Steel Diver represents something of a quandary. At its core, this stylised concept piece offers up a remarkably intuitive set of touch screen controls, believable physics and decent enough graphics, but that same core game is done and dusted and over with in an all too brief afternoon, a bulletpoint that has plagued the 3DS’s launch line-up. Naturally, for a Nintendo EAD-developed title Steel Diver’s happy enough to provide additional hours of extended gameplay for completionists and those happy enough to challenge themselves ad infinitum, but the rest of us might be left wondering how far our forty quid goes these days.
Spread over seven missions, Steel Diver is essentially a submarine simulator; a side-scrolling underwater puzzle/shooter which sees your choice of three such vessels traversing increasingly dangerous and complex subaqueous challenges. You’ll face mines, other submarines and surface-based battleships as you make your way through each level, the packed array of touch screen controls (including speed, depth and angle) are your only interface. It’s a unique enough idea (albeit one from the original DS unveiling back in 2004) and carries a certain amount of novelty value that still feels free even today.
Likewise, the seven missions feel distinct enough, the final two locked away until the player has beaten the first five, and the submarines themselves contrasting enough in their qualities to encourage multiple playthroughs. Indeed, although you’ll have your favourite, each has a neat twist (such as better pitch controls or the abilty to fire torpedoes vertically) and players will need to master each anyway before they can consider the game ‘complete’. It’s entertaining – the initial feeling of slowness and clumsiness soon makes way for somewhat rote-based pattern memory-powered speed runs, which play happily against the game’s time trial submenu.
Levels are punctuated with a first person periscope interlude, in which you’re charged with taking out the enemy from an entirely different perspective. These sections are rather more dramatic but less structured, and usually frantic. They reward the player with decals, which take a while to gather but ultimately provide some very Nintendo-like powerups to the various submarines, which in turn mean that the best times can be achieved. Each main mission mode has a practically perfect run through in the shape of a staff ghost, and you’ll need every ounce of skill to beat them – the decals system will at least give you some desire to practice.
But those seven levels (and a smattering of alternative games including a Battleships-esque strategy game) make up Steel Diver’s entire content. For a game that first surfaced nearly seven years ago it’s light on things to do, even though there’s so much room to become really good at the missions that are included – and as we said at the start of this review, this is something that’s continually raised its head when discussing the 3DS’s early titles. Games like Super Monkey Ball and Pilotwings show stacks of potential but fall short on providing a lengthy game experience for all but the hardcore, leaving a slightly sour taste in the mouth.
Steel Diver is a nice looking game, the 3D providing considerable depth to the side-on missions and makes timing your torpedoes in the periscope view a doddle, and the physics at work in the movement of the submarines is a delight. The touch screen controls are actually quite smart and test your dexterity rather more than simply throwing everything onto the analog stick and face buttons would have done. It’s just a shame that you don’t get a lot of missions to play through here, and the lack of online leaderboards for the time trials massively limits the desire to keep improving your efforts on the levels that are included.
- Decent visuals, especially when in 3D mode
- The touch screen controls work well
- Lacking in content for the majority of gamers
- Desperately needed some online functionality
We can’t help feel a little disappointed in Steel Diver. The potential is certainly there, but the game could have been the poster child for the 3DS’s online options in the same way it so skillfully uses the touch screen for control, the gyro for the periscope, and the 3D for its visuals. But limiting the number of levels to just seven and not featuring any online play or leaderboards is unforgiveable, and could have really extended the life of the time trial mode beyond its current obvious limitations. What’s left is a competent game, but one probably far too shallow for the lion’s share of the console’s audience – a sequel could be great, though.