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Nintendo EAD / Vitei



E +10 (Everyone)



March 27, 2011



- Unique gameplay experience
- Effective 3D visuals heighten rather than hinder
- Extra modes that equal double the gameplay



- No alternative control schemes
- Frustrating touch-based repair mechanic
- Small number of submarines, missions



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Steel Diver

Score: 7.0 / 10


steel diver          steel diver


Racing games notwithstanding, virtually every conceivable vehicle can be controlled in a video game, be it real or fanciful; jets, tanks, spaceships or dinosaurs, there’s a virtual simulation for every kind of gamer out there.

And yet when it comes to vehicle-based games, simulators involving submarines always seem to rest at the very bottom of the proverbial ocean of vehicular titles. Perhaps in a market populated with fast-paced genres like First Person Shooters and GTA knockoffs, there is little demand for a slow moving hunk of metal sloshing




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around the ocean like a whale….heck, a game where you play as a whale seems more interesting by comparison.

But just as they were able to convince you that a home garden could serve as a virtual playground of fun, Nintendo is taking a risk to bring personal passion into their latest IP, Steel Diver. As a game that originally


began life as a DS title, will a 3D upgrade and compact controls help this submarine simulator sink, or swim?

The plot of Steel Diver consists of a small text blurb played during the Campaign screen; in the undetermined year of 199X, an unnamed nation has begun the hostile takeover of its neighboring islands. In order to combat this growing threat, the top unmentioned nations of the world have banded together their squad of submarines to stealthily subdue the opposing force, all while maintaining a healthy PC image that hopefully won’t offend any real-life nations in possession of submarines.

In Campaign Mode, the goal is straightforward: in each level, players must navigate one of three chosen subs to the goal of each level; the levels are structured in a traditional left-to-right sidescrolling perspective, but rather than cruise through each area like a certain speedy hedgehog, each sub moves appropriately slow across the ocean depths. Speed is not the issue in this game (unless you’re looking to improve your score in Time Trial), as every bump and nudge across the rocky surfaces below will damage your submarine; in addition, there are enemy ships that will seek to dispatch intruders with missiles and depth charges, to which a strategic tap of the Masker button will initiate a chaff to evade such devastating artillery.


That’s tap, not push; the game relies exclusively on touch-based controls, with separate layouts for accelerating/decelerating and moving upward/downward, with an additional steering wheel for controlling the tilt of the submarine. If the process of having to control three separate touchpad icons in order to properly steer the sub sounds daunting, that’s because it is. With enough practice, however, the controls become detrimental to the overall aesthetic of controlling a military sub, which turns out to be a unique and interesting experience.


steel diver          steel diver


That said, it’s unfortunate that the game does not feature the option for traditional button controls for gamers who prefer it. The only alternative comes in the form of the three submarines, each featuring different button and wheel layouts that are mostly designed for aesthetic purposes. The most annoying feature involves using the stylus to plug pressure leaks when damaged, as the submarine cannot be controlled in any way until the leak is plugged. This immobility may potentially result in further damage from continuous attacks.

As far as visuals go, Steel Diver is hardly the most graphically impressive of the 3DS’ launch lineup, but nor is it an ugly game either; the 3D effect, even when cranked to its max setting, is quite minimal in its eye-popping features, instead giving the game a unique “toy boat in an aquarium” look. This is one of the few 3DS titles where the 3D and visuals go hand-in-hand, rather than conflict with one another. Voice samples are also digitized and generally low-quality, though this may have been intentional to create a retro feel to the classic board game Battleship.

Speaking of which, the game features two additional modes beyond the campaign, one which practically lifts its rules from the aforementioned classic; Periscope Strike is a first-person mini-game that also occurs between missions in the campaign; the goal of this mode is to search each area for enemy ships, which can be found in any and all directions. Once a ship is within sights, the player’s job is to sink it with missiles, though depending on how far and how fast the enemy is moving, the timing of each missile shot must be properly timed for a successful hit.

The next mode is Steel Commander, which is a strategy-based game that features ships belonging to both you and your opponent on a grid-like map. The goal is to sink all of the enemy ships (again, drawing influence from Battleship) or the main submarine. Each side is given a turn to complete one action, which is either moving one of the ships toward/away from the enemy, or using the sub’s sonar to locate the location of nearby ships on the grid). Once a target is located, the game moves again to Periscope Strike, only this time with a limited time as well as missiles, requiring further precision to knock out those targets.

When the main sub is targeted, the game goes into a depth charge guessing game, where players on defense must choose one of three levels of diving in order to avoid damage (the correct level of submerging will keep the sub safe while the charge detonates above or below, depending), while the roles are reversed when playing on offense. Steel Commander is virtually its own game, and even features multiplayer, though only locally.

It seems safe to say that Steel Diver will not reach the level of popularity among Nintendo’s most beloved franchises, but Miyamoto and company still deserve kudos for inventing another unique gameplay experience that is seldom seen elsewhere. While the learning curve can be steep, enough patience will lead to a satisfying package that’s two games in one and easily bears replaying.


- Jorge Fernandez

(June 20, 2011)


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