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Dave The Diver Review: Endless Fun In An Underwater Oasis

EDITORS' RATING : 9 / 10
Pros
  • Quirky NPCs make for amusing dialogue
  • Controls are simple and intuitive
  • RPG exploration and restaurant sim are good balance
  • Marine themed pixel graphics are beautiful and relaxing
Cons
  • Objectives can sometimes be unclear

A PC code was provided to Zaaz for this review. "Dave the Diver" is currently available on PC via Steam Early Access, with its official launch happening on June 30.

There is something intimidating and yet compelling about the ocean. From its magnitude to its beauty to the secrets it hides, we meager humans are both magnetized and humbled by a massive sweep of unfathomably deep and open water. Its surface imposes an opaque mirror, of sorts, where you may look down upon it and not realize that something is looking back. And yet, don't we all feel the allure of that vibrant and otherworldly aquatic flora, the deep silence of being underwater, the sense of possibility that hangs ever-present in the ocean's depths?

Drifting through serene blue waters alongside pink dolphins and gargantuan whales is, for most, nothing but a distant bucket list item. But we can live vicariously through Dave, a scuba diver at the center of publisher Mintrocket Game's newest title, "Dave the Diver," to achieve our underwater dreams. The game follows Dave as he explores the mysterious Blue Hole, a fictional sea the terrain of which changes with every venture — leading to a unique adventure every time you dive beneath the surface. 

Hunt the ocean's bounty in the ever-changing waters

Our fun little protagonist, Dave, starts the game off being contacted by an old friend who needs the help of a diver to hunt the waters of the Blue Hole to get ingredients for a new sushi restaurant. Along the way, he also gets recruited to sling sushi in said restaurant, and run a bunch of underwater errands for scientists that are hunting for answers hidden in the Blue Hole. The resulting lighthearted RPG adventures pull you through the ever-changing aquatic landscape, where marine life of varying strengths await as prey to your harpoon. Hunting and fighting fish and other unfriendlies is simple and intuitive; there's not a bunch of weapon management or load-out finagling to stress over, since you're only given one gun slot, one melee slot, and of course your harpoon. You will, however, find yourself hunting around for the chests that contain more ammunition. 

Hunting fish starts as an intriguing feat. "How many different fish can I catch in one dive? "I wonder if I can reel in that huge one over there?" "What's the most exotic fish in this section of the map?" Eventually, this devolves into more of a routine duty, not necessarily cumbersome, but still a chore, since you must bring in fish every dive to keep your sushi restaurant running. You quickly become more absorbed in seeking out the deepest depths and the many secrets that await you down there, but hunting for sushi ingredients is always a necessity, in a positive way. 

Make a few friends (and enemies) along the way

It turns out that the creatures beneath the surface of the Blue Hole need you just as much as all of the humans above it. These good-natured side missions flavor "Dave the Diver" with a serious undertone: That the ocean and its ecosystems are precious, deserving of our protection. The ecological message doesn't usurp the lighthearted campaign, but is artfully weaved in enough to still command some attention. 

But not every creature in those blue depths welcomes your company, it turns out. Some fish are not only dangerous, but actively hostile, which adds to Dave's thrill, especially since you always have to keep your oxygen tank levels in mind. Battering back a ferocious shark while your vision quakes and turns red because your oxygen is dropping will definitely bring you to the edge of your seat. The realism factored in to the diving aspect is appreciated in that you don't get unlimited air, and that you don't get a bottomless inventory because the weight of your pack needs to be considered.

Shake up the routine with your sushi restaurant

Blue Hole diver by day, Bancho Sushi employ by night, your routine fish-harvesting dives are broken up by restaurant simulation stints, an approach that definitely works to keep the player hooked for hours at a time. There's quite a bit of menu playing, but that's to be expected with the restaurant sim component of the game, and it doesn't detract from the game as a whole. All core functions of a restaurant sim are there, from hiring staff and preparing a menu, to serving customers in a timely manner and managing inventory.

The value of sushi dishes understandably ranges, but it's surprising that Mintrocket didn't configure the game so that, if you sell too much of an expensive dish, its cash value depletes little by little. Many of those high value fish are relatively easy to locate and harvest, so there's not really anything stopping you from ignoring those lower-tier fishes and opting for the white whales. What's on the menu? Nothing but roasted shark head!

Very few complaints about Dave's world

This is one of the most ambitious, must structured, and thoroughly developed indie games in recent memory. There's one hangup about "Dave the Diver" to touch on: The objective instructions need a tiny bit of maintenance. Occasionally, a "VIP customer" will come into the sushi restaurant with a specific request for something outrageous like jellyfish sushi. Some of these picky patrons are part of the main quest and will come back day after day until their requests are met; others are only around for a few days and will disappear if you don't fulfill their asks in a timely manner.

Fo instance, you may have one of these temporary customers come to the sushi restaurant in search of some fancy jellyfish sushi. Naturally, you'll harvest the jellies, learn the recipe, and put the jellyfish sushi on the menu, believing that this is the most logical way to trigger progress in the quest with the NPC acknowledging the sushi on the menu and ordering it. But when the restaurant shift comes and goes, the special customer may not order the sushi he so desperately wanted, leaving the quest still marked incomplete. Pro-tip: You have to talk to the NPC to trigger progress with a special menu, and not make the requested recipe as you may have intuitively assumed. Some clearer instructions would be helpful for this challenge and other similarly ambiguous tasks.

Overall, it's a wholesome adventure that's worth replaying

The foundational premise of "Dave the Diver" is that all these ancillary characters — from the business tycoon that hires Dave to the sushi chef to the scientist that recruits him for research — are helplessly incompetent without Dave, whose schtick in the game is being a chubby, humble retired diver that's happy to help but always really just wants to be on the beach with something alcoholic and frozen. It's endearing and lively, a feel-good game to its core, with just enough lore and mystery to nudge you along when hunting blue tangs for tonight's sushi menu is getting a bit boring. 

Should you play "Dive the Diver?" Absolutely. It's wholesome, with a mellow pace and moderate difficulty, and an alternately relaxing and thrilling environment. The balance of open-water exploration, restaurant management, and quirky NPC caricatures makes Dave's game such a uniquely delightful play. As a final verdict, just about everyone will find some joy in "Dave the Diver."

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