Gaming

Beyond Blue Review (Switch eShop)

Imagine dragging yourself to a boring lecture on marine biology, and it turns out to be an amazing rock concert about dolphins. It’s an educational / entertainment promise, and more or less what E-Line Media seems to be aiming for with Beyond Blue – but with a cool video game instead of a rock concert. Has a solid reputation borrowed from the BBC with name verification for superstar documentaries. Blue Planet II… However, Beyond Blue is far from the caliber of this program. Much of this collection of good but scattered multimedia resources overlooks the great power of play to be shown and taught.

The latest version of E-Line Media is a peaceful third-person ocean exploration game dedicated to the scientific research of marine life. This is more than just a game. The package also includes 16 educational short films, each about two minutes in length, which briefly describe related scientific topics. In keeping with this academic stance, there is no threat or danger in the gameplay, which encourages thoughtful observation of the environment and the creatures in it.

Set in the near future, you control a researcher named Mirai who tracks and documents sea creatures, especially the sperm whale family. She conducts this research with a team of scientists behind the scenes, who broadcasts it live, commenting on and relaying questions from viewers. It’s not chatty enough to disturb the calm of the abyss, but gives context to on-screen action that might otherwise quickly tire. Between exploration missions, Mirai hangs out on a submarine, where you can listen to a very strange collection of music and watch science videos, while episodes of her personal and professional life are played out over the phone in the form of voiced dialogues in a visual novel style.

The controls are mostly intuitive, with a standard two-stick movement, plus additional buttons for raising or lowering without pointing the camera up or down. Doing research means activating the scanner with the letter “L”, aiming the grid at the creature, and then holding the “R” key to scan. The requirement to be within the reach of creatures and track them with the camera as they move makes it feel different each time, avoiding the feeling of a sluggish klikaton. Each dive involves interacting with a buoy to scan targets and then sailing to targets marked on your HUD to scan your exploration targets.

There is complete freedom to explore the small diving spots you are in – the “near future” is the justification for the technology that allows the Mirai to swim indefinitely with a minimum of gear in water of any depth. Getting Mirai to interact with objects on a submarine is a terrible job, but short and infrequent. Fortunately, she is almost always in the water.

Beyond Blue clearly intends to be educational. In addition to the actual documentaries collected on the menu as you progress, missions include oral explanations of underwater life and primarily involve observation and simple perception of what is presented. The concept provides several channels for demonstration, storytelling and learning: research, dialogue and video. The story from across the ocean is intended to draw parallels between the lives of humans and other creatures and to show the commonality of family ties and social structures. Conversations with your sister about your loved ones are accompanied by tracking and documentation of the sperm whale family. Meanwhile, gradually opening videos lend seriousness to the gaming environment, grounding it into reality.

A lot of content is collected here to try and achieve the goal. However, it is not really a gel. Videos are in the menu tab and open without further ado. Given how short they are, they can be played at the beginning and end of missions without causing fatigue. This will allow for a more complete use of them, but will probably also highlight the fact that they are not very clear about the content of the missions. Likewise, the dialogue sections don’t really go very far in terms of dramatic dynamics, and the connection to marine life is trivial and tedious. It doesn’t help that interactions between voice acting and editing feel flat, as if the audio files are being played sequentially rather than human interaction.

The ultimate embodiment of this general incoherence is the submarine’s music player. Emerging from wonderfully recreated sounds of the ocean, the massive iPod in the cockpit feels overwhelmingly loud and has a small but incredibly varied playlist that can’t support any kind of coherent mood – and certainly doesn’t fit. There seems to be an approach to just putting these songs together – and these videos, and these voice clips, and these levels of play – just because E-Line Media could. This is multimedia for multimedia’s sake, like a CD on a beige computer in a regional science museum in the 90s. It looks strangely like the game installed in Microsoft Encarta.

Among all this is a third-person exploration game. Unfortunately, this is not the best option. While it handles smoothly and is generally enjoyable to play, it misses out on some basic opportunities to do more. There are some moments in level design – swimming towards the first encounter with whales and over the sudden fall of the ocean floor is almost like leaving the Great Plateau in Breath of the Wild. However, other potentially majestic moments of awe at the vastness of the ocean are overlapped by pop-ups, showing that the life-giving void of the blue void is actually filled with large rocks that have not yet been rendered.

Perhaps the biggest missed opportunity is to get to the deepest depths of the ocean. This experience is practically no different from any other dive – it’s just darker. If Mirai was in a shorter suit and controlled us a little slower, we might feel the severity of extreme conditions. This is what video games do exceptionally well. That feeling, coupled with the timely viewing of a video about the nature of the ultra-deep ocean, would be powerful. Instead, Mirai fiddles as fun as ever, and another video appears in a hidden menu tab in case you want to watch it later.

Conclusion

Beyond Blue has noble intentions with an urgent and vital message about our impact on Earth. However, this does not justify itself. While there is decent content here – video, music, sound design, gameplay, storytelling – these pieces support or enhance each other little. The gameplay is soothing but unambiguous, the documentaries are neither mission-limited nor narrative-driven. While there are moments of greatness in ocean exploration, the limited draw distance and pop-ups often break the thrill. Edutainment is hard to implement, and Beyond Blue is not like an awesome dolphin rock concert, but more like your science teacher trying to rap.




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