Steel Diver is a side-scrolling action game where the player pilots a submarine through a series of complex levels using a series of touch screen controls. Originally intended to be released for the DS, Nintendo decided to change its platform and make it available for the 3DS instead, feeling that it stood to benefit from the added 3D effects of the new system.
Steel Diver features 3 primary gameplay modes. The first is your standard Mission mode. Players can choose from one of three available subs for each level. The subs vary in size, speed, and weapon capabilities which drastically alter the difficulty of the level. Each is full of enemy subs and ships, narrow tunnels and other obstacles. Your sub is controlled using a set of touch-screen controls on the lower screen. Controls will vary based on the sub you choose, but the basic navigation controls and firing controls are common between vessels. Each mission has a time limit, which adds to the chaos of carefully navigating some of the tighter tunnels while also taking enemy fire. Fail to complete the mission in time, or destroy your sub, and you’ll still enter your initials into the high score list along with the percent of the mission you completed. Successfully complete the level and you’ll get a chance to play a bonus game, Periscope Strike, in order to earn decals for your subs.
In Periscope Strike, you are no longer controlling the sub, but instead viewing the surface through a periscope and attempting to sink enemy ships with projectiles. Your control screen changes to reflect a zoom-and-dive slider and fire buttons. The zoom is for viewing far-off ships, while dive allows you to avoid taking damage from enemy fire. Your goal is simply to sink all of the enemy ships. One unique aspect of this mode is that, in order to track enemies on the surface, you literally hold the 3DS up like the screen is a periscope and move in a circle. The upper screen reflects your movement, giving the appearance that you are in fact using a periscope. While I found this feature to be incredibly engaging and fun, it makes playing Steel Diver in the car or on the bus a little difficult. Others may not enjoy having to stand and spin around at the end of each level.
The final gameplay mode is called Steel Commander. Steel Commander is a top-down two-player strategy game that is half-Chess and half-Battleship. Each player commands a fleet of battleships, supply ships, and a submarine. The goal is to sink your opponents sub or all of their supply ships. Fans of tabletop gaming should really enjoy this game mode.
As you play through the Mission Mode of Steel Diver, you’ll unlock a few additional levels as well as power-ups called decals. Decals are collected for each ship you sink in the Periscope Strike bonus game, not in the standalone gameplay mode. Each decal has a different upgrade to your sub, and you must collect a certain number of the same decal in order to activate that power. Mission Mode also tracks which sub you’ve completed the level with, encouraging you to complete all levels with all of the available submarines.
Despite the lame pun, Steel Diver really is a very deep game with three vastly different gameplay modes that come together to make a very enjoyable game. The 3D features provided by the 3DS are nice, but in the end I usually played with 3D turned off. Steel Diver is definitely not a title that simply shows off the features of a new platform, it’s one of the most enjoyable handheld games that I’ve played in a long time. The interactive gameplay won’t be for everyone, though.
Pros: Three gameplay modes
Cons: Can’t be played without room to stand and move