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Steel Diver – hands-on preview

After spending some time with Steel Diver at the Nintendo World event in Tokyo, we’re honestly rather surprised that this game is getting released. First developed as a tech demo for the original DS, Steel Diver has been revamped with a fresh 3D coat of paint and is planned for a full release soon after the console’s launch. The game is a submarine sim, with emphasis on the “sim” part – while it’s obviously nowhere near the complexity of controlling an actual sub, it’s definitely not going to have the broad appeal of a more friendly, game-like simulation (such as Pilotwings Resort). Considering how Nintendo’s practically all about mass appeal these days, Steel Diver comes something of a surprise.

During our hands-on session with the game, we were able to take our sub out on a few training mission. Our first mission involved us learning to control the sub using sliding levers on the touch screen. That’s right, you don’t manipulate the sub at all using the D-pad – things like speed, direction, diving, surfacing, and missile launching are all controlled by sliding a lever to the desired setting. Obviously, this takes some serious getting used to, and we can imagine that it’ll turn some people off right from the get-go. Since this sequence was a side-scrolling mission, the game’s 3D elements were really just window dressing – we were way too busy sliding levers to make sure our sub didn’t explode by ramming into a wall repeatedly to ooh and ahh at the 3D depth.

The next mission, however, was far more interesting, as it made use of many of the 3DS’s hardware capabilities. This mission involved our sub trying to sink several ships surrounding it. The display was from a first person perspective, and we would shift our periscope around to scout targets by physically moving around while holding the 3DS, making use of its new gyroscopic capabilities. When we saw targets, we’d tap the touch screen to launch the torpedoes – but since the torpedoes moved rather slowly, we had to take things like the distance between our sub and the ships into account. This is where the 3D elements of Steel Diver really shined, making it easier for us to properly discern the distance between our sub and the target and timing our launches accordingly. The only issue was that when we would move to check for other targets, sometimes the 3D effect would be distorted – since the 3D effect is strongest when the console’s screen is viewed head-on, moving one’s head a little too far to the left or right while twirling around and scouting for targets would sometimes ruin the depth perception effect.

Even with our brief playtest, it’s obvious that Steel Diver isn’t going to be a game for everyone. The learning curve is a bit steep, and the slow pace and sim elements will likely turn off some potential players. It does seem to offer some strong showcasing of the 3DS’s new capabilities, but it remains to be seen whether the game will be able to feel like anything more than a tech demo curiosity.

Jan 12, 2010