- Developer: E-Line Media
- Publisher: E-Line Media
- Release Date: 16/11/2021
- Price: £15.09 / $19.99
- Review code provided by E-Line Media
Introducing: Beyond Blue Review
Edutainment has come a long way since I was a lad. That’s right youngins its one of THOSE intros! Let me tell you a story. When you had completed all your classwork, you were often lucky enough to go on… the computer! We were lucky enough to have one in the room. It was pre loaded with a variety of educational games. This is where my love of all things Carmen Sandiego came from! But lets not forget other classics like the Oregon Trail and Mario is Missing!
Now *mumbles a number of years* later and we can regularly find some fun and educational titles on the Nintendo Switch and other devices. In fact our own Thomas reviewed BodyQuest not long ago. The market for titles that educate as well as teach is becoming so popular that even our board games are being used as teaching tools now. So along comes Beyond Blue, a title from acclaimed edutainment media publishers E-Line Media. The question is, does Beyond Blue sink or swim?
Lets Dive In!
The premise of the game is quite simple. You play as a marine biologist in the not too distant future. Quickly you realise there is a lot of artistic licence with the concept as you lack any form of familiar SCUBA equipment but instead technology enables you to plunge the darkest depths with the minimal amount of equipment. Communicating with the surface is also fixed by the use of radio buoys throughout the levels which serve a couple of functions.
The initial tutorial session quickly lets you loose in what feels like an open ocean. The main objectives are swim to location, complete task swim to next location. The tutorial itself introduces both one of the main focal points as well as one of the main mechanics. Mirai is spending a lot of her time researching a family of whales, showing off her exploits as a livestream. The whale family works as a parallel to the family issues in her life as comparisons are drawn between how humans and animals exist.
The second, and main feature is the scanning function. This is very similar to Pokemon snap – but then its difficult to really expand on a scanning concept without drawing parallels to the popular Nintendo title. On the plus side, the scanning mechanic is slightly more immersive than in the Mass Effect games. Scanning a creature will reveal the name and subsequent scans will reveal more and more data on that particular organism. Objectives are clearly marked, making the game less challenging than it could be though, but more on that later.
Lets Dive Deeper
The swimming mechanics are fairly standard fare, utilising both control sticks to move camera and Mirai. Using the shoulder buttons allows her to rise and fall, but also creates my first real complaint. With the amount these buttons are used, it began to feel awkward rather than comfortable. Some of this is from my own muscle memory from using the trigger buttons for pretty much everything, but even so – this could have been remapped to support existing titles?
The game is split into three main components. The swimming missions take up the largest part obviously but they are supported with a story that tries to span the three sections. Conversations with family and friends often take place in the Sub and often give exposition and background to characters. Finally there’s the scientific and academic portion of the game. The sub itself lays out a lot of areas that, as a scientist, I drew a lot of parallels with. The whiteboard of outstanding projects and questions for example. But the games main goal is to educate so…
The education almost feels like an aside at times. And certainly takes a back seat to the story when it needs to. That said, the game contains an ocean encyclopedia whereby collecting all the data on all the creatures you encounter gives you greater insight and understanding. As you progress, you also unlock video content that roots the game firmly in the real world. But these could be easily overlooked by players which, unfortunately, spoils the educational benefit for me a little.
Exploring the Reef
The game is such a relaxing one that it would give even triple A chill games a run for their money. The calm blue ocean combined with the ease of completing objectives mean you aren’t likely to raise your blood pressure at any point. There’s also no “big bad” to rally round. Even the threat to the local wildlife isn’t there for you to battle. At best the game is an academic collect-a-thon with a relaxing background.
The game isn’t completely devoid of peril or emotion though. There is certainly a level of concern raised in some of the locations that Mirai squeezes herself though for example. Presumably while thanking the future for developing a rebreather without the need for an oxygen tank. The relationship between Mirai and her sister also plays an important role in tugging at the heart strings.
Aesthetics – Will it give you sea sickness?
In terms of modelling and assets the game is beautiful. Each creature has it’s own rotatable model complete with behaviour related animations to unlock as you progress through. The game prides itself on being inspired by and collaborating with teams behind some of the big names in both media and research. Quickly advertising their link to BBC Studios who had previously worked on Blue Planet 2 and Ocean X Media. Its evident a lot of work went on providing as realistic an experience as possible.
Technically the game runs fine on the Nintendo Switch, with the obvious exceptions. For example, the world is foggier, particularly in handheld mode as the game sacrifices draw distance for the sake of maintaining frame rate. I didn’t encounter any issues during my play through that hindered my enjoyment of the game and aside from the aforementioned shoulder buttons, the controls were fairly responsive in the water. A playthrough runs at a few hours and should be enough time to collect most, if not all of what is needed to 100% the game.
The soundtrack is also massively diverse. As the game progresses you can also collect songs for the legally distinct from an iPod/Pad. Clearly some of these artists are derived from Mirai’s interactions with her friends and it helps to give players a diverse soundtrack to enjoy, though this seems out of place at times.
Let’s Come Up for Air
Beyond Blue isn’t a bad game. But it feels like it is fighting itself for what it wants to be. The reason I started this review reminiscing about sitting at an old PC playing edutainment is because there were times I felt like I was just playing a graphically superior version of this. That isn’t a bad thing in the slightest, but when you look at the rest of what is on offer it creates conflict. The story on it’s own isn’t enough to grip players but does detract from the educational experience at times. Whilst I can see the desire to draw parallels with whale pods, I think a story where they were the sole focus would have probably hit home better.
Its also hard to push this as an edutainment game when the education sections can, in theory, be left out entirely. There is incentive to watch and interact with these elements in the form of achievements. But the videos themselves could have been integrated into the main game without much notice from the player.
That being said, there is a perfect audience for this particular game, it’s just not strictly gamers. Letting my daughter sit with the Joy-Con and explore, talking about the various fish and creatures helped to bridge that gap between the passive, but well designed documentary series and the active participation of an exploration game. This is a game that, if your child is interested in the ocean, you would want to pick up for them.
- Calming atmospheres, good for relaxing
- Educational, with easy objectives, ideal for younger gamers
- Artistically stunning, with realistic assets and real to life animations
- There isn’t much cohesion between edutainment and gameplay
- Gameplay is simplistic and repetitive at times