Steel Diver Review

By Stephen Johnson - Posted Mar 25, 2011

This soggy submarine simulator gives players three ways of pretending to be a U-boat captain, but even with the different modes, Steel Diver is more of a beefed-up tech demo for the Nintendo 3DS than a full game.

The Pros
  • Periscope Mode is a great 3DS tech-demo
  • 3D graphics look pretty
  • Simulation of sub physics cool
The Cons
  • Too Short
  • Too Slow
  • Too Frustrating

Steel Diver Review:

Like many launch titles released with new game systems, Steel Diver is more like a fattened-up tech demo for the 3DS than a full game. As a demonstration of what your new Nintendo handheld can do, it’s neat. As a full gaming experience, Steel Diver is thin, showing tantalizing possibility but ultimately not delivering enough.

Steel Diver

Hunt For Red October? More Like Hunt For A Better Game

Steel Diver is a submarine game with three modes: Side-scrolling submarine missions, a periscope game and an online, two-player strategy game. Since this review was written before the launch of the system, I wasn’t able to try out the online gameplay of Steel Diver.

Although most of the game’s content is in the piloting missions, my favorite part of Steel Diver was the periscope mode. As a tech-demo, using your 3DS as a UBoat scope is amazing. You physically spin around the room to scan the seas, looking for destroyers and battleships. When you spot one, unleash hell in the form of torpedoes. The 3D makes sense here, the visuals are amazing, and the gameplay is fun. This is the perfect thing to show skeptics who say, “Why is the Nintendo 3DS better than a regular Nintendo DS?”

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Das Boot This Game Right Out Of Your 3DS

Sadly, the periscope combat aspects of Steel Diver aren’t developed enough. There are only three variations – regular ocean, stormy seas, and sub vs. sub combat, but in practice, they play pretty much the same. There’s nothing more here, ultimately, than spinning around and hitting “fire” when you see a ship. The periscope is a flashy diversion, and most gamers won’t give it much more than half an hour of their time.

Which brings us to Steel Diver’s side-scrolling submarine missions. There are a total of seven tortuous levels here, and each involves piloting your submersible through a treacherous landscape littered with mines, rocks, enemies and other things that will puncture your craft’s skin and presumably drown your crew.

Steel Diver

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Steel Diver’s visuals are pretty – the 3DS has amazing graphics, and having your ship as the fixed center point of a side-scroller makes the 3D less distracting and eye-hurty than some 3DS titles -- but the levels are just not that fun to play. Submarine navigation is, by its nature, slow and deliberate, and Steel Diver does a good job of simulating the various forces in play, but in the video game world, creating a challenging game that is also slow can result in more frustration and boredom than fun.

There are three crafts available, a light, nimble vessel that can’t take much damage, a medium ship with good navigation and good weapons, and a oversized, behemoth that deals and takes a ton of damage, but is harder to pilot.

The controls (depth, thrust, pitch and torpedoes) work well enough, but they are all located on the touch screen and must be controlled with the stylus. This adds an unnecessary level of complications to the game. Why can’t I just use the control pad to pilot my Uboat?

Steel Diver

Mastering sub navigation takes some getting used to, but it’s forgivable. Less justifiable: Steel Diver doesn’t have spawn points mid-level, so if you fail a mission, you go back to the beginning. Imagine spending seven minutes or so meticulously piloting a lumbering submarine through an undersea minefield, then running into the final mine, and having to start over from the beginning of the level. Artificially extending the game makes sense, given how few levels are included, but only hardcore submarine fetishists will want to repeat any of these levels more than once or twice. The rest of us are much more likely to slip in another cartridge or take 3D pictures of our cats.

Another frustration: The final pair of the game’s seven levels can only be unlocked if you complete all of the other levels with all three of the submarines in the game, which means you must beat the first five levels three times each. Poppycock, I say!

Still want to play it? Why not rent it at Gamefly?