Review: Steel Diver

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“Steel Diver” is a decent little game. The only problem, however, is that it’s not quite $39.99 worth of decent.

The game, which places players in the role of a submarine captain navigating hostile waters, is a launch title for Nintendo’s new 3DS portable but its campaign feels like a throwback to the 8-bit era. Although the game’s designers did find clever ways to make use of the 3DS’ capabilities, most of the gameplay takes place in two dimensions.

I had fun playing Steel Diver, but at a time when developers can offer iOS and Android games for 99 cents, consumers need more from a full-priced game.

And that’s a shame, because Steel Diver is a game that I really wanted to like. It’s a new idea from the House of Mario and I like to see new titles get a chance in the age of sequels. Additionally, games focused on naval combat are a relative rarity in a marketplace that is oversaturated with war-themed titles. Steel Diver is nothing close to a submarine simulation, but it’s a concept is still a refreshing change of pace.

Steel Diver has three modes, Campaign, Periscope Strike and Steel Commander. Of the three, Periscope Strike does the most to take advantage of the 3DS’ capability to show 3D images, as it puts players in the perspective of an officer viewing enemy surface ships or subs through the periscope. The 3D screen creates the illusion of depth, and the mode also employs the 3DS’ motion controls, as players have to physically move their portable around to adjust their aim. This is fun in short-burst sessions at the end of missions, but can be tiring for more than a few minutes at a time.

In campaign mode, the 3DS renders some pretty background images, but the gameplay is only slightly different from what a player may have been able to find in the 1980s. The only big difference between then and now is that players use the 3DS’ stylus and touch screen instead of a direction pad to move their vehicle up and down or side to side.

In terms of strategic choice, “Steel Diver” gives players a choice between three submarines: the quick, but small “Manatee;” the balanced “Blue Shark” and the big and powerful “Serpent.” But once players pick a vessel, the game becomes more about how fast they can move their stylus than anything else.

Steel Diver’s missions are side-scrolling affairs that can indeed challenge one’s reaction times, but while playing, I sometimes wondered why I was playing a 2D game on a system being advertised on the strength of its 3D screen.

The game’s third mode, Steel Commander, is roughly similar to the classic tabletop game “Battleship.” Two-player games require two people to own a 3DS, but the nice thing is that only one of those players need to own a copy of the game.

“Steel Diver” is a nice simple game that’s good to play for 20 or 30 minutes. I’m just not of the opinion that it’s good enough to justify a $39.99 price tag. Players may have fun giving this title a try, but I would recommend looking for the game as a rental or waiting until it goes on sale.

Steel Diver
Rated E for Everyone 10 +
Nintendo 3DS