Steel Diver Review
This tedious underwater adventure is as short on content as it is on thrills.
When you complete any of the missions, you're whisked away to a periscope challenge in which you must sink enemy boats from a first-person perspective. This is the lone moment where the action raises to a thrilling level, and that fun bubbles forth because of the carefree controls and strict time limit. You swing your view by manually moving the 3DS in a circle. When you spin around in real life, the onscreen view will do the same, and whipping around as quickly as possible to find lurking threats provides an immediate rush. You tap a button to unleash your torpedo barrage, and you have to be mindful of the momentum of your enemies if you're going to be successful. If you make sure you lead them appropriately, you can sink them with one shot. There isn't much depth in this mode, but it hardly matters. The whole shebang is done in a mere 30 seconds, so you're constantly engaged without any fear of it overstaying its welcome. You can go directly to this mode at any time from the main menu, but that's a bad idea. In long doses, this becomes as dull as the main game, so it's better to partake in it sparingly to avoid sinking the fun.
The uneven gameplay in Steel Diver carries over to the visuals as well. The side-scrolling missions have striking backgrounds that do a good job of making you feel as if you're underwater. A variety of locales give you a stylish taste of the earth's many climates, and the attention to detail adds to the immersion. Bubbles form and pop realistically, and the fiery burst when you land a solid hit jumps off the screen. When you flip on the 3D display, it's like you're staring into a tiny fish tank, though the depth of field can get nauseating in long stretches. In contrast to the sharp backgrounds are elements that look bland in comparison. Your submarine, for instance, looks like the prize at the bottom of a cereal box, and the enemy ships look just as phony. The periscope perspective is equally mundane. The rhythmic motion of the waves and clouds do little to conjure a longing for the open water.
A single-card two-player mode resembling the popular board game Battleship extends the life of this short game for a little while. Armed with a fleet of five ships, each player takes turns hunting down the other while keeping his or her own boats afloat. Your opponent's ships are invisible to you, so moving with trial-and-error precision to suss out your enemy's location makes up a large portion of the strategic pull. When you land on an occupied space, a fight breaks out to determine who controls that area. If you're manning a submarine, you reenact the periscope challenges, only this time your opponent can move his or her ships out of the way. This mode heavily favors the offensive player because ships take so long to react to your commands, which sucks away much of the excitement of deadly torpedo strikes. When you move one of your ships onto a space containing your opponent's submarine, a different minigame opens. Here, 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 entirely on luck so it engenders little satisfaction. Because of the constant minigame interludes in this mode, it has a sluggish pace compared to Battleship and becomes tiring before the first match has been decided.
Steel Diver never figures out if it wants to be a submarine simulation or an action romp, and that indecision leads to a yawn-inducing experience. And to make matters worse, even if you do get sucked into this adventure, there isn't much content on offer. You can play through the seven missions in a few hours, and once you're done with that, there are a handful of time-trial missions but little else to occupy your time. The dull two-player mode certainly doesn't add much value, so you're stuck with a middling game that's over before you know it. The novelty of seeing an underwater world through the wonders of 3D is certainly fascinating for a little while, but once that excitement fades away, there's not much here to keep you engaged. Steel Diver sets out from port brimming with confidence, but it sinks to the briny depths before it leaves the harbor.