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Endless Ocean Luminous review: Serene submersion that takes a dive

Endless Ocean Luminous review: Serene submersion that takes a dive

Endless Ocean Luminous provides a serene experience for marine life enthusiasts, but lacks something to keep gamers on the hook

Endless Ocean Luminous brings the Endless Ocean series back in full-force on the Nintendo Switch. But after devoting several hours to exploring the sea and uncovering the mystery of the story mode, I felt satisfied at the best of times, and underwhelmed at the worst.

Check out the trailer for Endless Ocean Luminous below

Endless Ocean Luminous can be played in a few different ways. First, there’s freely exploring the ocean depths at your own pace via dives, both single-player and multiplayer. Thrown in at the deep end, literally, you’re free to swim with the fishes to your heart’s content, scanning them to learn more about them and snapping the odd picture, if you fancy. There are over 500 different species in the game, and it nails that Animal Crossing vibe of wanting to fill out your encyclopaedia as quickly as possible.

The other way to play is the main story mode, which sees the player embark on a quest to save the World Coral, whilst also preventing the extinction of all life on Earth. Sounds like pretty high stakes for a game about looking at fish, and the story does poke fun at that in its own ways.

After sinking hours into both modes, I found that I didn’t really vibe with the game in the way I initially expected.

Visually, Endless Ocean Luminous looks fine. I think we’re all used to what the Nintendo Switch can and can’t do at this point, and while I’d have loved to see a bit more detail for the game’s environments it didn’t bother me that much. The models used for the fish look lovely, and the game exhibits a lot of colour while taking advantage of the murky water to hide any imperfections during gameplay.

Endless Ocean Luminous-

The gameplay itself consists of swimming and scanning the various creatures you come into contact with. Everytime you create a new dive you're entering a procedurally generated world, meaning each dive is different depending on which creatures spawn in and which underwater biome you’re let loose in.

Every creature, upon your first encounter with them, will be covered in some sort of bioluminescent glow; when you scan them the glow dissipates, revealing the creature underneath. The game will then tell you a bit about the species, though you can skip it if you prefer, and catalogue it in your encyclopaedia which can be viewed at any time through the pause menu.

There are around 500 species to be found within the game, and while that number is nothing to sneeze at, I was a tad disappointed with how easy - and sometimes boring - it was to fill in your blanks. Fish make no attempt to move away from you when you get close: in fact you phase right through all of them except the massive ones. This made scans ridiculously easy, and the lack of interactivity unfortunately hindered the game’s attempts to immerse me.

To its credit though, wading through the water past a school of Blue Tangs, swimming alongside a pod of dolphins and taking in the sight of an enormous humpback whale did feel quite serene and relaxing. This was especially true when the music would kick in, with every pairing with the gameplay like white wine with fish.

I just wish there was a little bit more of a challenge to what I was doing, like if the bigger specimens took longer to scan so you had to linger near them more than the others, or shy species of fish that you have to sneak up on for a successful cataloguing. The most exciting part of my deep sea exploration was coming across a super rare find, like a pink manta ray and a shark called Thanatos that looks like it's centuries old.

Speaking of centuries, some dives will see you come face to face with creatures long thought extinct, and some that have actually never existed presented as brand-new scientific discoveries for your diver to find. Some of these discoveries are literally dinosaurs that have somehow continued to thrive in the deepest parts of the sea. These were really cool encounters, with some even looking pretty terrifying, but there’s no combat or survival mechanics in the game so you can boop a Plesiosaurus on the nose as many times as you want and it won’t get mad, I promise.

Endless Ocean Luminous-

It’s not just new fish you’ll have to key an eye out for either, there are also a variety of treasures to be found on the ocean floor, some of which are hidden away in shipwrecks and underwater passages. There are even some ancient temples and artefacts that have been lost to time waiting to be uncovered, which provided incentive to check out any caves or reefs you might find.

Upon exiting a dive you’ll receive a score to level up, as well as a chunk of cash to spend in the in-game store. The store offers players new colour schemes and stickers to customise their swimsuit with, as well as a near-endless supply of emotes to express yourself for the camera or with your fellow divers. While this does add a bit of longevity to the game, as I just know some people are going to want to collect them all, I did find the prices to be a bit extreme and I don’t think I’ll want to grind to unlock them.

As for the story mode, I’m afraid I can’t say it clicked for me. While the premise was a nice idea, I found the execution of unlocking missions to be just too tedious to encourage further play. As you advance through the chapters, you’ll occasionally find the next mission is locked until you’ve scanned a grand total of creatures in the solo dives. While I didn’t mind this at first I quickly realised that some of the mid-game missions would be locked until I’d scanned thousands of sea creatures. Keep in mind, there are only around 500 species in the game, so towards the end you’ll be scanning things you’ve already catalogued several times by that point for missions that are sometimes just cutscenes with no actual gameplay.

I appreciated the idea of a story mode, as previous Endless Ocean games have included one to great effect. The difference though is the previous games had stories you could get invested in, introduced unique gameplay mechanics, and had actual characters. The majority of dialogue I heard came from an automated AI voice, and the unintelligible gurgles of another diver you meet along the way.

The single-player portion of the game certainly had its merits, and there were moments where I genuinely got lost in the mystery and intrigue of the underwater world, not to mention the joy I felt spotting some of my favourite sea creatures. Where it starts to fall apart though is a lack of interactivity with that world, aside from the option to have a creature swim alongside you for a time, and a lack of motivation to stick around after discovering all the species and treasures.

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Multiplayer felt like a slightly different ball game though, in fact I found it to be one of the strongest parts of the game for a few reasons. Up to 30 players can hang out on a multiplayer dive, where they’ll be dropped into a procedurally generated part of the ocean floor. Like the main game, you’ll then swim off to look for interesting creatures, buried treasures, or just relax and vibe with your fellow divers.

Occasionally a mission briefing comes in from HQ asking you to check out a particular part of the map, or a rare creature will be detected that you’ll need to locate for a good scan and photo op session.

There’s no communication down in the depths, so if you want to point something out or convey a feeling you’ll have to use the stickers and emotes to get your point across, though your diver will always politely wave hello whenever they spot someone. So if you catch a glimpse of a particularly rare find and want your friends to see it you can tag it with an image so they can track it down and share the glory. There are also emotes that require more than one player to pull off, like an adorable one that sees two players form a heart with their bodies.

Multiplayer was a lot of fun overall, mainly because it still gave you the freedom to do your own thing. You’re not tethered together in any way so you can venture off by yourself if you want or stick with the group and explore together, it’s whatever you want to do. When playing by myself I found it to be a more relaxing, serenic experience, whereas during multiplayer it felt more engaging though I’m sure that’ll differ from player to player. It’s also reported there’ll be updates for the game with limited-time dives and events to get involved with, which sounds like they’ll be worth checking out.

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Overall, Endless Ocean Luminous provides a serene, deep-sea diving experience for those looking for a game to stick on for a few hours with lights off and headphones on as you just unwind for a bit. It’s very much an Animal Crossing experience where you can either do a little or do a lot, but I do think it takes the casual gaming experience just a bit too far, especially considering the price point.

I don’t see much replay value in Endless Ocean Luminous, nor do I see enough to keep players occupied or interested for the long haul, aside from perhaps the multiplayer offering. If you’re nuts about fish then this is probably a game for you, but if you’re looking for anything more than an artificial aquarium simulator, you might be disappointed by how shallow it is.

Pros: Pleasant enough visuals complemented by soundtrack, plenty of creatures and biomes to discover, enjoyable multiplayer experience

Cons: Lack of interactivity kills any immersion, story fails to be engaging, in-game unlockables feel like padding due to grind

For fans of: Subnautica, Journey, Sky, Animal Crossing

6/10: Good

Endless Ocean Luminous is available on 2 May exclusively for Nintendo Switch. Find a complete guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.

Featured Image Credit: Nintendo

Topics: Nintendo, Nintendo Switch, Reviews