Steel Diver is one of three Nintendo-made launch titles that released alongside the Nintendo 3DS, and it marks Nintendo's first step into the world of submarine simulators. Steel Diver isn't by any means a game that people will by the 3DS for, but that doesn't mean there's no enjoyment to be had while playing the title.
The graphics in Steel Diver are okay, but the 3DS's capabilities far surpasses what this title provides in terms of visual ecstasy. The 3D in the game also feels unneeded and doesn't really even need to be there, which is a bummer because torpedoes launching towards you could have made for some very cool 3D effects. This game can be played with the three-dimensional functionality of the 3DS turned off and you would not miss out on anything.
Steel Diver features three different game modes, much to the enjoyment of those who purchased the game. 'Missions' mode contains both Steel Diver's campaign and several different time trials. The game's campaign places the player in the year 19XX in the role of a Steel Diver, a member of an organization filled with the world's finest Navy members. They must put an end to the treachery of a "power-hungry rogue nation" by maneuvering around treacherous under-water environments, destroying enemy ships and submarines that get in their way. This story could have been interesting, but I wouldn't have known anything about it if I hadn't stopped to read the text that scrolls upwards on the top screen. There's not even a remote hint that Steel Diver has a story while playing the campaign, so don't expect an interesting or compelling campaign.
The campaign has a training mode, as well as several different missions. These missions are completed by getting your sub from 'Point A' to 'Point B', but it's not nearly as easy as it sounds. Each mission features different layouts and obstacles, ranging from explodable boulders and walls to enemy submarines and mines. The first few missions are easy and they offer little challenge, but after completing the first few missions, the Steel Diver's difficulty amps up quite nicely. The later missions actually offer a significant challenge that will test any gamer's mettle.
Missions are played with one of three submarines that are available for use, but it just didn't make much sense to me that the world's greatest submarine group only consists of three different subs, let along a Nintendo 3DS launch title. It would have been nice if there were more submarines to choose from, but the three subs do cover the obligatory big, medium, and small classes. The difficulty of each level becomes harder depending on which size sub you select, and this is caused solely by how hard each one is to manoeuvre. The larger sub is clearly the most challenging to make weave over and under obstacles than the tiny sub, so there is at the very least some logic incorporated in Steel Diver.
Actually controlling the subs in Steel Diver is rather neat and you don't use any buttons. Instead of hitting the 'A' button for gas and controlling the direction of the sub with your joystick (which would have made the game a lot easier), Nintendo went out of their way to make the gaming experience feel more like you were controlling a real live submarine. The bottom touch screen is home to every single one of the game's controls, and it actually works well. Two big sliders on the touch screen control both the ability to move vertically and horizontally in the water. There is also a button to alter the angle that the sub moves at, a masker button which throws heatseeking torpedoes off your trail, and of course, the fire button which launches torpedoes. There are also meters that inform the player of what speed they are cruising at, how deep they are, and how much oxygen remains in their sub.
The best part about completing each mission is the Periscope mini-game that pops up afterwards. This mode makes use of the 3DS's built-in gyroscope, so when you rotate the 3DS around the room, the periscope you're manning will do the same. You literally have to spin around to see all of the enemy ships or subs that surround you, and this immerses you in Steel Diver more so than any other aspect of the game. This mode, while entertaining, does get old pretty quickly, and this is attributed to the fact that there are only three different levels to play through — each taking about a minute to complete.
The final mode in Steel Diver is 'Steel Commander' and this mode shifts the game from the simulator style of the play into a more Battleship-esque way of playing. Individuals are given a set number of ships and one submarine, and they must adventure across the layout of whichever map was selected in order to find and eliminate enemies. Hexagons are scattered across the maps and these represent the different areas you can move to. Enemy locations are also concealed by the hexagons and this adds a nice layer of strategy. Your submarine acts as your "King" so if you manage to sink the other player's sub then you instantly win, but the same goes for you as well. The coolest part about the 'Steel Commander' mode is that you don't even have to have a friend who has Steel Diver to play multiplayer. They just need a 3DS and thumbs to move the selector on the main menu over to 3DS Download Play, and you and your friend can enjoy a nice strategic round of 'Steel Commander.'
The missions and gameplay in Steel Diver aren't by any means bad, but they do have a tendency to get pretty boring quickly. Levels take a certain amount of strategy to complete, so there's certainly a set amount of skill that is required to be good at this game. The only real problem I had with this game was that it feels more like a $4.99 iPhone game then a $40 3DS title, and that's simply because there is very little content to keep anyone entertained for very long. There is definitely an audience for Steel Diver, but even then it's not worth their money.