Review by SeahorseCpt89

"Steel Diver's lack of content and tedious gameplay isn't worth more than a bargain bin price"

It is difficult to review a launch title for any system. The technology of the console or handheld was young and nothing has really set the bar yet, so of course there's going to be a few flops. Nevertheless, that doesn't stop a game from not living up to standards nor does it stop the fact that better games have become available since the system launched. Steel Diver, for example. What sounds like an interesting submarine exploration game turned out to be a tedious and sluggish chore that doesn't have enough to hold your interest for long. Launch title or not, the 3DS had better choices now and at the time of its launch.

In the year 19XX, a 'power-hungry rogue nation' invaded several nearby countries. A secret organization known as the 'Steel Divers' was formed from various country's navies to combat this threat. And.....that's about it. They set up a story at the beginning but it is mostly ignored and nothing in the game relates back to it. Almost makes you wonder why they bothered with a story at all.

From a sidescrolling perspective, your goal in each level is pretty much reach the end and stay alive. You choose between 3 subs, or your difficulty, easy being a small but maneuverable sub, hard being a large and sluggish sub but it can take more damage, or medium which balances the two. After you choose your map and sub, you must make it from the left side of the screen to the right through a number of maze-like levels. Each sub is equipped with a number of torpedoes which helps you take out enemy craft like ships or other subs, but thanks to the slow reaction in the controls, these fights aren't very exciting. These fights end up over staying their welcome as they require you to do some fiddling with the controls to aim or torpedoes just right (and you can't turn around or fire in the opposite direction). Completing levels has its share of satisfaction though and you feel accomplished putting up with all of that.

As you probably already noticed, the controls are this game's main issue. How do they work? Well, instead of moving with the stick or face buttons, everything is controlled through the touch screen. Down here, you can control your sub's movement with a slider; move to the right to move forward and the left to back up (which also determines your speed). Similarly, you can also control your sub's depth by moving a vertical slider up or down. The screen is also used for tilting backward or forward by turning a wheel and for shooting torpedoes. These controls take a steep learning curve as it is difficult to stop your sub in time from slamming into a wall or an enemy due to the slow reaction time. You really have to concentrate if you want to navigate the maze with accuracy, but this game is hardly punishing. No matter what your sub can take on plenty of damage and surfacing can even heal or sub back to full health anyway. The game can be frustrating to control but even the sloppiest of drivers can make it to the end with ease.

The controls really become a nuisance during the 3 boss fights. Like most bosses, they will follow a specific pattern and make it clear where and when you're supposed to shoot your torpedoes. The problem is aiming for these spots can be annoying. For instance, one of the bosses is a tanker. This tanker takes several torpedoes to take down if you play it safe and shoot at it from the surface. This sounds tiresome, and it is, but there is another way. The ship will open up a hatch where it drops mines on you, leaving a hole for you to shoot at. This does critical damage but lining up your sub just right is frustrating and it makes putting up with the long way out of this fight a good idea. There's even a part where the ship moves to the background, which means you have to be patient and wait for it to slowly makes its way back around for your chance to fire at it again. It's not hard, but it's tedious and a test on your patience.

After each level you are dropped in the Periscope Strike. Now in a first person view, your goal is to sink as many ships as you can in 30 seconds. Using the 3DS' new gyro controls, you aim by spinning your 3DS in a circle as you look for a new target, and press a button to fire a torpedo. This is the most amusing part of the game as the action finally picks up thanks to a better use of controls. This also requires a bit of strategy as you really have to lead your targets and time your shots just right if you want a successful hit. There isn't a whole lot more depth than that but it's far more thrilling and a good break from the rest of the game. Luckily, this can also be accessed from the main menu. Though it does lack the rush, it's still more entertaining than the tedious mazes.

The backgrounds in this game provide a good sense of depth for the 3D effect and at points, it makes you feel like you're under water. There's a good variety in climates and there's a good attention to detail. However, turn off the 3D and it looks as good as looking through a fish tank. In fact, the foreground looks bland in comparison. Your sub looks like a toy and every other sub and ships don't look any more real than a toy boat you can find in your child's bathtub.

In multiplayer, the game turns into a more Battleship type of game. Commanding your own fleet of subs and ships, each player takes turns hunting down each others ships (which are invisible to them). When you occupy an enemy space, a battle starts. If you're in a sub, you enter Periscope Strike only your opponent is controlling the ship that he can move out of the way. Unfortunately, the player controlling the ship is at a disadvantage since the controls take too long to react and dodge shots. When you move one of your ships onto a space containing your opponent's sub, a different minigame will start. The offensive player chooses among three depths to drop charges, and the defensive player chooses from the same three options for how deep to hide. This is based on 100% luck, making it even less fun. Bottom line, the mutliplayer is so slow thanks to constantly being interrupted by mini games that you might as well play the original Battleship.

Steel Diver sounds like a cool idea; a handheld game based on piloting a submarine through a number of mazes and obstacles. However, the actual game is so low on content and thrills that what we got is a "ho-hum" experience. The game isn't terribly hard but outside of bursts of Periscope Strike, you will be turned away from its tedious gameplay and sluggish controls. If you want to give this game a try look nowhere else than the briny depths of the bargain bin.

Reviewer's Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Originally Posted: 03/05/13

Game Release: Steel Diver (US, 03/27/11)

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