Mintrocket, the new game developer label under Nexon is ready to debut with their first game, Dave The Diver. It’s an indie title with many ideas that all merge into a fun game, and hooks you from the start with its charming presentation.
I gave the game demo, available in a previous Steam Next Fest, a go, and found it to have something special about this mix of roguelike adventure and restaurant sim. The Early Access release here has more content and gameplay features than what that demo offered, and some improvements that are sure to will leave players longing to dive deeper.
Before We Dive In
Here’s the basic premise. You’re Dave, the diver, who’s on vacation until your old pal Cobra invites you for some sushi at a floating sushi restaurant above the Giant Blue Hole.
The catch? You have to help them catch fish for the menu. And help out with the restaurant. From there, you’ll also be dragged to then help archaeologists to explore what’s under the sea- because if there is a long-lost civilisation of sea people living down there, the Giant Blue Hole will be a tourist spot that means money for the restaurant, baby.
This is the main thrust of the story where Dave will continue to get roped into helping out folks around him and discover more about what the Giant Blue Hole has in store.
Under The Sea
You may have played this game before, at first glance. A dungeon crawler/shopkeeper sim hybrid. There are plenty of those. But Dave The Diver stands out for not setting the game in the usual fantasy world. Instead, it’s a world where you have to gather likes from social media to rank up your restaurant, and use an app to buy new diving gear and craft guns.
Oh, did I mention the game has guns? Apparently Dave The Diver has guns. Starting out, you catch fish in the most inefficient way: firing a harpoon gun toward them. Some fish are stronger, requiring multiple harpoon gun shots before you can reel them in (some requiring you to complete some kind of Quick Time Event prompt to reel them in). Or you can take out your gun, and shoot them to death. That will give less yield, of course. So you can also soften the fish with the gun (shoot them but not to death) and then hook them and sink them.
Some of the fish will bite back. The huge sharks are just some of the many threats you’ll face that you can safely say you brought a gun underwater for self-defence.
It’s silly, even Dave doesn’t seem too happy doing it this way at first, but that’s what you get when you have a friend (and fellow business owner) who also has done weapon smuggling in the past, allegedly.
You’ll be spending most of the time diving into the depths of the ocean, filled with beautiful coral reefs, schools of fishes, the occasional shipwreck and whatever monstrosity lurks in the deep. Navigating the ocean depths is quite a nice change of pace from the usual dungeon-crawling gameplay seen in games of this genre.
How long you can last underwater depends on how much oxygen is in the tank left, which also acts as your health apparently. There are ways to replenish oxygen when you’re deep underwater, and there are locations where you can call in escape pods to quickly go up ashore, rather than having to keep track of having enough tank to swim up.
There are some good improvements I noticed in this Early Access release compared to the demo. It’s much easier to land shots with the harpoon hook. The startup time where you have to wait a bit before the aiming reticule appears is slightly bothering me still, but the fact that the shots usually land on the fish, even the tiny ones, is already a good step forward.
Also, I might have mistaken this as a roguelike/roguelite before. But apparently, the Giant Blue Hole does not have procedurally generated maps. The map of the ocean floor does change from time to time, but to a predetermined map that you can memorise, though what’s affecting that change is unclear to me.
Exploring the Big Blue Hole will be limited at first. You can’t dive too deep or risk emptying your oxygen tank and fainting (which forfeits all the loot you gather but one, of your choice). There will be a lot of days where you just have to grind it out. Get a good haul of fish for the restaurant and maybe pick up some loot- special ingredients, crafting materials, and gun unlock to name a few.
There is a big main quest as well as side quests to pursue (some can fail if you don’t do it immediately) so there will be some days where all your plans get sidetracked to pursue quests.
You get to dive into the depths multiple times a day, so a fail doesn’t mean your whole day is ruined, it’s just that you need to work harder on the next dive to prepare for the night’s shift at the sushi restaurant.
The sushi restaurant bit in Dave The Diver is good fun. There is some prep involved as you can determine what recipe you want to serve for the night. And then when the shop opens, it’s a frantic mini-game where you have to serve customers their green tea and sushi of choice. Poor Dave has to powerwalk as fast as he can to and fro to deliver orders before the customer’s patience runs out and they run out of the restaurant.
Over time, you’ll be able to hire staff, which makes the mini-game less intense at a cost. So the sim elements of making sure the menu you’re serving can turn out a profit after all the expenses are paid out is a thing here, which is great. Money seems tight in the first in-game week, but you’ll eventually get enough dough to lavishly spend on decorations and changing the look of the restaurant, or more importantly on upgrades on your diving gear.
As you progress, you’ll unlock more complicated recipes, and the opportunity to serve special dishes to important characters. So yes, there are even side quests related to the restaurant management part of the game.
There is this strong symbiotic relationship between Dave The Diver’s main gameplay mechanics: getting fish and loot from the ocean in the day and then making money from the restaurant at night, to then spend money on upgrades so you can explore more in the day and bring a haul that will turn a profit in the night.
The balance of how the two aspects feed into each other is great right now, and it enticed me to keep on going for another in-game day after in-game day.
And of course, there’s the charming presentation. Dave The Diver has a mix of 2D sprite work and 3D models that blend wonderfully together. But the money shots are when important things happen, like crafting, upgrading and other pivotal moments.
See the sushi chef Bancho slice off a fish head cleanly and pour some salt over it Salt Bae-style.
See your arms dealer Duff putting on the theme of his favourite magical girl anime show as he transforms pieces of material into a gun.
See how excited an important character tried out chef Bancho’s special dish that got them on their feet in delight.
It’s the silly, over-the-top moments that get me every time. But the important bit is, if it appeared once due to a repeatable upgrade, you only see that sequence once per in-game day, that’s an attention to detail I like to see.
Throw Everything On The Wall, Most Of Them Sticks?
Dave The Diver’s core loop is strong as it is, but what’s remarkable is just how many other accoutrements the developers have sprinkled in should you venture further than just the critical story missions. From fish farming to sea horse racing and even a visual novel bit, there are so many other gameplay bits that you’ll discover along as you continue raking in hours of play.
There’s even an in-game calendar where special in-game events can take place. It has limited implementation as for now- you’ll be perpetually stuck on October 29 until the next update (and the game will still be playable despite the date remaining stuck there), but there’s potential for some more side content.
If there are places I wish the game can improve on while it’s in Early Access, it’s the UI. I feel like some of the icons and text sizes are too small if you’re sitting a distance away, say, playing it on a TV.
The combat gameplay is still a bit too clunky to be entirely fun on its own. Catching fish has improved, but there are still some ways to improve and make the controls more responsive during tense situations. There’s a noticeable delay when you hold the right mouse button until you have the weapon aimed. And if you quickly hold the right mouse button after shooting (say, during the shooting animation) the game won’t detect that input, which contributes to that laggy feel of the combat.
Boss fights can be annoying too, rather than engaging. You need to be prepared for a fight to really stand a chance against them and it’s always a bummer when you walked in with a fishing net gun, that’s only good for catching fish and does zero damage, to a gunfight. Sure, there are conveniently placed weapon pickups and oxygen tanks to alleviate this frustration somewhat, but the weapons being random and some bosses punishing you if you immediately gunning to open that weapon pickup right at the start, it takes away some of the fun of the boss encounters.
I wish some of the Quick Time Events are optional. As it is, expect to mash the space bar a lot, repeat-tapping A and D keys, press two random keys, and even do a circular motion with the mouse to complete some actions. I’ve reached an age where I don’t think my fingers like doing these gestures intensely, and hopefully, there’s an accessibility option that can toggle QTEs off, or switch to simpler ones.
And also, maybe have some more characters that don’t mock our guy Dave, especially about him being a big guy? A few judgemental characters mocking Dave is understandable, but I don’t like the idea of everyone making fun of Dave’s size, including characters who share a similar build, as a running joke. The writing’s fine other than that.
All in all, Dave The Diver is starting strong with its Early Access release. You’ll definitely find something to enjoy if the idea of a restaurant sim tied to a dungeon crawler is fun.
The setting is refreshing to see in this genre niche, the gameplay loop is solid as it is right now with a lot of other side activities to keep you engaged for hours. With some tweaks and changes and feedback from the fans, I think Dave The Diver will end up being something special.
As it is at this Early Access launch, Dave The Diver is a fascinating game that tries a lot of things that, if you’re hooked, will be something you want to keep diving deeper into.
Dave The Diver enters Steam Early Access on October 27.
Played on PC. Review key provided by the publisher.