Endless Ocean is a simple, serene swim on the Switch

The best way to experience Endless Ocean Luminous is to just swim. A follow-up to a series of scuba diving games on the Wii, Luminous has a story to play through and goals to accomplish. But they’re fairly mundane. Instead, the game is at its most interesting — and relaxing — when you let go of specific goals and just explore for the sake of exploring.

What makes Luminous so chill, at least when you’re going for a solo dive, is that it’s completely open-ended and devoid of roadblocks. You’re given a huge swath of the so-called Veiled Sea to explore (the game generates a new map with each dive), and you don’t have to worry about monitoring your oxygen, getting too cold, or running into a dangerous shark. There’s no way to die or even get stuck.

This might be frustrating for folks in search of a challenge, but I found it liberating. It allowed me to explore at my own pace without any pressure. And there is a lot of stuff to find in the game. Luminous features close to 600 sea creatures to find and scan, ranging from schools of tuna to spiky starfish to battle-scarred sharks. There are even some prehistoric beasts to spot. (Note: this is not a particularly realistic game, though you can learn some quick facts for every creature you scan.) This is on top of curious artifacts and ruins that lend the world an air of mystery.

From the handful of dives I explored, the maps also seem to be quite varied. The first I experienced was extremely diverse, with coral reefs on one end, ice floes on the other, and sunken shipwrecks dotting the middle. The next I tried was much more claustrophobic, dominated by a winding cave system in the center that held crumbling structures. And while the graphics aren’t the most impressive thing — this is the Switch, after all, so expect fuzzy textures and jagged edges — the environments are still beautiful in their own way. And they do a good enough job to make certain moments feel startling; being surprised by a pod of dolphins or seeing a huge whale off in the distance slowly swim toward you are particularly gratifying.

Now Luminous does try to layer on some more traditional game elements. There’s a story mode with brief, uninteresting missions to play through, as well as mysterious artifacts to uncover that reveal cryptic details about the sea. But I didn’t find either of these as compelling as scouring a map to completion or trying to find every last creature.

The flip side of Luminous’ simple gameplay is that, aside from the thrill of discovery, there isn’t much to actually do. You’re mostly just swimming, scanning, and snapping pics. That helped me get into a zen state of just taking the underwater scenes, but it’s very likely some will find it straight-up boring. Your mileage may vary. (The game also includes online play for up to 30 divers, which has potential for a laid-back hangout, but I wasn’t able to test it much before launch.)

I’ve found myself playing Luminous in brief sessions. For maybe 30 minutes at a time, I dive in a new area, turn off the UI for extra immersion, and just head off and see what I can find. No goals, no rules, just me and a calm aquatic world. In a time of time-sucking live-service games and open worlds packed with checklists, it’s nice to sit back with something so peaceful and leisurely.

Endless Ocean Luminous launches on the Nintendo Switch on May 2nd.

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