Dave the Diver is developed and published by MINTROCKET and is currently in Early Access via Steam.
You play as Dave who gets roped into hunting down fish for his buddy’s Sushi restaurant. By day you shoot a bunch of fish and by night you serve up the Catch of the Day in the restaurant. The more you play the more it opens up revealing a huge and creative play space, it’s a unique blend of adventure, 2D action, management and restaurant sim, throw in some crafting, multiple plot lines and some fantasy just for good measure.
Dave the Diver is quite unlike anything I’ve ever played, some of the first fish you hunt down for the restaurant are tiny tropical fish and within the first five minutes I’d successfully nailed my first Blue Tang surgeonfish, you never have to worry about taking anything too seriously because everything takes a back seat to having fun but still with fascinating actual facts about real marine life. Part of the game involves exploring a dive site that changes every time you visit giving you good exploration opportunities, your time underwater is of course limited by the amount of air in your tank but you can extend your dive time by finding various ways of topping up your air while you’re underwater. While down there you’ll want to catch a variety of fish to keep the restaurant well stocked and try to complete any fetch, delivery or collection quests for the various NPCs throw at your way.
You’ll also need to avoid various aggressive fish, if they manage to bite you; your air will deplete, if you die it’s not game over but you’ll lose everything you’ve picked up except for one thing of your choosing which feels like the right balance of harsh and fair. Difficulty scales really well and very naturally, small fish are easily killed with your starting gear but the deeper you go the bigger and more dangerous the fish get and you’ll need to scavenge materials to build bigger and better weapons. Money will also be important for upgrading your scuba gear allowing you to go deeper for longer and carry more goodies back to the surface. There are spectacular boss fights for the diverse cast of nonsensically large sea creatures these play out well in the old school fashion whether you’re having to learn attacking defense patterns that change as you wear down their health these fights were just the right blend of challenging and forgiving.
The restaurant half of the game is a surprisingly deep management sim with some light action, as you set up the restaurant and then attempt to keep all the customers happy before their patience runs out. Prior to opening the restaurant for business each day, you have to plan the menu, which is based entirely off the fish you’ve caught, there are all kinds of upgrades available from improving the dishes themselves to researching new exotic plates, improving the decor or even hiring new kitchen and wait staff. It’s not as complex as a full management sim but it pairs really well with the other half of the game and makes for a superb well-rounded experience that never has a chance to get boring or monotonous.
The game is an absolute delight to look at, above water there’s a visually pleasant kind of refined pixel art whose brightness and hues immediately evoke a dreamy Caribbean vacation, the water is no less blended with great lighting and an uncommon eye-catching look and there’s so much glorious detail like how the soft corals instinctively withdraw into their rock shelters when you get close. The vibe is also really well done with stylized cutscenes that are full of charm and subtle humor and there are all kinds of quirky characters with diverse interests, colorful backstories and funny dialogues who show up regularly to give you quests and act as shops for improving your gear. Finally, there’s a whole unexpected underwater mystery which I will not spoil for you guys.
Overall, Dave the Diver is highly recommended, it has a crazy amount of polish, attention to detail and stuff to do for an Early Access game you should really just ignore the Early Access tag. In fact, I’ve played fully released AAA titles that weren’t this well-crafted, stable or feature complete. I was able to complete the main storyline which currently comprises three chapters in about 16 hours but there are still a bunch of side quests to complete and plenty left to do. I am very much looking forward to the remaining main story chapters being released at launch, there are definitely some quality-of-life tweaks that can be made between now and then that will really help elevate this game even further.