It's surprising to see a launch lineup from Nintendo without any of their heavy hitters, neither Italian plumbers nor time-travelling heroes can be seen in the lineup for the Nintendo 3DS. Regardless, Nintendo still have some first party titles and Steel Diver is one of them. Shigeru Miyamoto himself describes it as having your own pet submarine, but is that enough or is there more to this side-scrolling adventure than meets the eye?
Players are part of an elite group of submariners and as a Steel Diver, you get to control three different submarines, each with their own distinct characteristics, and are tasked with navigating them safely through hostile waters to the objective. It's incredibly light on story, in fact, the story's pretty much non-existent. Nevertheless, it's doubtful you're interested in a game like this for the story, most of the game is getting from Point A to Point B without damaging your sub too much. The earlier missions are really easy, even to the point that it becomes offensive. However, the further players progress, the more the game starts to throw everything it possibly can to stop players from reaching the goal.
The gameplay mechanics are simple enough. Steel Diver is a side-scrolling game where you control the speed and direction of the ship on both the horizontal and vertical planes by using the stylus to adjust a couple of levers. You can try using your thumbs, but the response isn't there to support such a control scheme and you'll be left smashing the touch screen to little avail. It would've been nice to control the game like that, but using the stylus presents a much higher degree of challenge as controlling both the flank and dive, in addition to avoiding hostile obstacles, will require a lot of concentration.
In addition to the levers, there are switches, buttons and wheels that can be adjusted in the same way. Torpedoes can be fired simply by hitting the corresponding buttons, while the Masking button will deplete the air gauge in order to hide the submarine from enemies. Use it too much and the sub will have to surface to refill its air supply. Depending on the submarine, there'll be a wheel with which controls the angle of axis, this allows the sub the rotate on the spot, making it easier to target enemy submarines and ships.
As mentioned earlier, the game will start to throw every possible obstacle at you the further you progress through it. Starting with simple obstacles like destructible rock formations, enemy ships and the expected level designs, to much more challenging ones like mines, other submarines, underwater geysers, volcanic eruptions, cave-ins and whatnot. It's quite epic, to be honest, especially considering most of the levels aren't that big to begin with. If you submarine springs a leak, you can seal it by poking the leak on the touchscreen with the stylus. The excitement and tension is quite palatable, unfortunately, it is easily forgotten past the first play through.
In addition to the Mission Mode, there are also other game types like the Periscope Attack, Time Trials and even a multiplayer mode, which takes a more strategic, turn-based approach. Periscope mode is surprisingly fun and will have you spinning around on the spot seeking out enemy ships to blast out of the waters. It can be pretty challenging, but it's an all-around fun mode to play. Time Trials is exactly that, a race against the clock. In fact, most of the game will clock your timings, challenging you to go back and beat it. At the end of each mission, it'll be placed against your previous times and you can see how well you've improved - or how badly you'd performed. Going back to beat your times is, unfortunately, the only real form or replayability. There isn't much else to Steel Diver.
The visuals aren't the most amazing on the system, but the 3D effect does lend to adding a never-ending depth to the ocean. It's a bit hit and miss, to be honest, as the foreground gets cut off as though you're looking into an aquarium, and in that regard, Miyamoto is right to describe the game as have a pet submarine in an aquarium. Players can also unlock decals with which to decorate the submarines with.
All things considered, Steel Diver is a pretty fun game, it doesn't offer a whole lot, but going back to challenge your previous scores as well as challenging friends does add some replayability. Missions mode is on the short side, but provides quite the challenge, especially in the later levels. Periscope mode is awfully fun, but not a game meant to be played in public or on-the-go (you can also use the analog stick instead), unless you want to garner a ton of judgemental stares from the public eye. It's too bad that Steel Diver just feels more like a mini-game than a retail game worth the $39.99 price tag. If you can look past the cost, then you're in for some challenging side-scrolling action.
|Missions are challenging.|
|Periscope Attack is quite fun.|
|Leaderboards make the game surprisingly addicting.|
|Missions are on the short side.|
|Little replayability aside from beating record times.|
|Feels more like a mini-game than a full retail title.|