By the admittedly non-existent standards of the scuba-diving genre, Endless Ocean 2 is a sprawling epic. It's a good deal more varied and glamorous than its predecessor, and although some of the diving locations are more developed than others, they all deliver varying degrees of fabulously unlikely spectacle, from a cavern in the centre of an iceberg to a sunken Moorish castle. You can even go ashore in certain spots.
It's not just the locations adding spice, either. Your diving crew gradually gathers some colourful (and amusingly but clumsily portrayed) characters into its ranks, including a jive-talking treasure hunter called GG and a Japanese lady scientist. These two, along with Océane, can be selected as diving partners, and they'll provide useful or educational tips and information when they do. You can also dive with a dolphin partner that you befriend and train, and who can offer you a lift and an extra lick of speed.
You can choose to push through the plot as quickly as possible, or concentrate on earning cash and achievement-style titles from Endless Ocean 2's ample diversions. In a marked improvement over the first game, there is always more than enough to do, and you can happily fire up Endless Ocean 2 for 10 minutes and accidentally sink an hour into its cascading collection and exploration. The guiding and photo missions return - involving guiding a tourist to certain animals, or taking pictures of them - and are joined by cartography, assorted quests and special requests, and a much-expanded salvage and treasure-hunting system.
There are fanciful new gadgets to play with, notably the multi-sensor which helps locate and identify salvage items, and the Pulsar, a ridiculous electro-magnetic gun which can be used to heal ailing wildlife or euphemistically "calm" dangerous predators. Its pointer-controlled zapping seems a bit out of place, although I suppose "heal-the-sick-fish-in-the-face" makes a nice contextual change for first-person shooting.
Endless Ocean 2 is a fulsome package, then, further enhanced with classic controller support (which seems like a great idea until you try it) and online options allowing you to dive with a friend, or invite them to visit your customised aquarium or island hideaway, while chatting over WiiSpeak. It isn't stretched anything like as thin as its predecessor, with a greater variety of content, options, and sights and sounds to hold your interest.
That said, its overall character hasn't changed that much. It's beautiful, but a little slow to navigate and awkwardly put together by modern standards; you can tell Arika first started making these games 10 years ago. And while it offers many more things to do, most of them are still based on simple exploration and extremely basic interactions, and ultimately boil down to pointing at the fish (or the shiny thing) and pressing A.
But to criticise Endless Ocean 2 for being boring or twee is to miss the point. It's a peaceful and relaxing experience, with a wonderfully becalmed atmosphere, subdued beauty, and an earnest, innocent attitude - all of them rare properties in games. Even the MIDI muzak and folk warbling of the soundtrack strike the right note, and in this context, the repetitive and simple gameplay has a quietly hypnotic quality. Give it a break, and you'll give yourself one too.