A decent "sub" for the real thing.
It's easy to understand why so many people dislike Steel Diver. Nintendo's 3DS launch effort is a collection of different genres, mashed together to produce a slow moving submarine sim that's clearly not for everyone and a tough sell at $39.99. Spend some time with it, though, and you'll discover a fun game that puts some of the system's best features on display, starting with the gyroscope.
Periscope Strike, one of three mini games, tasks you with firing torpedoes at enemy ships, identifying said ships through a periscope and then watching them sink to the ocean depths; we love diving to watch the battle cruisers make their slow descent. Although we found this mode to be a tad simplistic, being able to physically maneuver the 3DS (like a periscope) is a nice touch. We also dig the nighttime level with stormy seas, as it allowed the developers to showcase the handheld's processing muscle, as the waves pitch the boats around like toys. Throw in the system's 3-D effects, and it's a wild scene.
On the downside, you'll blow through Periscope Strike in roughly 12 minutes, and aside from beating your own score, there's little reason to come back. Nintendo missed a huge opportunity to link this mode with online leaderboards. That would have increased the game's value tenfold.
Next up are the Missions, side-scrolling levels that challenge you to sink enemy warships, secure a port and even battle a sea monster. From speaking to other gamers, these stages represent the point at which Steel Diver becomes more of a chore to play, largely because they found it difficult to control.
With this in mind, it's important to understand Nintendo's goal to create a submarine simulator, instead of some fast-paced arcade shooter. Your sub behaves like the real thing, forcing you to master the depth slider, speed slider and pitch wheel to dive, ascend and reverse. You can't stop on a dime or quickly dodge a ship's depth charges. In most cases, you'll experience a series of narrow misses, thrilling moments, for sure.
That said, you need a ton of patience to beat all of the levels, as well as the desire for 100 percent completion, once Nintendo asks you to beat this portion of the game with three different subs.
Finally, there's Steel Commander, a slow-paced strategy game where both sides (you versus the computer or another person via download play) place ships around a hex grid and then use sonar to track down and destroy them, in the tradition of the classic board game, Battleship. It's a cool idea that Nintendo executed well, but come on. No online play? It's hard enough convincing folks to buy Steel Diver, let along settle in for some multiplayer. The ability to enjoy random battles with others would've been sweet.
As you can see, the mini games lack that special something that would have made Steel Diver a triple A experience, though the 3-D graphics remain consistently good, even with the slider pushed all the way up. Clearly, Nintendo struck a fine balance between adding that sense of depth without going overboard.
Of course, you shouldn't buy Steel Diver on 3-D alone. Pick it up because you want to spin yourself around the living room hunting for ships, or can deal with the submarine style controls. Accept the game for what it is, and you'll enjoy what it has to offer.
What's Hot: Gyroscope controls, 3-D wave effects, three unique game types, attractive graphics.
What's Not: Not enough Periscope missions, no online play or leaderboard support, wrestling with the sub controls.