Dave the Diver Review
Down Where It’s Wetter
Originality is tough to find in an increasingly saturated media landscape. When a game with an interesting, refreshing, and truly original idea comes along, it’s hard not to be excited. Dave the Diver is such a game. The debut title from Korean developer from Nexon subsidiary Mintrocket, Dave the Diver is wondrous genre mash-up of adventure RPG and restaurant management sim that becomes so much more than the sum of its many parts. Its constant flow of new ideas, surprises, and engaging mechanics make it a highly enjoyable mash-up.
Dave the Diver follows veteran ocean diver Dave as his vacation is interrupted by his friend Cobra. Cobra has discovered a lucrative business opportunity at an area known as the Giant Blue Hole. This expansive and mysterious ocean region is home to dozens of varieties of fish from all over the world, and its there that Cobra has opened a sushi restaurant. With the experience of expert head chef Bancho, he plans to get rich by offering a menu of exotic dishes not possible anywhere else. All he needs is an experienced diver to plunge into the depths and bring back catches to make it happen. As players make their first dives, they soon find there’s more to the Giant Blue Hole than just sea creatures, as sudden earthquakes and the ruins of an ancient civilization hint towards a greater mystery at play.
The gameplay loop in Dave the Diver is expertly designed to be fun and addictive. Players follow a calendar where each day is broken up into three segments: morning, afternoon, and night. Mornings and afternoons are spent diving into the Giant Blue Hole where players can choose to hunt for fish or pursue story-related missions. Time advances when Dave returns to the boat, by choice or otherwise. Night is primarily for working in the sushi restaurant. Players choose the menu based on ingredients they gathered during the day, then assist in keeping customers happy by pouring drinks and delivering meals in a timely fashion. Happy customers leave better tips and positive comments on Cooksta, an in-game social media app that helps to track progress. At the end of each day, the restaurant’s performance is tallied, and all profits are sent to players to use the next day. Players need money to enhance Dave’s diving equipment, allowing him to dive deeper, longer, and carry back more cargo.
This is the basic gameplay loop, but what’s described is just the shallow end of Dave the Diver’s deep and expansive systems. It feels like every new day brings with it a quirky new character who introduces a new mechanic with new goals and side-missions to pursue. The anime-obsessed shut-in Duff crafts and enhances weapons with parts found on the ocean floor. Ellie recruits Dave to help gather plants and materials in exchange for new accessories. Collector Sato is obsessed with MarinCa, a trading card game based on oceanic sea life. Udo is a reporter who tasks Dave with snapping photographs of rare fish in Pokémon Snap-style mini games. Players can recruit restaurant staff to lessen their night-time management burdens, build farms to grow crops and raise animals in, and develop a surface-level fish hatchery. There is always something new to do and every dive, no matter how deep players go, contributes to a goal. Every mechanic builds upon another and contributes back to the ultimate goal of building a world-class sushi restaurant. Fortunately, all these areas and characters are kept track of using apps on Dave’s smartphone, so the amount of content is never overwhelming. It’s an exciting and addictive formula that melts away hours of playtime by constantly encouraging “just one more dive.”
Each dive sees Dave plunge into the ocean and players take control from a 2D perspective. The Giant Blue Hole features light procedural generation — landmarks and important pathways remain constant, but details, items, and creatures will be different each time — making each dive unique. Dave always has his versatile harpoon gun, while players can choose another weapon and two items to carry into the depths as well. Weapons are powerful and can inflict helpful status effects but have limited ammunition. Items can be offensive or defensive and include bombs, traps, speed boosts, and oxygen refills. Players will need to keep a close eye on Dave’s oxygen level: if it reaches zero, he’ll require rescuing and only be able to return to the boat with one piece of cargo. Oxygen slowly ticks away as players explore, and while most fish are passive, attacks from aggressive sharks or barracudas will cause it to deplete much more rapidly. Combat occurs entirely in real-time; players hold down an attack button, then manually aim their weapon with the analog stick before firing. Engaging basic sea creatures is simplistic, but the underwater boss battles are very creative and exciting. Dave comes face-to-face with all manner of gigantic (and even mythological) ocean life, and players will need to engage with mechanics in creative ways to take them down. These encounters can be challenging, but players are never severely punished since they can choose to restart a boss fight instead of being returned to the boat if defeated.
Visually, Dave the Diver is wonderful to look at. The game features pixel-style art design with a 3D world and characters. Dave and the fish are animated well, and the vibrant shallows contrast well with the dark and mysterious depths. Bosses are appropriately enormous and impressively detailed. A true highlight comes from the delightful pixel-animated cutscenes. There’s an impressive number of them, and a ton of care has been put into making these humorous and visually exciting. The sound design is similarly impressive, with appropriately atmospheric audio accompanying Dave’s progressively perilous plunges. Contrasting catchy beat-driven tracks punctuate work in the restaurant and other story events. Certified bangers like ‘Hot Pepper Tuna’ will be hard for anyone to get out of their head after they hear it.
Performance on Nintendo Switch is adequate, with some room for improvement. Slow downs and stutters can happen in some of the game’s busier environment or effects-heavy boss fights. While it’s not a game-breaker, it is noticeable. Players will also spend a fair amount of time in loading screens both before and after dives, which can become frustrating if it’s at the cost of a failed QTE during a boss. A mid-game hub area requires players to manually swim between various buildings, which takes far too long and discourages return trips there to engage with its missions and other content. Still, the list of complaints for this title is short and easily overshadowed by everything it gets right and the way it engages players.
It’s common for Mintrocket’s creativity to shine through when Dave the Diver unexpectedly shifts genres. Through the course of its 20-hour story, it transitions to a puzzle platformer, a ‘shmup, a cooking simulator, and even a K-pop inspired rhythm game. It’s always exciting to see what wild or bizarre situation Dave ends up in next. Dave the Diver’s lighthearted story and wonderful cast of characters are so well-written and endearing that it’s a delight to see them roll up in a boat or wander into the restaurant to offer new dialogue or an interesting, unexpected new game mechanic. The base gameplay of Dave the Diver is so engaging and addictive that Mintrocket really did not need to go the extra mile by crafting such a diverse and creative adventure, but doing so takes Dave the Diver from being a great game to a wonderful and memorable underwater adventure.
Disclosure: This review is based on a free copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Wildly original concept
Addictive gameplay loop
Tons of interesting mechanics and ideas throughout
Excellent presentation with beautiful 2D pixel-art
Unpredictable gameplay twists
Some sluggish visual performance and long load times on Nintendo Switch
Combat against normal enemies simplistic
Some frustrating QTE sequences