Dave the Diver had admittedly not been on my radar before it started making the rounds on social media in the days following its late June release. Before even getting to play it, it was evident to me that MINTROCKET had a wholly unique product on its hands with this meld of genres and systems. After spending considerable time with it myself, there’s no doubt in my mind that Dave the Diver is going to be this year’s indie darling.
Deep blue sea
Dave the Diver puts you into the flippers of its titular protagonist, a marine diver with a particular interest in the various species and ecosystems that exist under the water. Specifically, he explores Blue Hole, a body of water that’s not only home to an array of fish, but some head-scratching mysteries, too.
The fish that Dave captures during his dives don’t go to waste, as he takes them to the waterfront sushi restaurant that he helps operate at night. While it’s nothing remarkable at first, you can build up and renovate the restaurant over time, turning it into an evening destination that funds Dave’s diving escapades.
While Dave the Diver sees the player constantly switching between two worlds, compelling characters are a constant no matter what you’re doing. You’ll meet several people throughout the story, each with their own unique motivations and characteristics, barking orders at Dave as they look to fulfill their own desires or serving as a guiding hand in this mysterious land. There’s a sharp injection of humor that makes every conversation worth reading in full. Bancho stood out as one of my personal favorites.
Dave himself is the quintessential everyman: kind, empathetic, curious, and funny. His earnestness gives an emotional weight to the story, which introduces several absurd twists and turns throughout.
A man who can do both
During the day, Dave dives into the waters of Blue Hole from a small boat off the coast. While under water, you can use a harpoon to capture fish and other aquatic creatures. While smaller creatures like the Cardinal Fish and Blue Tang can be captured easily, larger fish may require you to succeed at brief minigames in order to successfully nab them. These QTE-style minigames typically require you to mash two buttons in rapid succession, which gets pretty dull after the first couple of times. In fact, I didn’t particularly take to any of the puzzles that Dave the Diver introduced.
The largest of sea creatures, like sharks, will require the big guns — literally. You can use underwater guns and heavy melee weapons to take down the most formidable of sea creatures.
While underwater, you’re constantly working against several factors (outside of the hostile fish that call it home). This includes oxygen levels, which will slowly dwindle as you move around, and the rate of depletion will rapidly increase if you choose to swim quickly or take damage. There’s a serious sense of urgency and panic when you realize your oxygen tank is running low and you’re more than 50 meters below the surface.
Simply diving into the water, catching fish, finding treasure, and upgrading your suit so that you can go deeper and do it all again would easily be enough to sustain its own gameplay loop, but it’s only 50 percent of what Dave the Diver has to offer. In the evenings, Bancho’s Sushi place opens, and Dave the Diver transforms into a completely different video game — a restaurant management sim in which you set the menu and serve customers in a timely manner, increasing your reputation and earning some cash.
Although the two gameplay features in Dave the Diver are radically different, their systems are intertwined in a way that crafts an addicting loop. When determining your sushi menu every night, you’re able to pick from the fish that you caught during previous trips into the waters of Blue Hole. They each hold different monetary value, so I always felt incentivized to dive as deep as I could in order to score rare and valuable fish to bring back to Bancho.
As patrons flood into the restaurant and place orders, you’ll have to physically run them their orders, balancing Dave’s stamina gauge to deliver the food in a timely manner without depleting his energy. As I got into the rhythm of pouring drinks and running sushi, good reviews came flowing in, attracting special customers that had unique food orders. The game always provides a detailed graph at the end of the night so that you can track your financial performance over a period of time. I’d often use money to make cosmetic upgrades to the restaurant and acquire new gear to improve my diving efforts.
The motion of the ocean
Dave the Diver’s 2D art style is brilliantly complemented by some gorgeous lighting and animation. I’d sometimes get whacked by an aggressive fish because I was preoccupied admiring the light shining through from above. The developers are able to convey a lot of expression through Dave, and as I upgraded recipes in the restaurant, I was treated to some incredible anime-inspired animations of Bancho carefully crafting tasty new entrees.
Not only do the two sides of Dave the Diver have their own unique visual styles, but their own audio profiles, too. While the low sounds of the ocean and melodic tunes were a nice companion to my careful exploration of Blue Hole, the bassy beats of Bancho’s sushi restaurant were appropriate for the high-energy food-running sequences.
Dave the Diver combines two excellent gameplay elements, but still feels like more than the sum of its parts. Deep sea diving and sushi restaurant management are equally enjoyable and complex, making for a supremely addicting gameplay loop. Not only is it the surprise hit of the summer, but it’s one we’ll be having a discussion about when it’s time to look back on 2023’s best games.
This review is based on a Steam code provided by the publisher. Dave the Diver is available now for PC and Nintendo Switch.
Dave the Diver
- Deep-sea diving and sushi restaurant management make for an awesome gameplay loop
- Endearing protagonist and surrounding cast
- The world is a thread of mystery that never stops unraveling
- Gorgeous use of pixel art, lighting, and animation
- Diverse soundtrack
- Puzzles and fishing minigames don't land