Steel Diver (Nintendo 3DS) - Review by Andrew



Like many members of the press, my first encounter with Steel Diver was way back in the early days of the DS. At the time it was simply known as the 'Submarine Demo' which was presented as a two minute mini-game developed to highlight the DS's touch-screen capabilities. There were various rumblings that this would be made into a full commercial release but the years passed and we saw nothing. You can imagine my surprise then when I discovered that Nintendo had no intention of simply trashing this intriguing piece of tech but rather hang onto it until they decided to launch another handheld. Enter the 3DS and, with the absence of the publisher's usual high profile properties, we have Steel Diver but just what has it been doing for the past five years and was it worth the wait?


Steel Diver features three different gameplay options but we'll begin with the Mission Mode since this is where the bulk of the gameplay lies. This places you behind the controls of any one of three submarines on a variety of underwater challenges. The submarines themselves differ quite significantly in terms of size, power and weaponry and you'll need to complete the first six missions in all three before progressing to the final challenges. The Missions themselves are very similar and each of them is proceeded with an instantly forgettable storyline not doubt added in an attempt to put the whole thing in context. The first, for example, has you attempting to reach an enemy base and you can get an idea of the mission's layout thanks to a handy map on the top screen. It's then a case of reaching your destination intact and there're more than enough underwater nasties to hinder you progress such as mines, depth charges and enemy submarines. The latter is the real problem here and a handful of torpedoes from one of these will have your submarine leaking water whilst slowly sinking to the bottom of the sea. You can stop these by plugging them with your stylus but you can only regain your all-important energy levels by returning to the surface.

So, with that in mind, surely it's tempting to simply stay on the surface? We'll it would be but stay there too long and you are likely to be targeted by the various air defence roaming the skies. There are also ships, more mines and your path generally isn't clear anyway thanks to islands and the odd iceberg. No, the only way to actually reach your intended target is to take the (more dangerous) underwater path. It's not always about simply getting their though and you'll occasionally meet an end of level boss which will need to be defeated before you can move on. All this is done against a timer and while the early levels are a piece of cake things get difficult very quickly indeed. Once you've completed all of this it's on to the Periscope sections which can add bonus items to your submarine. These come in the form of badges and you are awarded these by sinking enemy ships and other submarines. Collect enough and you'll be able to equip your sub with better amour or firepower, which may be just what you are looking for to complete that more challenging mission.

This Periscope Mode can also be played in isolation and attempting to beat your time whilst spinning around your living room is great fun. The third and final Mode here is a Steel Commander strategy game. This is the only two-player affair included on the cart but we're not sure if action fans even want this type of thing anyway. It's also incredibly dull and moving from the action, in the main game, to this does seem very odd indeed. Needless to say, this is not one of the carts highlights and we found it a little buggy anyway.


Use: As with the DS demo, all of your control inputs here are via the touch screen and most of the time this works very well. Diving, surfacing and using the weapons is incredibly responsive and intuitive. The only real problem we had is with the lack of forced feedback. This isn't generally a problem with majority of touch-screen heavy titles but it can be here. This is because as the gameplay becomes more intense, it's easy to 'slip off' your current control and have no idea you've done so until you're crashing into the seabed. We also have a minor niggle with the Periscope section of the game, which again is completely touch-screen controlled. This isn't so much to do with the layout but rather the controls themselves and for some reason it feels far more natural to fire your Torpedoes with the shoulder buttons (which we kept reaching for) although sadly there's no option to change the control configuration.


Given that you'll spend most of your time, with Steel Diver, underwater the visuals are somewhat bland with a very limited colour pallet. There's also not an awful lot going on and if it were not for the enemy submarines you could easily travel for some considerable time without seeing anything at all. This does improve when you get to the Periscope sections though, and the 'stormy seas' section in particular demonstrates just how realistic the 3DS visuals can be under suitable art direction. In fact this should come with a warning as the rolling waves could make some players a little disorientated and, dare we say it, seasick.


The audio here is incredible and the mix of the rousing Military inspired soundtrack and subtle sound effects all make for a great accompaniment to the underwater gameplay. There's even some impressive voice-over work mirroring the instructions you give to your submarine.

Special features

Because the visuals aren't exactly groundbreaking, the 3D effect here is a little flat. What we really would like to have seen is some real depth to the underwater landscape allowing you to become fully immersed in this vast unchartered abyss. Instead you'll get to spend large portions of your gaming in a bland and occasionally featureless environment, which looks positively 2D in every respect. Much more impressive are the Periscope Missions with the developers putting the 3DS's internal Gyroscope to great use. This feature will have you jumping out of your chair forcing you to rotate around a 360-degree axis in order to take down all the enemy ships and submarines. We can't really express just how satisfying this is but we'd urge you to try it.

Final comments

Steel Diver is certainly one of the more original games out there and the clever use of the 3DS's unique features will no doubt be emulated by many developers in the coming months. Unfortunately, the whole thing is far too short and you are likely to devour the eight missions in only a couple of sittings. The Steel Commander section doesn't even feel like it should be part of the whole package and if you are an action fan it's questionable if you're even interested in this simple strategy game. Steel Diver began life as a demo and to be honest (and at full price) that's what it should have remained, maybe as part of the eShop sometime in the future. There's still a great deal to admire here and if you manage to find it reduced then it's well worth adding to your collection but at a premium price point, forget it.

Pro: Exciting Gameplay, Great Use of the 3DS Gyroscope Feature, Great Audio.
Con: Very Short, Boring Strategy Game, Not for Everyone.
Final score: 7.1


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Boxart of Steel Diver (Nintendo 3DS)
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Genre: Action
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo