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Dave The Diver

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Genre: RPG/Action
Developer: MintRocket
Release Date: Oct. 26, 2023

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Switch Review - 'Dave the Diver'

by Andreas Salmen on Dec. 21, 2023 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Combining some adventure, a little RPG and splash of tycoon gaming, Dave The Diver plunges players into an oceanic adventure set in a mysterious marine cavern.

Everyone loves an underdog story, and Dave the Diver's surprisingly sudden indie success fits that bill perfectly. Developed by little-known indie studio Mintrocket, the game combines diving for fish during the daytime and serving said fish to customers in a sushi restaurant at night. Dave the Diver marries various gameplay elements with remarkable ease and charm. From freely explorable diving sections to managing a sushi restaurant, everything is sprinkled with a good dose of charming goofiness that makes the entire experience an endearing journey.

Dave is a food connoisseur and could be better at saying no when asked for a favor. That sums up all you need to know about how the protagonist became a fishing diver and sushi waiter over the course of an afternoon. A few friends are in a pickle, so you help out as best you can by catching fish, exploring the ocean's depths, and ensuring all guests have their teacups filled and variations of fish on their plates when the day ends.

We start with some rusty diving gear and a bare-bones restaurant, so our earning potential could be better. The gist of the game is to inch yourself forward to explore the farthest reaches of the ocean and to make your sushi restaurant the most impressive place for rare fish. Money is invested in gear to go further in your diving trips, and the fish is usually worth more when sold to paying customers.

It may sound simple, but Dave the Diver is more than just that loop. It is engaging and entertaining throughout, allowing the player to progress in various ways at every turn. Each day starts on our boat in the bay, with several time slots we can use for diving or being at the restaurant. Whatever happens, we can dive once or twice daily before returning to the restaurant for our shift. During our dives, we have some essential gear to fall back on: a harpoon to catch fish and a basic rifle that can be used for fishing or self-defense, but at the expense of meat quality. It's a simple enough concept that is expanded upon as the game introduces new concepts.

Underwater crates include cooking ingredients, such as soy sauce or oil, to enhance the sushi recipes. Weapon crates provide new weapons, and if you collect them often enough, they become a craftable blueprint to add to your starting gear. New harpoon tips add buffs such as electrocution, poison, or sleep darts. Before long, the depths of the sea can also become more hostile and weirder as you dive deeper. While we're not on a fixed timer, oxygen supply eventually becomes an issue, and dying in the sea means that only one item in your cargo returns to the surface with you. There's always this risk-reward mechanism at play of pushing forward or hunting down a dangerous animal at the expense of returning empty-handed. Even if you do, you've usually made some kind of progress, such as  knowledge about certain fish species' whereabouts or tangible benefits, like collected weapon blueprints.

Dave the Diver never really blocks progress for that very reason. Even if Dave swims into the range of a dangerous underwater predator, hunting for new weapon blueprints or general upgrades that improve your gear will make those encounters easier. Eventually, Dave becomes an underwater power to be reckoned with. Even then, this patch of the ocean has some especially gnarly aquatic monsters that eventually pose a significant challenge. Dave the Diver may have some of the more memorable boss fights I have seen in a video game this year. There's something really satisfying about seeing your little 2D silhouette chipping away at a sea monster with a crafted sniper rifle. Even sections between bosses can be treacherous. This isn't really a Metroidvania, but it does require a similar way of mapping your surroundings and remembering where you can find certain item crates or fish.

It also adds random events, like dolphins in peril that need rescuing from fishing boats or an archaeologist using Dave to explore ancient tales of sea people living on the ocean floor. While we're supplying a local sushi restaurant with its daily supply of fish, we're not only exploring an expansive underwater world full of hidden wonder and dangerous encounters, but we're also improving our gear and getting regular story beats and events to keep things fresh and exciting. That story eventually does go places. What starts as an innocent culinary diving adventure quickly spirals into an RPG-action mix with proper boss fights and challenges that you wouldn't initially expect. Even basic fetch quests from vendors can sometimes take exciting turns, which is Dave the Diver's strength. It doesn't do anything extraordinary with any individual game mechanic, but it makes sure that even the simplest tasks keep you on your toes. There's a ton of variety and the feeling of continuously progressing forward, no matter how you spend your time in the diving suit.

As we mentioned, that's only some of what we get to do here. There's also a sushi restaurant that needs to be profitable enough to fund our increasingly complicated diving operations. Each shift, we set a menu based on the fish we caught and the recipes we've unlocked; rarer fish and ingredients usually mean better flavor to impress the guests and yield higher prices. Our job during these sections is to serve customers, so we offer green tea, serve tables, and hire staff to meet the demand. Each satisfied customer eventually increases the restaurant's social media following and unlocks growing benefits, such as additional menu spaces. Occasionally, VIP guests order rare dishes that require specific ingredients that we must seek out during the day.

Dave the Diver does so much at once without ever feeling bloated or overwhelming. Ultimately, what you do is relatively simple and almost a grind at its core, but it's constantly engaging, and there's always something new. New gameplay elements are continually added, like different minigames or even the opportunity to farm fish. That means you have even more systems to engage in, which feels rewarding. You hunt for suitable ingredients to ensure a lucrative sushi shift to fund better diving gear, and in the process, you uncover the mysteries of the mysterious sea folk or giant terrifying sea monsters in the darkest depths of the ocean. It's very satisfying, especially on a handheld like the Nintendo Switch, to pick up and play in short bursts. Progress is steady, and it's broken up into short sections that can be satisfying to play in many different ways as you further the story, hunt for rare fish, find new guns or resources, and try to be the most efficient at serving guests.

It certainly helps that Dave the Diver looks absolutely stunning. Somewhere between 2D pixel art and 2.5D environments, its colorful and quirky animations are on point. The beautiful underwater worlds that you explore — and the colorful range of characters you interact with — look fantastic. Performance isn't a problem, so you're not missing out on anything if you play on the Switch; one minor exception is load times, which take a bit between sections.

The visual presentation, the colorful and broad palette of quirky characters, and the story of underwater sea people tie it all together. Dave the Diver is a fun video game for the sake of being a fun video game, and it's the better for it. I could spend hours praising how much fun I had exploring the underwater world in my diving suit. The pure breadth of life depicted — and the level of detail — is simply beautiful. While much more subtle, the music also fits the game quite nicely and makes longer exploration trips to the ocean floor feel more immersive.

Dave the Diver is a massive game but looks like it isn't. Its campaign takes well over 20 hours with an addicting gameplay mix of action, RPG, and restaurant management while constantly introducing new and fun gameplay mechanics. It keeps switching things up and always gives you exciting activities to engage in while delivering a gripping story. Get this title on your radar because Dave the Diver is a delight to play.

Score: 9.2/10

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