September 12, 2007 // 8:40 pm
- Swim lazily over coral reefs, admiring the fish and listening to the soothing/annoying sounds of Hayley Westenra, the Kiwi Charlotte Church. If that's your idea of a good time, then welcome to your New Best Game Ever. If not, have a word with yourself and come back with an attitude readjustment, because you need to forget any preconceptions you may have had. Forever Blue is console psychotherapy, and it's totally brilliant.
It's also a proper game, believe it or not, with missions and objectives. That there's a complete lack of challenge in any of it only adds to its supremely relaxing nature, but you do get a feeling of accomplishment after acing another task or finding a particularly pretty sort of fish.
The old woman of the sea:
You play a diver with a massive boat and a chunk of ocean to explore. We picked a female because we didn't really want to get a close-up view of neoprene-clad manbits in the event of a camera malfunction, but the choice is entirely yours. Give her a name (ours is called Nemo) and a hairdo, then jump off the boat and witness an underwater scene that will take your breath away.
In the early parts of the game, the aim is simply to explore the reef and learn about the fish. There are around 200 species to discover, with loads of different ones in each area. When you see one that looks new, you tickle it with the Wii remote and it's added to your log book back on the boat.
The undersea landscapes are stunning. Sites of special interest are dotted around the ocean, and the camera takes a dreamy tour through their towering coral spires and into dizzyingly deep trenches whenever you chance upon one during a dive.
It's controlled entirely with the remote. There's a blue dot which the diver swims towards when you hold B, or the minus button makes her swim automatically, saving finger muscle. Other functions like the map, fish food, coloured pens for defacing the sea and a camera for recording what you've seen, are easily accessible. Gaming skill is not an issue.
Moving the boat from place to place, diving in the limited range allowed and uncovering the map, is addictive in itself, but there are tasks to be performed. The boat is hooked up with email, through which other characters get in touch and arrange meetings. You'll get to go on torch-lit night dives, search for treasure and explore sunken ruins.
There's never a feeling of danger, even when a huge shark appears and the reef drops away into a black abyss. It gave us a bizarre feeling of vertigo, like hitting turbulence in a plane but without the sense of impending death. It's completely unlike any other game, with the possible exception of soaring on the hang-glider in Pilotwings 64.
Although the objectives aren't strictly necessary other than to provide a break from the otherwise aimlessly relaxing exploration, they seem the only way to earn the right to visit certain parts of the game. You can't dive in the deepest trenches or go out at night until you've satisfied certain conditions.
Fishing for compliments:
There's a plot involving your boating companion, a girl who stands around in a lifejacket looking depressed. Maybe she just doesn't like fish. Maybe she can't swim. Maybe her dad was swallowed by a giant whale, which she's spent her life searching for. Whatever the reason, there's a lot of teaching tricks to dolphins.
But then that's enough for us, after hours of sailing, swimming and admiring. Hayley Westenra was quickly silenced in favour of MP3s on the SD card, but the game keeps calling us back and we think this'll stay in the Wii for a long time.
So that you don't have to remember where all the different fish habitats are, there's an aquarium that you can stock up with anything you've found so far. Unfortunately the Japanese retail version we reviewed has a bug that kills the game stone dead if you add certain types of fish. Cramming a whale in there is fine but try getting a ray in the tank and the Wii will crash every time.
That's certain to be fixed for the UK release, which should be out this year. Anyway, the prospect of teaming up with a Wi-Fi dive buddy and watching penguins shooting through the water, leaving trails of bubbles exactly like we've only ever seen in wildlife documentaries, well, that's sufficient incentive to keep us away from the buggy aquarium.
So, Forever Blue. Buy it. Your therapist will thank us for it some day.