The idea of diving under the water and exploring the fishy world below the surface of the ocean has always fascinated me, but in video games I rarely enjoy this environment. For a long time the appearance of a water level in a video game has been met with groans, and although more recently some games with underwater settings have been more engaging I still associate them with slow paced, dull gameplay. It can’t be easy, but if you could find the right balance between the danger and beauty of this salty setting then surely you’d have a cracking video game on your hands. Here to prove this theory is Dave the Diver, with one of the most delightful surprises of this stacked year of gaming.
Our chunky hunk of a protagonist Dave is enjoying a relaxing afternoon, when his phone goes off. On the other end of the line is his friend Bancho, who tells him about a mysterious place called the Blue Hole. This bizarre patch of ocean changes every single day, and contains fish from all over the world. Bancho wants to open up a sushi restaurant here to capitalise on this wonderful resource, and hopes Dave could be the one who brings in the fish. Being the helpful guy that he is, Dave hops on the next plane over, and is greeted by an underwater adventure featuring sea people, deadly sharks, and some seriously varied characters.
Your time in Dave the Diver is split into two types of gameplay, diving into the sea in the daytime to get fresh produce and running the sushi restaurant at night. Diving easily takes up the most of your time, lasting as long as you want it to as long as you don’t run out of oxygen. Exploring the wet and wonderful world below the surface is an absolute delight, with a huge variety of sea creatures to hunt and plenty of danger lurking around every corner.
Most of the fishing in Dave the Diver is done with your harpoon gun. By holding down the A button you’ll slow down time, and a cone is placed in front of you indicating where you can aim and stab an unsuspecting sushi topping. Stabbing this into a tiny fish like a blue tang or a clownfish will usually catch it instantly, but bigger carp or puffer fish might take a few jabs and trigger a button bashing or stick twirling mini game. If that was all you found in the beautiful Blue Hole then Dave’s life would be pretty easy, but it won’t take you long to discover the darker side of the depths.
More aggressive sea creatures don’t take kindly to being turned into sushi, and will gladly attack our heroic diver to prevent this. Dodging and weaving isn’t easy when you’re underwater, but is essential if you want to keep your oxygen levels up (which doubles up as your health). Tougher threats like sharks probably won’t be beaten by your harpoon alone either, but fortunately the sea is home to guns like shotguns, snipers, and grenade launchers to help deal with Jaws and his pals. If you’d rather focus on getting higher quality meat that’s been slightly less exploded, there are also tranquiliser pistols and net guns to blast at the fish. The weapons are surprisingly diverse for a game about underwater fishing, but diversity is Dave’s middle name.
Once you’ve gone for a dive or two, time passes to the evening and you’ll be expected to help out at the sushi restaurant. Dave is assigned to the front of house, and is expected to serve up dishes, clean up plates, and even take drinks orders. It’s a mad dash to keep everyone happy, especially once the mini games start and you’re expected to pour out the correct amount of miso soup in a hurry. It won’t take you long to realise that when more customers arrive as the restaurant grows that Dave the Diver will be horrendously overworked, and you’ll need to hire some help.
Hiring a waiter to help serve up salmon rolls will help take the pressure off on a busy night, but obviously cuts into your profits. It’s essential though, and once you start catching higher quality fish, upgrading your dishes and getting more followers on social media the money will come rolling in. More money means more to spend training staff to cook faster or making them able to help serve drinks, and before you know it you’ll have an unstoppable team of elite waiters and chefs.
Just like in the real world, money can get you all the advantages you need in Dave the Diver. The most important of these are equipment upgrades, which will make your life so much easier in the Blue Hole. Wetsuit upgrades enable you to explore deeper into the ocean, oxygen tank upgrades ensure you can last longer without drowning even when battered by barracuda, and a bigger storage crate for storing your haul as you explore means you can get more stock before resurfacing. Every upgrade you purchase feels incredibly meaningful, and you’ll be ready to take on the toughest challenges once you’ve bought a few.
One of the aspects of Dave the Diver that impressed me the most in my playthrough is how well the game keeps you motivated with new missions. There was never a day of my sushi focused life where I was just grinding to get basic stock – instead you’re presented with all sorts of missions from your friends and patrons, ranging from preparing a specific dish to finding the remnants of a mysterious civilisation under the sea. Even alongside these more official missions you have checklists of specific invasive creatures to take down or shells to find, and you’re always rewarded handsomely for doing so.
Even more impressive than the steady stream of missions though, is the sheer variety of unlockable abilities and mechanics that just keep coming. From start to finish Dave the Diver throws new ideas at you, and whether it’s equipment to pick up sea urchins without hurting your hands or a whole new way to stock up on fish without even getting your feet wet – it always took me by surprise. I won’t spoil any of those surprises here, but the sheer density of ideas is almost unbelievable and ensures you never have the chance to get too comfortable with the gameplay loop.
For the entire 20+ hour runtime of Dave the Diver I never once got bored of going diving for scaly treasure, and part of that is because of how gorgeous the randomised world under the sea is. Upon first glance the fairly lo-fi pixel art graphics didn’t impress me too much, but once I got down into the deep blue and saw all the beautiful coral and tropical fish it really took my breath away.
The only thing more colourful than the visuals of Dave the Diver are the characters. The cast of weird and wonderful humans are always a joy to interact with, from the eccentric chef who trains like a samurai to make the perfect sushi to the idol obsessed gun expert who sleeps with an anime body pillow. I wasn’t expecting to get hooked on the humans in this fishing game, but here we are.
I have very few complaints when it comes to Dave the Diver, but I do have to admit that a section in the middle of the game was a little on the slow side. This particular large environment didn’t contain any fish to catch, and you’re expected to travel back and forth across it to complete the story missions in that chapter. Ultimately it’s a fairly short section of a phenomenal game, but it was a little on the dull side.
Dave the Diver is a sensational game that combines deep sea diving and restaurant management to create an experience that must be played to be believed. The amount of ideas packed into this adventure is ludicrous, and thanks to a whole lot of varied missions you’ll always have something to be working towards. If you play one game this week, play Dave the Diver – you won’t regret it.
Exploring the ocean is a delight
A constant stream of new ideas
Huge variety to missions
Every upgrade feels meaningful
Middle section is a little slow