Review: Steel Diver (Nintendo 3DS)

There aren’t many games that rely exclusively on the Nintendo 3DS’ touch activated screen.  The truth is that it is hard to justify having a game of that nature when you have buttons, right there, just chillin’ and waiting to be used.  On the iPhone it makes sense, there are no buttons.  The touch screen in the only option, but if the iPhone had a joystick next to the screen you would often find yourself asking, “Why not use that, that looks like a much more convenient way to play this game.”  For the most part, you’d be right.

So when a game decides to ignore the buttons available, they have to be careful to make it worthwhile.  Steel Diver may not be the most entertaining, in-depth game you can play on your 3DS, but it does manager to offer a good reason to use the touch screen; the game’s premise would actually be far worse if you didn’t.  Much of the game’s challenge actually comes from the touch screen based control scheme, and in that same sense, much of the game’s enjoyment comes from it as well.

Steel Diiver takes place during an unnamed war sometime in the year 19XX, though the esthetics seem to place it during WWII.  Each level has you piloting one of three classes of submarines through a side-scrolling level, with a couple ending in a final boss battle.  The challenge is to navigate the level as quickly as possible, while not taking too much damage.  Along the way you will face enemy subs, mines and natural obstacles such as rocks that will slow you down and get in your way.  Navigation and firing your weapons is done entirely by using the touch screen, making it much more difficult, or more appropriately, more challenging.

You do not simply point the joystick downward to angle your sub, or press right to move forward.  Everything is controlled by what is essentially a system of dials.  Slide the dial all the way to the right for maximum speed, or dial all the way up to surface.  Tap the torpedo buttons to launch a torpedo at an obstacle or enemy sub, and even plug leaks in the hull by using your stylus (in the event you take too much damage, some time spent at the surface will regenerate your hull). The end result has you micromanaging your sub as it plows along, and it can be rather difficult to move both quickly and safely through the waters.  There is a real feeling of accomplishment though when done correctly.

The touch screen control interface

Most of the levels simply require you getting to the enemy base at the end, but a couple end in a boss fight.  Moving your sub to properly fire at the enemy while avoid incoming fire can be exceedingly difficult, and while the boss fight adds an extra challenge, they are more aggravating than fun.  Especially because if you take too much damage and sink you have to start at the beginning of the level and do it all over again.  Basically, you go through seven minutes of relatively easy and so-so gameplay to fail, and have to go through the seven somewhat boring minutes all over again.  Taking on the final boss in anything other than the “big sub” makes it even more difficult.

As mentioned earlier, there are three classes of subs, a light, a medium and a heavy class.  In typical fashion, they range from lightly armored but quick to heavily armored and slow.  Most of the game can be easily played with the medium class sub, but levels with enemy bosses almost require the heavy sub in order to survive the fight.  Ultimately though, the three classes don’t offer too much variety or extra life to the game.

Visually Steel Diver is descent, but nothing to get excited about.  Much of the levels look similar and the simplified 3D visuals are best described as satisfactory; as in they get the job done but fail to impress much beyond that.  Steel Diver also lacks a lot in sound.  The same “We’re taking damage!” line is uttered way too many times in any one level, joined by “Surface!” and “All ahead full!”  Those three phrases make up roughly 95% of all the game dialogue.  You could ultimately play the game on mute and not feel like you are missing much.

The game also includes two other game modes: a periscope strike mini-game and an odd RTS game that resembles battleship but doesn’t play like it.  The periscope strike game has you rotating around, attempting to fire your torpedoes at moving ships.  This relatively short game mode can be fun, but the stand-alone version of it only has three variations and the version that pops up in the campaign, as a sort of bonus mission, is extremely short. The RTS game was just confusing and failed to provide much of a draw.  They add a little more life to this title, but don’t run out to buy it for either of these modes.

Steel Diver ultimately feels like a sub $10 iPhone app game, hardly managing to justify the $39.99 MSRP price tag.  The game’s strongest attribute is the touch-screen based control scheme that can be quite entertaining.  When you finally get the hang of the controls it really does feel epic to properly steer your sub; largely because of how many little attributes you have to monitor at any given time.  This alone makes Steel Diver worth checking out, but at a significantly lower price than MSRP.

Final Rating: 6/10

CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: Nintendo 3DS
Time to completion: Just under 2 hours for the main game and most of the side stuff
Price Bought at: $4.99
Current Price: $17.99 (Amazon)
Recommend Purchase Price: $4.99 is really around the right price for this one.

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