I think pretty much everyone was taken aback when Nintendo announced that their first free-to-play game would be a new Steel Diver game. I had enjoyed the first Steel Diver game more than I had expected, but I find it hard to believe that many people were champing at the bit to play it. Being a Nintendo completist, I tried out the free version but did spring for the premium version, and as with the first game, found this to be more worthwhile than I expected.
The game is easily described as a sort of slow-motion first-person shooter. Which is hard to imagine being much fun, but actually is more interesting than you would think. The game expands the periscope mode from the previous game, in which you turned the 3DS around physically to shoot at ships from your sub. In this game you actually move the sub around and attack subs as well as other ships. Aside from strategizing when to mask (hide your sub, which uses air) and when to surface (to replenish air), you have to really be careful about positioning yourself, aiming, and shooting, because ammo is limited and everything goes so slowly so you don't have much room for error. This ends up meaning you can strategize more, which is refreshing. The previous game's mode was sort of a slow-motion racer, and this game is a slow-motion FPS. It's interesting that Nintendo is also exploring a slow-motion fighter, with their supposedly forthcoming game, Project Giant Robot, which Miyamoto introduced at E3 2014.
i kind of like the concept of the game just because it's so wacky, but it doesn't really make for thrilling gameplay. The single player mode features two missions in the free version and seven missions in the premium version, which doesn't sound like that many, but each mission has three different difficulty levels and requirements for earning a gold medal. As with most FPSes, the single player mode mostly just serves as a warm-up to the main multiplayer mode, and having only seven ensures that the mode doesn't wear out its welcome. Playing through the single player mode will also unlock additional subs and crew members in the premium version. Crew members are analogous to the decals of the previous game, and serve as a way to tweak your stats (e.g. +1 health for -1 submerged speed). The different subs and crew members let you customize a sub to suit your style, and the premium version also makes more stages available in the multiplayer, so as a package it's worth it if you're into the game at all. The premium version also allows you to purchase additional subs for $1 each, and these subs seem to have slightly better stats overall than the other subs, but not enough to easily overwhelm other players. You can also pay extra to add crew member slots to any sub, which, again, would give those players more customization options, but wouldn't necessarily overwhelm other players
The multiplayer is basically random 4 vs 4 matches, with limited communication. Nintendo has struggled with communication in their games, always opting towards being perhaps overly protective to children. In this game communication is limited to Morse code, which fits nicely with the submarine setting, and pretty much limits you to communicating your current location to your team (e.g. "E3") and simple directives, such as "GO?" and "OK".
Another thing that Nintendo has experimented with is how to effectively use the 3DS's controls to create a FPS. This is much easier now that the New 3DS has a second control stick, but what they opted to do here was to make the controls all touchscreen based, as with the previous game. Like the previous game, using the touchscreen provides a lot of the uniqueness of the game experience, although as in other games with unique controls, it does feel that they can be overly complicating what could be more simple. I ended up opting to use a combination of buttons and touchscreen, although I'm guessing die-hard players of the game always just use the buttons as they're easier. The touchscreen controls would work fine, though, but only because the game's pace is so slow, or rather, requires deliberate actions. The multiplayer setup is similar to Splatoon (although Sub Wars preceded it), in that the teams are always shuffled after every match, ensuring that there isn't any chance of a team ganging up on someone.
Overall I didn't mind the time I spent with Steel Diver: Sub Wars, but as with the first Steel Diver game, it's not one I feel like I need to pour tons of time into. It looks like some people got really into this game, though, and have really mastered the mechanics, debate winning strategies, etc. (like in this random Miiverse post, for example). I like that Nintendo regularly defies expectations and throws curveballs like these, although in this particular case this was a game I admired more than loved. But at the same time, if I knew someone who was really into the game, it's a game that I wouldn't mind playing more of either.
Shoot these slow-motion Steel Diver: Sub Wars links:
- Official site
- Page on nintendo.com
- Miiverse page
- Review on NintendoLife
- Wiki on the game, includes an incomplete list of available subs and requirements to unlock
- Entry on Metacritic
- Info on Wikipedia