|Dev: Nintendo EAD|
|Release: March 27, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: N/A|
by Steve Haske
In the middle of May 1941, the German battleship Bismarck began terrorizing the North Atlantic. On its maiden voyage, the Nazi warship sunk the pride of the British Royal Fleet, the HMS Hood, in an eight-minute battle—The body count was around 1,400, with only three survivors. Prime Minister Winston Churchill knew the Bismarck posed a grave threat to Allied operations in the area, and immediately made the battleship the number one target of Royal Navy. "I don't care how you do it," Churchill said. "You must sink the Bismarck." For the men onboard the Allied cruisers, destroyers, and submarines, it was a vital and grave charge, one that carried the heavy weight of one's mortality, if not the larger consequence that was the potential of ongoing naval dominance in the North Atlantic.
While the Bismarck's reign of terror was short lived, the naval vessels of Steel Diver can still make no such lofty claims of drama. As it stands, the game has a hard enough time with context. Set in the generic era of "19XX," Steel Diver sets up the kind of paper-thin storyline expected of a shmup—a genre not far removed from what my initial impressions of the game actually were. But this is hardly In The Hunt, Irem's old-school underwater shooter that Steel Diver bears a vague (if modernized) resemblance to in screenshots. It's more of a submarine simulation, albeit one that dabbles in the streamlined style of arcade play.
To be fair, Steel Diver is a 3DS launch title, and you don't really necessarily need a hefty reason to start blowing things up with a submarine. (The idea itself should be cool enough by its own merits, anyway. Who doesn't want to take a submersible for an undersea adventure?) But for such a unique premise, Steel Diver's ideas sadly just aren't all the interesting in practice. For one, it's not really a simulation. The goal of any given level is to get from point A to point B, taking out any enemies along way, balancing your way through underwater mine traps and other obstacles. The controls are similarly streamlined among the three types of seacraft available (a small, maneuverable sub with vertical and horizontal attacks, a mid-ranged, well-balanced model, and a slow, behemoth submersible that has a farther range of rotational pitch). Movement is adjusted through x and y axis dials situated on the touchscreen, torpedo supplies are endless, and you'll never have to worry about anything like ballast or, say, hull pressure.
Herein lies one of the game's significant problems: it's clear that Steel Diver isn't trying to be a true sub simulator, but it stubbornly doesn't let you play it at the expectedly quicker pace of an action game, either. Instead it submerges in the limbo between the two, far flung from a real arcade experience despite its simplified combat, and with the slower pacing of a more realistic game. The result is that the game doesn't feel fully comfortable in either camp. This is largely in part because Steel Diver has some glaring oversights that are bafflingly absent. The controls are probably the most noticeable here, and given that for intents and purposes the entire game is controlled by its touchscreen layout, you constantly feel disconnected to your sub. The reason Nintendo left out the option of a standard d-pad and face button scheme is likely because using the dials can in certain cases afford you greater precision, though the constant babysitting of each dial, (which stays at whatever rate, speed, or direction you've previously set until further manually adjustment is needed) can be a little trying at times, and lends the game some unnecessarily complication.