Every now and then Nintendo throws a curveball at its fans by either developing, co-developing or publishing something that they tout as the next big thing. Steel Diver fell into this category and over the last few months we've seen Nintendo market this thing and talk about it at press events like the game is going to blow us away and make us close our eyes and pray for a sequel, when all I'd like is for it to stop teasing and never look at me again.
There's something about the way Steel Diver controls the flow of the first few missions that intrigued me. I was so sure that I would dislike it but the way the controls themselves become part of the gameplay, in a strangely hectic way, slowly drew me in. The fact that you don't have all the controls in one easy to manage d-pad made controlling the submarine a little like a puzzle or mini-game. While this works for the first few missions, a realisation slowly starts to sink in: the controls aren't meant to be a mini-game.
The rising difficulty of each mission proves this and joy slowly turns to frustration. I don’t want to have to fight with two sliders (one for vertical movement and the other for horizontal), a rotation wheel and separate switches for each torpedo bay. I want to be able to calmly manoeuvre my submarine through the treacherous oceans deftly laying waste to enemy subs and boats all while masterfully avoiding mines. It shouldn't be too much to ask that the controls don’t counter the gameplay.
The whole point of handheld gaming is that you can play on the run. If you’re on the bus/train and have a few minutes to spare you can whip out your portable gaming device, load up whatever game you’re currently playing and blast through a mission or two. It's not a big thing to ask, so why-oh-why does every mission end with a mode you can’t play anywhere, except in the comfort of your home, without looking like an idiot?
While this little added end-level game is easily the best aspect of the main game mode, it requires you to use the accelerometer and gyroscope to look around you as if the 3DS itself is a periscope. This is fine at home, or maybe at work in your little swivel chair, but you won’t be able to play this on a bus without annoying the people next to you or making the people behind you think you're about to snap a picture of them. Thankfully this game mode is expanded upon as a separate selectable in the main menu so you won't have to pain your way through the seven main missions.
I say seven main missions, not because there are only seven, but because you’ll only ever play seven. The last two, despite being visible (but locked in the mission select screen), can only be played by going through every level with every submarine. You might not think that's a big ask, what with each level only taking up five-ten minutes of your time, but by the time you get to the point where the next thing you have to do is restart the game with a different sub, you'll have had enough.
All is not lost however; the game does look incredibly nice with the 3D turned on, the repetitive calls from your crew won't make you want to kill and there's a whole separate strategy game attached you can play with friends or bots. This game mode is what Nintendo should have had as the main mode. It's a little bit like a modern version of Battleship, with the ability to hunt down a hidden flotilla of enemy boats with the 'periscope' mode triggered when you do stumble upon one. It's a little silver lining in a very, very dark cloud.
No matter what, I just can't recommend this game; the asking price is too high for something that survives only because of an afterthought multi-player mode. Keep those dollars saved for another 3DS game.
Graphics – 6
Sounds – 5
Gameplay – 3
Lasting Appeal – 1
Overall – 3