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Steel Diver 3DS is a hotchpotch of submarine gaming. Although flashes of compulsion occasionally drove me to play it, ultimately is doesn't fit the system.
Steel Diver exposes one of the few technical flaws in the Nintendo 3DS; lack of a multi-touch display. Multi-touch in devices like the iPhone, or even the mouse pad of your laptop, recognises when you are touching it in more than one place at once. It's what allows you to pinch your thumb and forefinger together to zoom in on a map, for example. The fiddly and unconventional interface of Steel Diver would have benefited greatly from this and may have been a better fit to an iOS device like the iPhone or iPad.
To its credit, Steel Diver is an original IP from Nintendo and surprisingly hard to classify. It moves uncomfortably between shooting, strategy and simulation, without settling particularly well into any genre. The main bulk of the game is the arcade/campaign mode, a slow moving left to right shooter where you take control of one of three submarines each distinct in appearance and ability.
The smallest sub is faster than the other two larger choices, but what it lacks in firepower it makes up for in manoeuvrability. The larger subs can also take more damage. Scuffing the ocean bed in the small vessel is likely to result in a premature game over screen.
Underwater mazes must be navigated with various hazards like exploding barrels and homing missiles slowing progress even further. The objective being to despatch the boss at the end of each level. It's all very pretty. Underwater undulations and shadows of shipwrecks, coupled with some very smooth piano create an eerie, unfamiliar feeling that fits the threatening underwater environment well.
If you've got buttons on a system they are usually there for a reason.
It's strange, this being a 3DS title, that movement only takes place on a 2D plane. Moving in and out of the screen is not possible and seems contradictory to the 3D feature. This campaign mode betrays the lack of innovation of the 3DS's touch screen. Control of the submarine, as it travels from left to right, is managed via the lower touch screen in, what Nintendo must have believed to be, authentic fashion.
Amongst the dials and readouts (and radar style map) that occupy the screen are two Levers, one horizontal, one vertical. Using the stylus, forward and reverse propulsion is controlled with the horizontal lever, depth is controlled with the vertical. But without multi-touch the two dials cannot be maintained simultaneously. Fatal and hardly authentic.
If only I could use my thumbs to concurrently control my vessel as it pitched and yawed through the underwater maze I would have had much more fun. Adding insult to injury, firing missiles via the touch screen had me constantly checking for where the fire button was. It's a control method that is completely un-intuitive and the absolute antithesis of what makes gameplay on the 3DS fun and innovative. If you've got buttons on a system they are usually there for a reason -- to be used!
The remaining modes fare a little better but are sadly under-explored. Periscope Strike is great fun and uses the 3DS's gyroscopic feature well. Viewed from a first-person perspective, you see a gunner's view of the action a few inches above the surface. Play this one standing up making Das Boot "Awooga" noises as you physically turn yourself and the 3DS to target enemy ships and it's as if you were really there, providing you don't get spotted by the Mrs.
Does too little to showcase what the 3DS was born to do.
But with little in the way of variety when it comes to scenery, just waves of varying intensity, and the inability to control the sub in a forward motion to find targets, Periscope Strike can only ever be a novel curiosity.
Steel Commander is the last mode and offers a submarine strategy game. Although it's basically Battleships, there was enough style to the execution and simplicity to the gameplay to keep me coming back for more. By using the 3DS's single-cart multiplayer download play function you can play with two to four players using only one 3DS card.
Although there is plenty of variety here, not enough really hooks in to what makes the 3DS such an interesting system. The main arcade missions do too little to showcase what the 3DS was born to do; forcing play on a 2D plane feels restrictive and contrary, and makes the control method even more awkward.
This Nintendo release, among the first to hit shelves on the 3DS's launch, was a bold choice that possibly exists to introduce gamers to a new way to play using touch screen technology. But for all its best intentions, Steel Diver is missed its target.
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