Endless Ocean Luminous Review: The Pits

Despite its name, Endless Ocean Luminous is frustratingly shallow.

Endless Ocean Luminous
Photo: Nintendo

Despite its name, Endless Ocean Luminous is frustratingly shallow. The third game in the Endless Ocean series by Japanese developer Arika, Luminous is a step backward from the engaging diving simulation and intriguing campaigns that made 2007’s Endless Ocean and 2009’s Endless Ocean 2: Adventures of the Deep so beloved.

In Luminous, the player is tasked with exploring the fictional Veiled Sea, documenting marine life and finding treasure via two similar modes, solo dives and a dispiritingly unsophisticated story campaign. Both instantly submerge the player in a region of the sea sans setup and context, allowing you to swim in any direction and scan anything in view. New marine life encountered is added to a log, and prompts appear where treasure can be collected.

Objective-based modes in simulation games can be compelling but not when they’re as rote as they are here. The vast majority of Luminous’s gameplay is marked by repetitive, seemingly endless immersion-breaking scanning, wherein the player moves forward and presses the scan button, before then rinsing and repeating the cycle. (An over-the-top HUD interface, which flashes during scans, distracts from immersion.) Beyond this, there’s preposterously little interaction with the world, and the world largely fails to interact back. Encounters with oversized, mythical creatures lack awe because the animals barely acknowledge your presence.

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Luminous boasts an impressive collection of over 500 species of marine life to catalog, each with fully voiced educational reports unlocked after scanning. While this might suggest that the game has scholastic appeal, none of the creatures act realistically when you encounter them, instead aimlessly circling the environment and never interacting with you or other animals.

Even potentially dangerous species like sharks aren’t hostile and will sometimes phase through the player if approached. While Luminous features a neat mechanic that allows you, via a digital map, to tag and track the creatures you encounter, this also exposes their limited AI motions. They’re broken, aimless puppets in a barren sea. Prior titles in this series made it seem as if you were exploring a living, breathing world, while Luminous sinks you into a world on life support.

The game’s nadir is its progression system, as you’re forced to repeat story chapters and solo dives over and over to unlock subsequent chapters, which are only available after a certain number of scans. The resulting tedium is crushing, hardly alleviated by the relaxing music and soundscapes, which only draw attention to the lack of an aquarium-style relaxation mode.

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The game does include a functional and robust multiplayer mode, where groups of up to 30 online players can dive together, but to what end? As the gameplay itself is so simplistic and the sessions poorly emulate real diving, the cooperative experience is fairly inane. Outside of enlisting others to hasten the progress of unlocks, there’s very little to this mode, and the same can be said of most everything that Luminous has to offer.

This game was reviewed with code provided by Golin.

Score: 
 Developer: ARIKA  Publisher: Nintendo  Platform: Switch  Release Date: May 2, 2024  ESRB: E  ESRB Descriptions: Alcohol Reference  Buy: Game

Ryan Aston

Ryan Aston has been writing for Slant since 2011. He lives in Perth, Western Australia.

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