Under The Sea

HIGH The high-speed tunnel chase!

LOW Trying to pour a beer.

WTF Wow, the developers really hate Greenpeace, huh?

Dave the Diver has enough good ideas for a half-dozen games, and its greatest feat is that it manages to meld them all together into a genuinely satisfying experience. The developers could have simply asked the player to put on a scuba suit and explore a lost underground civilization while fighting off sharks, eels, and some fantastical foes, and they would have had a great title on their hands. That wasn’t enough for them, though, so they added fishing.

And restaurant management.

And cooking minigames.

And fish breeding.

And photography, fish racing, and more. The result is an experience that would feel chaotic and overstuffed if it weren’t all balanced so perfectly.

Starting out is simple enough in this 2D pixel-based game. Slide Dave into a wetsuit and send him into the Blue Hole, a unique biome full of fish from all over the world. Then, harpoon some fish so that the nearby sushi restaurant has something to sell that night.

The mechanics work fairly well – oxygen serves as both health and a time limit, with the player losing a chunk of their remaining O2 every time they take a hit or run into a hazard. Having just 90 seconds underwater can seem unfair at the start, but there are consumable items to use and sources of fresh oxygen in the depths. Most of the time I ended my day because my fish bag was full, not because my tanks were empty.

Dave‘s combat is fairly solid, with one notable issue – while Dave can swim in whatever direction he wants, he can only aim his ranged weapons within a 90 degree arc to his left and right. This doesn’t provide too much of a problem – most of the areas are set up as (mostly) horizontal caverns where the fish swim left and right, but there are a few more vertical areas where the player is put at a huge disadvantage. Enemies only have to touch Dave to do damage, so it’s easy to be hit from above and below.

On the other hand, Dave the Diver shines in its boss fights, which — rather than simply asking the player to trade blows with more powerful versions of the sea creatures they’ve already been fighting — are built around giant setpiece encounters, each one offering a unique mechanic. For example, at one point players will find themselves using a turret to vaporize hordes of deadly fish, then later they’ll be ducking behind a wrecking ball to trick an opponent into damaging itself.

In a nice touch from the developers, about half of the boss fights — and almost all of the difficult ones — are fully optional encounters that the player can choose to pursue or not. That’s not to say that the core story boss fights aren’t taxing (I died more than a few times) but the design is incredibly cognizant of itself when it comes to skill level. While running out of air during a dive ends the day and forces the player to abandon everything they found underwater, dying during a boss fight comes with no penalty whatsoever. The player is free to immediately restart the fight, or jump to the last checkpoint during multi-stage boss battles.

So the diving gameplay is excellent – what about the rest? It’s all extremely solid as well.

Managing a sushi restaurant is simple, while offering enough detail work to ensure that it’s satisfying. The player has to choose the menu each night, hire staff, serve drinks, and even clean up after messy customers. Add in farming ingredients and running a fish hatchery on the side, and the restaurant aspect feels like an entire second game that’s been grafted onto a quality roguelite scuba adventure. From dealing with staff training to performing cooking minigames to unlocking recipes, I’m not exaggerating when I say that, with just a little fleshing out, these chunks could have been sold as their own separate game.

The sushi restaurant is also effective in acting as the setting for the most interesting parts of the story.

Getting to the bottom of why earthquakes are plaguing the area is a fine way to structure the main plot. It gives a reason to buy deep-dive upgrades in order to solve a mystery, and along the way, I discovered that Bancho, the sushi chef, is by far the most compelling and well-developed character in the story.

Despite the fact that he never gets involved in the mysteries of the blue hole, the story of how he wound up working in a beachside sushi joint and his road to redemption is, by far, the most satisfying plot Dave the Diver offers. That’s not to say the world-threatening force hidden in the depths doesn’t make for a good yarn – it’s enough of a way to justify some great boss fights, at the very least – but Dave‘s heart is in the restaurant, and the people (and cat) who work there.

There’s basically nothing to find fault with in Dave the Diver. Did I have trouble mastering a few of the cooking minigames, and an easy mode for the rhythm games would have been appreciated – but that’s a drop in the ocean compared to what it does right. Filling out the fish index, sneaking through a secret base, gambling in a merfolk casino – everywhere I turned there was something new to try, and all of it was built with care and wit.

There’s a shocking amount to do here, all of it is worth sinking time into.


Disclosures: This game is published and developed by MINTROCKET. It is available on PC. This copy was obtained via publisher for review and was reviewed on PC. Approximately 40 hours were spent in single-player and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: This game was not rated by the ESRB, but it does contain alcohol use, blood and cartoon violence. It’s a game about killing and eating fish, there’s no way around that. Beyond the fish, though, there’s nothing particularly objectionable here. No swearing, no nudity, just fish getting cut up and prepared to eat. Even that is depicted with such cartoonish graphics that I can’t see it as provoking many negative responses.

Colorblind Modes: The game has no colorblind modes.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Gamers: There are subtitles that cannot be resized. The game has only one audio cue of note, in a sidequest, and it’s accompanied by controller vibration, so it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. In my view this game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: The controls cannot be remapped. Players move Dave and navigate menus with the left thumbstick. They interact with the world and menus using the face buttons and triggers.

Jason Ricardo
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