.

It’s a bummer, then, that by my fifth or sixth dive, I felt like some of the mystery had worn off. It was surprisingly difficult for me to find fish I hadn’t already scanned (even though there are hundreds in the game), and the rewards for scanning started to taper off for me. These mostly include access to later parts of the story and cosmetic upgrades for your diver. Bleh.

The multiplayer has a ton of potential.
Credit: Nintendo

Thankfully, there is one saving grace to the monotony of Endless Ocean: Luminous’s solo experience: multiplayer. Luminous features shared dives for up to 30 players online, and though I only got to do about an hour of this during the pre-release review period, it was easily my favorite part of the game.

In multiplayer, everything works the same, except there’s up to 29 other people around. Players can tag their discoveries with unlockable emoji, interact via an expansive list of emotes, or simply work together to uncover the whole map. Little ambient missions will give everyone something to work towards, but you can also just futz around with strangers for an hour if you want.

I found this experience distinctly relaxing and unlike anything I’ve done in a multiplayer game in quite some time. The lack of voice chat actually added to the experience, too, as I never had to deal with anyone getting mad at me for not playing objectives or whatever. Luminous is not that kind of game, to its credit. 

Endless Ocean: Luminous graphics

As with any Switch exclusive, Luminous has to work without the bounds of graphics hardware that was outdated when the Switch launched seven years ago. Considering that, it does a good enough job.

What the environments and animals lack in high-fidelity detail, they make up for in legibility. Environmental points of interest and rare fish are easy to spot from a reasonable distance, even in the murky depths you’ll occasionally find in the Veiled Sea. These depths, while free of danger to the player, effectively heighten the atmosphere of Luminous, often making the ocean feel oppressive and creepy.

Endless Ocean: Luminous soundtrack and audio

I’ll keep this short. The music in Luminous is mostly ambient and unintrusive. It’s the kind of thing you’d listen to during a bubble bath or while you’re trying to sleep. I don’t hate it, but I’m not throwing it on my running playlist, either.

The only audio gripe I have with Luminous is that the fictional AI companion who gives you instructions in the story mode appears to be a text-to-speech program rather than a human voice actor imitating one. It sounds cheap and unseemly for a first-party Nintendo game. 

Endless Ocean: Luminous challenge and difficulty

As I’ve covered, Luminous essentially has no challenge to speak of, by design. It’s a game about cozying up with a bottle or wine or an edible and looking at whales. I dig that, but you might not.

Endless Ocean: Luminous performance

Endless Ocean: Luminous runs at a fairly consistent 30 frames per second on Switch and I didn’t encounter any noteworthy bugs in my time with it. No complaints here.

Is Endless Ocean: Luminous worth getting?

Do you find this awe-inspiring? This game might be for you.
Credit: Screenshot: Nintendo/Alex Perry

At $50, Endless Ocean: Luminous comes in just below full price but still somewhere above what one might consider “budget.” Regardless, this isn’t a traditional game and probably shouldn’t be viewed using a traditional dollars-to-hours lens. 

If you like the ocean and the hundreds of weird little freaks who inhabit it, Endless Ocean: Luminous is about as close as any recent video game will let you get to them. The basic acts of diving and scanning are pleasurable to a point, and where that point resides will have a lot to do with how much you care about marine wildlife. 

I just have a hard time recommending Luminous on the strength of its solo offerings alone. The 30-diver multiplayer mode has a ton of promise and could provide hours of (ideally stoned) fun for a group of friends or strangers, but I didn’t have nearly as good a time playing the game by myself. 

At least Endless Ocean: Luminous exists, though. We probably need more games like this and fewer gargantuan open-world RPGs.

The post ‘Endless Ocean: Luminous’ review from Mashable appeared first on Tom Bettenhausen’s.

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