The indie scene continues to produce surprise hits on a regular cadence. Stylistic graphics, loops focused on deep and compelling gameplay, captivating storytelling, and a penchant for game design risks are all hallmarks of great indie games. Games such as Hades, Cult of the Lamb, and Deep Rock Galactic have all made their mark in the industry. MINTROCKET from South Korea just shipped their maiden title in Dave the Diver, a single-player adventure RPG with restaurant sim gameplay. The game punches well above its weight and does an amazing job of cohesively putting together so many different types of mechanics into one unique package.
Developer & Publisher // MINTROCKET, Nexon
Platforms // PC, Nintendo Switch
MSRP & Release Date // $19.99, Oct 27, 2023
Reviewed On // PC
A Solid Narrative
Players assume the role of Dave. He’s a hefty diver that is more graceful than he looks. His friend and former arms dealer, Cobra, tells Dave that every time he enters the Blue Hole, its terrain and ecology change. Cobra also convinced his sushi chef friend, Bancho, that the Blue Hole presents a unique business opportunity for his sushi restaurant.
Dave is tasked with diving to supply sealife for Bancho Sushi. During one of his dives, Dave uncovers mysterious Sea people who are part of a lost underwater civilization. He begins to investigate them and eventually gains their trust all the while unraveling their mysterious past and threat to the entire planet. This causes Dave to swoop in to save the day while helping to manage Bancho Sushi.
The story beats are incredibly fascinating, but the game does start off slow, focusing initially on fixing up Bancho Sushi. But once the mystery side of the game picks up, it keeps on rolling and stayed on point enough to keep me intrigued and hooked. Luckily, the story beats never became overly complicated and were presented in a relaxed and easy-to-digest manner.
The game does present key world issues like preserving marine life and takes a stance against pollution and animal poaching, but does so in a respectful and non-preachy way. For instance, John Watson, a comically zealous marine environment activist, is always quick to fight Dave in a hilarious manner, even though he constantly misinterprets Dave’s intentions.
Dave the Diver Gameplay Elements
Dave the Diver beautifully marries different gaming genres into one pristine package. The game combines roguelike gameplay loops, RPG elements, and restaurant management sim perfectly together. All the while incorporating a day/night cycle that is fully utilized.
Dave The Diver Diving Deeper Daily (Say that 5 times fast!)
During the daytime (and later on at night), Dave can zip up into his diving suit and dive into Blue Hole. Each dive is essentially a roguelike run. During each dive, Dave can find temporary upgrades for his weapons (some of them even add status effects to his spear gun or other weapons), hunt different sea creatures with his speargun, collect crafting items used to craft or upgrade weapons, and even mine minerals.
In order to dive deeper, Dave has to upgrade his gear to withstand growing underwater pressure. By doing so, new areas of the Big Hole become accessible along with new sea creatures, and objects to collect. In addition, new missions will also pop up and of course progress the narrative as well. Dave can also dive during the nighttime. This of course brings in new night-exclusive sea creatures. However, the night is also when Bancho Sushi becomes open for business, which is a place where players can earn money. So, there’s always that balance to consider. It made every dive feel important and worthwhile as there were both restaurant and quest objectives to consider. I absolutely loved it, as it added gravity to Dave’s role.
Weapons and Controls
Weapons work by holding the A button and using the right trigger to fire (or holding the right mouse button and pressing the left mouse button to fire). You’ll see a bar appear indicating the shot’s direction and you can easily switch back and forth. Sometimes, I noticed an issue where if you just popped off a shot and wanted to follow up with another, the A button wouldn’t register at first. It was frustrating, especially if taking on fast and vicious sharks like the thresher shark.
There’s plenty of weapon variety and status effects for you to experiment with. There are rifles, tri-shots (essentially shotguns), grenade launchers, tranquilizer guns, and sniper rifles. Each weapon type can also have different status effects such as shock, poison, fire, or tranquilizer. You need to collect a certain weapon type 3 times before you can craft it. You can upgrade weapons from the weapon master and weeb extraordinaire, Duff. My favorite weapon was the poisoned rifle, as poison damage can eat away at menacing sea creatures effectively.
Dave can also swim dash when needed, though the cost of doing so is faster oxygen tank depletion. But all in all, the game controls well on both the controller as well as keyboard and mouse. Movement felt responsive and shooting was a blast. But I felt more comfortable playing with a controller because wiggling analog sticks felt more natural to me (more on that below).
Deep Water RPG
Then, there’s the RPG element, and this occurs on two levels. First, you have the typical gathering of crafting materials to craft and upgrade weapons. Your diving gear is upgraded via coins you earn from the Bancho Sushi restaurant. Upgraded gear allows you to dive deeper, increases your oxygen tank (your HP), and increases your carrying capacity. While upgrading your weapons increases damage output and can also add status effects that will be useful in fending off stronger creatures and enemies. It creates that wonderful power fantasy that so many great RPGs have, albeit with a diver twist.
The second RPG element is actually role-playing as Dave himself. You are engrossed in his role as a diver, restaurant manager, deep water explorer, and investigator. I’ll admit, when I’m not playing Dave the Diver, it’s living rent-free in my mind. That is a sign of a great game and a feeling I previously felt when playing Elden Ring. I’m always looking forward to the next time I’ll dive into the game (pun intended).
Dave the Diver also sprinkles some Metroidvania mechanics. New skills learned (such as getting gloves to pick up dangerous items) or upgrading your diving gear to safely dive deeper opens up new areas of the Blue Hole. Best of all, the game plays this angle beautifully and refreshes that sense of exploring the unknown on multiple occasions.
Mini Games Ahoy!
Dave the Diver is filled to the brim with different mini-games. Right before catching certain sea creatures will prompt quick reflex mini-games. This includes the tried-and-true button smash, the classic wiggling of the analog stick back and forth, or spinning the analog stick in circles. Of course, another mini-game is the button prompt ala quick time events.
There’s even a rhythm-based mini-game that’s throwing the middle of the game, and a boat chase as well for good measure. What’s smart about the plethora of mini-games is that it always kept the game fresh, and keeps Dave the Diver from falling into the monotonous trap that many games suffer from.
Dave the Diver also has some phenomenal boss fights. Everything from giant hermit crabs donning massive dump trucks to crazed marine environmental activists in mech suits, there’s no shortage of creative boss fights. Best of all, each boss fight is distinctive and a bit of a challenge that will require specific strategies for Dave to overcome them.
For instance, early on in the game, Dave stumbles upon a massive eel. He can’t shoot his way out of the boss battle. Instead, he has to dodge all of the eel’s attacks. In fact, one phase of the eel’s attacks brilliantly comes from the background towards Dave. After dodging all the attacks, the eel’s weak point emerges and is vulnerable to Dave’s weapon. Best of all, in every phase the eel would slightly modify its behavior as if it learned from its previous mistakes. It might change up its attack paths. This concept was also present in many other bosses, and again added freshness to every boss encounter.
The Art and Craft of Sushi
When night falls, Dave exchanges his scuba gear for his summer drip and helps Chef Bancho run his sushi restaurant by Blue Hole. It’s here, where Dave the Diver restaurant sim management comes into play.
You’ll select the evening’s menu, and choose which dishes for Chef Bancho to research so they can be added to your menu. You can also enhance your current dishes which increases their price and flavor, a must to take your restaurant to the next level. Once you set the menu, Bancho Sushi is open for business for the night.
At first, Dave will serve meals, drinks, prepare wasabi, and clean up after patrons. After a while, you can put out ads and get help and believe me, you’ll need them if you want to take in some serious coin. You can even train your workers and hone their skills as servers or cooks.
Special customers and VIPs will occasionally visit Bancho and request special dishes. Fulfilling them will not only reward you with these customers’ interesting backstories on why they selected their dish, but also provide additional rewards as well.
Some of the special customers’ back stories truly pull heartstrings. For example, Maki reminiscences about her father and how he regretted being an irresponsible father who was concerned with work above anything else. It’s these touching moments that add characterization to the game.
Of course, you can also decorate Bancho Sushi to your heart’s content. New stools, bars, and wall flair can add a little flash to your sushi bar. It’s a nice touch if you have extra coins to burn. But for me, I usually kept a clean and simple setup.
I can’t overstate how addictive the game’s restaurant sim mechanics are. Seeing Bancho and the restaurant gain fame and cultivate new and exotic dishes that drive customers to the restaurant’s door is compelling. The fact that the sea creature you catch during dives are the ingredients of the restaurant tie in wonderfully.
New Mechanics Introduced a Bit Late
Despite the raving impression of Dave the Diver, I have to note that some of the extra activities that service the restaurant sim aspect such as the farm and fish farm were introduced very late on in the game. This was perhaps on purpose so as to not overwhelm players, but I felt that they were too little too late to create a lasting impact in the sim management position of the game. The fish farm felt like its aim was to reduce late-game sea creature hunting. This didn’t make sense to me, because hunting sea creatures were always some of the highlights of each dive.
Dave the Diver sports an interesting art style. On one hand, you have the typical 2D pixel art sprite style that has graced countless indie games from the past decade. On the other hand, there are some 3D graphics thrown into the mix. More specifically, some of the medium to larger-sized sea creatures are rendered in 3D, along with boats as well. However, these two contrasts work incredibly well in the game.
In some instances, when a wave causes a boat to turn, you will see the 2Dness of the sprite characters when the boat is rotating. It’s a nice reminder of both art styles clashing, yet complementing each other.
Dave the Diver also features comic-like storyboards when you’re researching new dishes, or upgrading/crafting new weapons. It added a lot to the presentation at first. But it gets repetitive after seeing these comic-page splashes for the 20th time. But it is a nice touch that adds style to the game.
Dave the Diver and Smart Phone Addiction
Dave the Diver cleverly hides its UI in a smartphone. This is where you can keep track of your main or side objectives. You can also check out Bancho’s popularity via the Cooksta app (clearly inspired by Instagram). In addition, the smartphone is where you can access Duff the weeb/weaponsmith app to craft and upgrade your weapons. Your handy smartphone also provides access to iDiver to upgrade your diving gear. While the Ecowatcher app requests sea creatures and items to be delivered and can net you some useful accessories that grant passive buffs.
There’s also the Marinca, a Pokedex-style app that keeps track of all the sea creatures you capture, as well as apps to track the business side of things like the restaurant management, farm, and fish farm.
The smartphone layout smartly organizes all you need to keep track of. But similar to real life, if you’re not careful, it can easily overwhelm you if you have many plates spinning. It does has that dopamine hit when that sweet vibrant red notification icon every time something is updated.
As true to the pixel sprite form, Dave the Diver does not feature any voiceovers. But the lines are often hilarious and full of charm. The sound effects all sound clean with no awkward recording issues to note. The speargun and weaponry sound on point as do the underwater ambience and sound effects.
While the soundtrack is accessible via the smartphone, it is mostly an anonymous background that doesn’t add much to the game’s presentation. It would have been nice if the smartphone could have continued to play tracks after closing the music player app to help create some connection to the game’s music. But unfortunately, that was not the case.
Unfortunately, there are no graphics or performance options available in Dave the Diver. However, the game is locked at 60 FPS and performs consistently well throughout my 25+ hour playthrough. Though the game did crash three times on me, it was not a dealbreaker in any sense.
Final Thoughts on Dave the Diver
When I’m not playing Dave the Diver, I’m thinking about it. The game came out of nowhere and is an incredible maiden title from developers MINTROCKET. Its charming mix of pixel and 3D graphics creates a unique aesthetic. The game successfully bridges action, roguelike, RPG, and restaurant sim management mechanics into one cohesive package. Don’t be afraid to dive into one of the best and most relaxing games of the year.
Dave the Diver retails for $19.99 and is available on Steam and Mac OS.
Note – a Steam key was provided by the developers for the purpose of this review.