If you told me, at the beginning of the summer, that I would become obsessed with a video game where a fairly rotund diver spent his mornings harpooning random fish and his evenings managing a sushi restaurant, I might have been pretty surprised.
But Dave the Diver, a recent Steam game that is well-suited for the Steam Deck, has found a winning formula with its action/simulation/RPG mechanics—and I am apparently not alone in feeling this way, as the game has gotten rave reviews from pretty much every site on the internet that publishes reviews. The game is reportedly topping the charts for playtime on Steam.
There’s a reason for this. Harpooning fish, an extremely niche activity in the real world, proves exciting in a video game, especially when the fish are large. Because of the way oceans work, the activity offers natural variety from a gameplay mechanic standpoint. The deeper you go, the harder the challenge. Near the top, you might catch some clownfish or blue tang, which each only go for a couple bucks in the sushi restaurant. But as you get deeper, the fish get more complex, and require different tactics to keep at bay. You have weapons, including harpoons, guns, knives, nets, and baseball bats, to rein these fish in, and whatever you capture directly influences what you serve to customers on the surface. (While the game clearly features some free-to-play game mechanics, it is not free-to-play—also refreshing.)
The AI patterns for each of the fish add to the challenges. Tuna, an eventual menu staple, often zooms past you in synchronized schools, making them hard to catch. One shark might slowly bite hard in your direction; another might dart so quickly that you have to react immediately. And some fish may just come up to you to try to make your life miserable—and cause you to use up your oxygen.
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At the restaurant, you have to turn these fish into tasty meals that bring in customers and help fund the whole operation. At first, you might struggle to serve customers, but then you hire people—and suddenly, your usual fish hauls simply aren’t good enough to cover your bills on the surface.
Moving the underwater setting out of it, Dave the Diver reminds me of two of my all-time favorite video games, both for the Super NES—ActRaiser and Legend of the Mystical Ninja. The comparison points for each are a little different, but they come down to this:
- Like ActRaiser, it neatly splits simulation activity (running and managing a restaurant in Dave’s case; building a city in ActRaiser’s) with action-packed stages. This means you aren’t stuck playing one type of game.
- Like Mystical Ninja, a rare title from Konami’s Ganbare Goemon series that saw U.S. release, there are seemingly endless side quests and additional activities. (One review I read suggested these added quests threaten to topple over the gameplay, but never do.) Because it’s 2023, Dave has a smartphone, opening him up to tasks like following people talking about the restaurant on social media, tracking fish he’s caught, and keeping track of tasks to help maintain the ocean ecosystem. Additionally, Dave, while having some Americanized elements, is clearly the work of an Asian studio (South Korea’s Mintrocket, an arm of the MMORPG pioneers Nexon), and its influences become more obvious as you get deeper into the game. The cut-scenes and witty dialogue will win you over.
The thing that convinced me to give this game a shot was a single reader review that joked that the people who got on the Titan submersible would have been better off playing this game instead. It’s hard to disagree with that. I’ve already put 30 hours in—not quite at the level I devoted to the equally consuming traditional RPG Chained Echoes earlier this year, but certainly on the way.
Anyway, at a time when our culture is dynamic and weird, and we have multiple labor unions striking at once, it’s good to find an experience like Dave the Diver, which somehow hits the hat trick of being a completely unique concept, a deeply exciting game at times and a deeply chill game at others.
Perhaps you, too, will suddenly have a hankering for sushi when all is said and done.