Nintendo have some convincing to do. Portable gaming has changed dramatically over the last few years and consumers are more price conscious than ever before. You may notice that whenever you hear someone extolling the merits of an iOS game it is usually suffixed with the words “It's only 59p”.
That's not to say that there isn't a market for full sized and priced retail games. The 3DS has already shown us that it is capable of offering such games and given the right amount of depth, the market will receive them with open arms. But it's not Nintendo that have proved this.
Their first offering on the device, Pilotwings 3D
was lacking in content and the little it had was limited. It fell short of what most would consider acceptable and that's a little embarrassing when third party games are hitting the mark. As the console holder you should really be leading the way, especially when you're as respected as Nintendo.
, the side scrolling float-em-up, was first shown to the public at E3 back in 2004 as a tech demo for the Nintendo DS before sinking to the depths of the ocean for 6 years and resurfacing in 2010 when it was announced as a 3DS launch title. It may have missed the launch-window boat somewhat in Europe, but it has now sailed into stores.
OK, enough nautical references. I couldn't help myself. I'm sorry.
With its seven year history then, you'd expect a substantial package both in content and quality; Steel Diver
falls short in both departments.
Shigeru Miyamoto eloquently described Steel Diver
as, “like having a toy submarine in an aquarium” but it wasn't the game itself he was describing, more the concept and one which shines through if only for the briefest of moments.
Controlling your submarine is completely stylus based. The bottom screen displays sliders to adjust speed and height, and buttons to attack boats and clear paths blocked by breakable boulders. It all sounds pretty confusing on paper but the game manages does a great job of introducing you to the control system.
The more you try and perfect your play, the more it exposes the limitations of the touch controls. The DS was quite a step forward in touch-based gaming but the touch mechanics are now seven years old and better tech has been released in that period.
This is most noticeable when you try to flick one of the sliders in order to push it to its limit as quickly as possible, only for it to slide a few millimetres and stop making quick movements almost impossible to execute. I wanted to be looking at my next task on the control screen before finishing my last but the old touch system wouldn't let me to do so adding frustration to an already frustrating game.
It also means that you have to take your eyes off the the action on the top screen in order to make sure that you're using the controls properly. It feels completely unnatural and breaks up the play and tediously destroys any sort of control progression it potentially has.
But it's the game itself that lacks the most quality. Your goal is to guide your Submarine from one side of a level to the other, whilst avoiding obstacles such as Sea Mines, Torpedoes and Rocks. Most of which can be dealt with by firing your own Torpedoes.
Progression through the levels is slow paced, and thought must be put into momentum, making manoeuvring challenging if not just plain sdifficult. It also makes it dull. If you fail towards the end of the mission the thought of going back and doing all again is enough to make you want to eject the cartridge, drop it in the fish tank and watch it slowly sink to the bottom.
It's just not fun, and coming from Nintendo, it's a bit of a shock.
There's so little content in Steel Diver
that I'm pretty sure if you weighed the cartridge itself, it would be lighter than any other on the market. With only seven missions in the main campaign, there are only about two hours of gameplay to be had and it's self-conscious of this, trying to add longevity where ever it can.
Each mission is time trialled and can be played again alongside a ghost of your previous run, which makes for a sort of comedy 'Slowest Race In The World' sketch with your ghost poking out about an inch in front of you current run and staying there until the very end.
Nintendo have also tacked on two mini-games that are hardly even worth mentioning. The first is ‘Periscope Strike’, which sees you hunting out enemy ships using the 3DS's Gyro Sensor. It's neat the first time you play it but offers nothing in the way of a real gaming experience. The Gyro Sensor can be temperamental, making it hard to search and destroy. Indications of where you're being shot from are limited too and most of you time is spent spinning continuously on the spot until you see another ship, then it's just a case off pumping the fire button.
The other game mode is ‘Steel Commander’, which seems to try and bring Battleships back to life but immediately fails to do so. It's a game of luck, nothing more and that's not what the public are after. We want a game that can be perfected, and improved on. There's none of this here.
Under Da Sea
One area Steel Diver
does hit the mark is in the visual department. You would have thought that the novelty of 3D gaming would have worn off for the early adopters by now. It hasn't.
looks wonderful and, with Rainbows glistening and volcanoes erupting, there are times I could completely ignore the task in hand just to stare and take in the visual achievement on offer.
That’s what is so frustrating about this game. You forget that it's a Nintendo game for a moment, before something small reminds you of who's behind it and it makes you feel sad.
3DS games need to pull away from the disposable nature of the iOS market. They need to be substantial and highly entertaining. Steel Diver
is neither. It's a dark reminder that even the best of developers can lose their way from time to time.
SPOnG Score: 34%