Dave the Diver (NS) - ReviewEvan Norris , posted on 25 November 2023 / 3,522 Views
Dave the Diver is easy to overlook. With its unassuming name, rotund but otherwise nondescript protagonist, and 2D pixel graphics, it sort of blends into the indie game background. Don't let its humble outward appearance deceive you, however. The developers at South Korean studio Mintrocket have packed an obscene amount of personality, variety, and content into the game, to the point that it rivals the gameplay scope of big-budget "AAA" titles.
Things start with Dave, a cheerful, friendly scuba diver currently on vacation. His reverie is suddenly interrupted by his unscrupulous friend Cobra, who lures him away the beach with promises of delicious sushi. When Dave meets up with Cobra, he finds more than he bargained for: an enormous marine sinkhole called the Giant Blue Hole that's teeming with underwater life, and a dilapidated waterfront restaurant managed by a rigid sushi chef named Bancho. Cobra's proposition is simple: Dave will spend his days diving into the watery abyss to collect fresh seafood, and his nights serving sushi made by Bancho. Together, they'll make a fortune.
This day-night cycle is represented in the gameplay of Dave the Diver, which is bifurcated into two different spheres governed by two very different genres: action and simulation. During morning and afternoon hours, players will control Dave as he explores the two-dimensional space of the Giant Blue Hole, catching fish, collecting treasures, and gradually reaching deeper and more hostile areas. During evening hours, players will hang up Dave's flippers & oxygen tank and serve hungry customers at the restaurant.
Typically, when a video game embraces two unalike genres, one of them eclipses the other. That's gratefully not the case in Dave the Diver. Mintrocket managed to make both spheres interesting, immersive, and uniquely challenging. Daytime excursions under the waves benefit greatly from some Rogue-lite elements, whereby the terrain and ecology in the blue hole changes after each dive. There's always something new, weird, or dangerous to see, even if the basic contours of the sinkhole remain the same. There are also random encounters, like a dolphin in distress, to keep things spicy. Finally, the game supports many goals and projects — whether short, medium, or long-term — ensuring there's always something to work toward.
Nighttime duties at the sushi bar are similarly challenging and rewarding. As the front-of-house manager, you're responsible for setting the menu, hiring & training staff, decorating the interior, and even serving food & beer during busy shifts. It's super satisfying to see your revenue and clout grow after a successful evening at the restaurant. Overall, by giving equal weight to daytime adventuring and nighttime business management, Dave the Diver provides scenarios that are engaging on visceral and cerebral levels. It's really the best of both worlds.
What makes Dave the Diver particularly special is that it never stops adding depth and texture to its gameplay systems. As you progress through the game, you'll earn the ability to craft and upgrade weapons, take pictures at special underwater photo spots, and even dive at night, where you'll encounter viscous nocturnal creatures and exotic fish. You'll also research new recipes and unlock new farming simulation elements, to support your burgeoning restaurant. This creates a gratifying, addictive sense of growth and progress.
The downside to all of this is that it ultimately leads to feature creep. At some point the game becomes just a little too crowded, with a surplus of options, systems, and menus. Nowhere is this more evident than on Dave's smart phone, which has over a dozen apps dedicated to restaurant proceeds, crop management, fish collections, weapon deliveries, diving suit upgrades, mini-games, social media, etc. The depth and detail in Dave the Diver is something to be commended, but it can get overwhelming. The game is, at times, too much of a good thing.
What's never too much is the crew of colorful personalities in orbit around the blue hole and sushi bar. No matter how complex the game gets, you can always fall back on the steely Bancho, the rascally Cobra, the prim and proper Yoshie, the anime-obsessed Duff, and all the unusual NPCs, customers, and background characters who make guest appearances. Dave the Diver has a central storyline oriented around an ancient undersea civilization, but it pales in comparison to Dave's charming, unpredictable everyday life, and the people who move in and out of it.
Indeed, as the game focuses more and more on the central storyline, it loses some of its unique flavor. It begins to veer toward action-adventure, with routine fetch quests, stealth sections, and puzzle-solving. It's not bad by any means, but not as enchanting as its peculiar brand of roguish deep-sea diving and business simulation.
Whether you're focused on this main quest line, or busy expanding Dave's network of acquaintances and building up the reputation of the sushi bar, you'll have plenty to do. Dave the Diver might come in a tiny package, but it's bursting with content. Expect to spend at least 20 hours to finish the game, and set aside double that amount to hit the 100% mark.
Dave the Diver isn't ambitious only in its size and scope; it's also bold when it comes to graphics. The game boasts a winning combination of pixel art and 3D models that creates a distinctive, captivating 2.5D art style. When you're underwater, you can feel the depth, height, and width around you, even as you navigate along a two-dimensional axis. The end result is a lovely aesthetic halfway between 2D and 3D, which mirror's the game's identity — halfway between action and simulation. But Mintrocket doesn't stop there. It also introduces several spectacular, often hilarious animated sequences that play when Bancho learns a new recipe or a customer is treated to a life-changing meal at the restaurant.
In the end, Dave the Diver is a lot like Bancho's sushi bar. It might not appear extraordinary from the outside, but it delivers a special experience once you're inside. Thanks to its multi-genre approach, engaging diving and business simulation mechanics, wealth of content, and striking 2.5D visuals, it's one of the best indie titles of the year. It's not a perfect game — its crowded, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink philosophy makes sure of that — but it's one that's absolutely worth diving into.
This review is based on a digital copy of Dave the Diver for the NS, provided by the publisher.