Nintendo was bound to enter the Free-to-Play market at some point in time. I think all Nintendo fans and enthusiasts were expecting them to give it a try, but how would they do it? Well, Steel Diver: Sub Wars is our first answer. Would Nintendo go the way of the common micro-transaction theme that is popular now days or would they put a clever spin on it?
First and foremost, let’s get the basics out of the way. This is a review for the full game. What are the differences between the premium and free versions? Nintendo made a handy graphic to break it down, which we will then look into with detail to show the variations.
The first thing I think most people will notice is that you can play online with the free mode. This is a great way for players to get their toes wet — no pun intended — with the real meat of the game. The free mode also offers two single-player missions, two subs, and seventeen crew members. That should be enough to suffice, right? So why should you pick up the full game if you already receive a lot of content for free?
Well, that depends on what type of player you are. If you just plan on playing a few times and kicking the game aside for something else, the free version should be sufficient. You still get a good bit of content, can experience single-player mode, and still dabble in the online warfare as well. I was impressed with the variety of the free mode, but hardcore players will crave the premium version’s features.
The main reason to get the premium version is because of the added depth it provides. You receive a wider variety of ships, each with specific abilities and variables. Some are quicker than others, some hold more torpedoes, some can take turns sharper, and so forth. Another spot you may have noticed on the chart is the “Crew Members” category. This is one of the most important things in the game.
Each ship can carry a certain amount of crew members and each has a specific ability or advantage to choosing them. For instance, a certain crew member may have the ability to add an extra homing torpedo to your arsenal, making you more deadly in the sea. It adds a beautiful level of strategy and makes what appears to be a simplistic game on the surface a deep and heavily customized experience.
I’m sure many early 3DS owners are wondering how Steel Diver, a side-scrolling submarine game, actually translates to a multiplayer experience. Well, Steel Diver: Sub Wars is more of an extension on the Steel Diver series than a true sequel. It changes from a 2D side-scrolling game to a 3D first-person game. Strangely enough, the shift seems very natural and basically turns Steel Diver into a first-person shooter.
The online and local multiplayer consists of a team deathmatch mode only. Four ships face off against another four for an all-out battle under the sea. The game is surprisingly strategic because of the fact that you only have your one ship. You can really make the experience tailored to your needs by heavily customizing your ship.
Communication is in the game in the form of Morse Code, which seems a bit tacky at first, but becomes very useful. It was myself against two remaining ships in one match. My teammates mapped out where they were on the map grid — B2, for instance — and helped me sneak up on the enemy and sink their ships, giving us the win. Although you are given a set number of homing torpedoes, you can mask your ship and prevent the missile from making contact with you. What starts out slow ends up becoming a frantic and stressful, but fun, situation in the game.
Single-player is used mostly as a tutorial, with such events as sinking ships and going through rings for a high score. The later missions become more intricate, but I never really felt any attachment to the single-player besides using it to locate more crew members and polish my skills before heading online. The seven missions all have variable difficulties with different objectives, which does extend the value.
The controls are tight and make great use of the 3DS capabilities. The D-Pad controls your ship’s scaling towards the surface and diving. The face buttons control your ship’s speed and reverse. Both of these, however, can be controlled strictly with the touch screen, which was my control scheme of choice. By tapping the appropriate area on the touch pad or using the trigger buttons, you can utilize both the homing torpedo and the standard torpedo.
Not everything is as polished as the controls and online play, unfortunately. The graphics, while serviceable, lack any sort of polish and charm that we are used to in a Nintendo first-party title. The environments are drab at times and things get very muddy and almost N64-like in some areas. I suppose it being an eShop title cuts the game a bit of slack, but it would have been nice to see more attention to detail in the visuals of the game.
Although the somewhat boring single-player mode and, at times, ugly graphics may turn some players off, the depth of the multiplayer is so good that I can’t help but recommend this game. If you are the least bit skeptical, you can always try the free version, which is almost like an extended demo. The real meat of the game is within the premium\ version, though, and for $10, it’s a very solid purchase.
Nintendo has finally entered the Free-to-Play market and for the most part, Steel Diver: Sub Wars makes a positive splash in the sea. It might not be a full-fledged masterpiece, but fans of first-person shooters, strategy games, and of course, naval games will be hard-pressed to find a better and more fun game.
Low Score: 6.5 / 10
- Graphics can be ugly at times
- Single Player is a bit boring
High Score: 8.5 / 10
- Multiplayer is a blast
- Free-to-Play is in-depth
- Tons of unlockables