Have you ever wondered what makes certain games so addicting, and others just good?
Well when I heard last week about a game where you play as a diver during the day, and run a sushi restaurant at night, I was definitely intruiged, but Dave the Diver has more depth (pun intended) than I ever expected.
Hey there! I'm Holly, an indie game developer who loves supporting games that lack big studio resources. and it brings me incredible joy to say that this game is one of my favorites...um EVER.
But let's back up.
Warning: Spoilers Ahead
In Dave the Diver, you play as a burly scuba diver who dives into the mysterious Blue Hole to find fish for your up-and-coming Sushi Restaurant. While at first glance, this may appear to be pretty straightforward, you discover almost immediately that the Blue Hole is filled with opportunity, mystery, and interesting characters.
Explore the depths of the sea, fight deep sea monsters, save dolphins, and even...discover mermaids?
If you thought you were signing up for a chill, relaxing underwater exploration experience you would be...mistaken. But in the best possible way. Just how if you were to spend 1,000 hours in animal crossing only to bust out graph paper in order to craft the perfect island.
Dave the Diver wonderfully executes an unremitting cycle between the sea exploration and a restaurant sim. Catch higher-grade fish, unlock better recipes that attract more customers who give you more money. Make more money, upgrade your gear so you can dive deeper, for longer, and catch cooler fish.
This cycle creates an addicting loop that will keep you saying, just one more dive, just one more dive. And just when you think you're onto a trail, you're surprised by bewildering beauty, captivated by mystery, or laughing at a funny encounter.
The blended 2d pixel art and 3d style elements give this game a nostalgic feel but create a sense of depth that freshens up the style and makes an underwater landscape that feels alive and vast.
As I delved into the captivating world of ocean exploration, I discovered that catching all the various kinds of fish went far beyond a simple quest for unlocking new recipes; it became a delightful obsession to complete my personal "pokedex" of marine life, which you unlock as an app on your phone after completing a mission with a snooty aspiring marine biologist. Each encounter with a different species brought a sense of accomplishment, motivating me to dive deeper and traverse further in pursuit of the vast and diverse aquatic inhabitants.
While the controls are straightforward and simple, it takes knowledge and a bit of prowess to catch particular types of sea creatures, especially if you want to obtain the highest grade of sushi meat possible. The sea holds a myriad of elusive and exotic species, each demanding unique techniques to ensnare successfully. But when prowess fails, you can also...machine gun the fish.
But Dave's underwater shenanigans don't go unnoticed by a vigilante group of sea life activists, who are just a few of the many interesting characters you'll come across in Dave the Diver. While one particular homicidal maniac from this crew tries to attack you in the water, most other encounters with NPCs in the game are in the form of friends and allies. Albeit some a bit...rude.
Dave's ragtag group of friends truly breathe life and charm into the game. Each member of this quirky crew brings their unique personality, skills, and backstories to the table, forming a delightful ensemble of characters that you can't help but grow fond of.
In your restaurant, you have the pleasure of working alongside Bancho, an overqualified chef whose visionary approach has made it challenging to interact with customers who fail to appreciate his culinary artistry.
By working together you're able to help Bancho showcase his culinary potential, expand his skillset, and grow your empire together.
Dave the Diver boasts a surprisingly advanced restaurant sim. Much like the water exploration, the restaurant controls are simple and straightforward, but that doesn't mean that running a restaurant doesn't get challenging. After sweating over my keyboard thinking I could do it all myself for several nights, I finally decided to hire some workers, who, at first, offered abysmal service.
But with a little training, they were off to the races. Filling beer, running sushi left and left, and grinding wasabi, while I could sit back and take it a little easier. Hey, give this man a break, alright?
As your progress through the game, VIPs and special customers take notice of your humble sushi restaurant, requesting special dishes with exotic ingredients. If you impress them, you reap the rewards of notoriety and cash.
With more status and money, you even unlock decorations and customizations for your restaurant.
I just kept finding myself saying, "They didn't have to do this, but they did."
But exotic ingredients require special weapons and mechanics to capture. Not every weapon fits every type of sea creature. This is where your friend Duff comes in, a highly skilled weapons crafter who will risk life and limb, specifically yours, for his love of anime figurines.
Being an outstanding people pleaser, Dave reluctantly agrees to take on any request that comes his way, even if it leads him straight into the arms of deep-sea monsters. Although these boss battles may lack some unpredictability, they're certainly exciting and offer a change of pace. You can tell that the designers had an absolute field day with the art on the boss battles. Everything you could want, they deliver. Giant octopus? Done. Giant glowing worm? Say no more.
But the sea is filled with mystery beyond fish and monsters, and there are no corners of the sea where there isn't something to collect or uncover. On top of finding new species of fish, you can find weapons, special ingredients for your dishes, and other aquatic creatures for scientific research.
The deeper you go, the more you uncover. And let me tell you, I absolutely love being mildly creeped out in video games, I mean Luigi's Mansion is still one of my favorites games ever and the sound of this big baby still haunts me to this day:
And the depths in this game give me the heebie-jeebies, but they do not miss out on the opportunity to put some really cool artwork and fish in here. The depths feel like the upside down in Stranger Things. The surface is all fun and games, but the depths are filled with bioluminescent fish and terrifying creatures. I already appreciated the water exploration music and all of the lovely sound effects, but going into the depths takes it to a new level.
But between Dave consistently diving deeper to explore uncharted territory and learning the secrets of the Sea-People, day-to-day operations of catching small fish for the restaurant become challenging, which of course, opens up new opportunities for Dave, who now has the ability to farm fish and ingredients.
As each new challenge arrives, the game adapts deftly to accommodate your new level of skill, and somehow still manages to still enthrall you in old patterns and new.
While there's truly so much more I could say, this game is truly one of the best experiences I've had with a game, ever. It tickles the parts of your brain that love progress, exploration, and adoration. And all I can encourage you to do is play for yourself.