Steel Diver Impressions
One of the most enjoyable games at Nintendo World.
Nintendo's Steel Diver was one of the most enjoyable games I played at Nintendo World. It has all the makings of a sleeper hit that people buy through word of mouth. In that case, let me have the honor of getting that word of mouth started!
This 3DS title has been in development longer than most. It started back in 2004 as a DS demo that was shown at the DS's announcement back in 2004 (operating then under the name "Submarine"). Nintendo has revived it as a full release.
The Nintendo World demo had two vastly different modes: submarine mode and periscope mode.
Submarine mode looked to me like the main mode, so I tried it first. This mode takes place from a side perspective. You guide your submarine to a goal point, taking out obstacles and enemy ships and avoiding enemy fire along the way.
You control your sub via an on screen control panel on the lower screen. The control panel has individual slider controls for making your ship dive and rise to the surface, and for making your ship reverse and move forward. This gives you plenty of precision for controlling your ship: you can make it come to a complete stop by centering both sliders, make a dash to the water's surface by keeping the horizontal slider centered and moving the vertical slider all the way to the top, and so-forth.
This doesn't mean that controlling your sub is simple. You'll have to worry about momentum. Expect to rush back and forth making adjustments to the sliders as you attempt to correct for "oversteering."
You also have access to simple combat controls: missiles and masker. Missiles can be fired up or forward. They're for taking out obstacles and other ships. Masker is for masking your ship when enemies fire missiles at you. The only issue with using the masker is that it depletes your air. When your air nears running out, you'll need to make rush for the surface to replenish your supply.
The bottom screen also shows a full map of the stage. This can be zoomed in close to your sub or out to show the entire play field. The map marks where you're headed and also shows islands and other obstacles. As it takes some time for your ship to adjust height and speed, you'll need to use the map to keep an eye on what lies ahead.
The controls actually change depending on the submarine you select prior to the mission. The above details are for the sub that I used, but screenshots show different controls for other ships, including one ship that appears to allow for its angle to be turned up and down.
The single mission that I tried was a straightforward swim from left to right. The only major obstacle was a large island in the middle of the stage. The only way to get around this was to go below it, but this required destroying some boulders with my missiles. There were also a couple of enemy ships, requiring use of the vertical and horizontal missiles and masker.
As you might have guessed form the control method, Steel Diver is a slow paced game. Even at top speed, your ship doesn't move blazingly fast. Even though you see mention of enemies and enemy fire, don't get the wrong idea that this is some sort of shooter.
Periscope mode, on the other hand, is like a completely different game and can actually be considered a shooter of sorts. Here, you control your ship's periscope. You'll need to look around the waters in 360 degrees and fire at ships that are passing by. You have slider controls for zooming in and out and making your ship dive and surface.
Your periscope is controlled via gyro-based controls, meaning you hold the 3DS like a digital camera and turn yourself 360 degrees to make the periscope match. Zelda also uses this scheme, and as with Zelda it's totally optional here. You can also choose to use a slider on the bottom screen to control your direction. The gyro controls work wonderfully here, so I stuck with them during my play session.
The stage I played was simple, consisting of just a bunch of ships that didn't fire back. For ships in the distance, you had to use a bit of timing to make sure you properly strike the moving target.
The periscope missions look like they could get more complicated if the enemies fire back. Some Japanese sites are reporting that when your ship is struck by an enemy missile, it will begin flooding. You'll be able to see damaged areas and repair them by repeated tapping with the stylus.
There wasn't any use for diving underwater in the demo aside from seeing ships that you fired on sink. It's unclear if there will be underwater enemies, or if you'll need to dive to avoid some attacks.
Periscope mode looked particularly neat when viewed in 3D, as ship distances range from far to near. For submarine mode, the 3D gave a bit of depth to the experience, but everything was so small that I didn't get any sense of added solidity that I felt from the character elements in other 3DS games.
The Nintendo World demo also had a "download play" option selectable from the title screen. It's unclear what this is for, but perhaps it's a multiplayer mode or at the very least a method of sharing the game with others. Famitsu.com also managed to get its hands on a screen that showed what appeared to be a turn-based mode. Perhaps this will play like Battleship?
Steel Diver has all the makings for a classic Nintendo game that either gets totally ignored or remains on the top 30 charts for five years. With a great premise and solid control system in place, if Nintendo can put together an intriguing set of missions, 3DS owners will definitely want to pick this one up.