There’s an old saying in the video game space, that we want more games that are smaller, more creative, made by happy people who work less. I mean, I love my Resident Evils, Baldur’s Gates and so forth, but I can fully get behind this and do indeed love what the indie scene produces. Dave the Diver is kind of the perfect representation of a smaller, indie video game bursting with creativity, love, care and oozing immense charm. This pixel art rogue-lite/restaurant management game combines many different cool gameplay elements, all wrapped in a lovely pixel art presentation. This review is going to gush about quite possibly one of the best games this year.
So either skip to the end for my recommendation or read on to find out why I and you will love Dave the Diver.What is Dave the Diver?
Ever have a dream where you live in the most beautiful place on Earth, diving into a mysterious and wonderous sea filled with treasure, tasty fish and the unknown? All while running your very own sushi restaurant by the ocean? No? Well, you would now, and so do I!
Dave the Diver is the simple tale of Dave, a lovable, larger-than-life guy who’s a phenomenal diver and scavenger of fish, sea-washed loot and all round lovely guy. One day, Dave is called by an old friend who wants to start up a sushi restaurant and needs Dave to go deep into the “Giant Blue Hole”, a mysterious bit of the sea that changes every time people enter it and gather fresh fish and other resources to ensure the restaurant flourishes. Dave loving the idea of running his own business and eating some yummy sushi dishes jumps up at the chance and flies out right away to help his friend.
Upon arriving at the tropical paradise, things don’t start well as a small earthquake destroys the bar, there’s only Dave serving the food, and everyone seems to want Dave’s expert diving skills for their personal gain. And all Dave wants to do is dive, fish, and eat yummy food. So it’s time to work hard, play harder and get the restaurant back up and running to a smashing success.
Along the way, players will meet interesting characters all with tall tales and requests for Dave to fulfil. But everything goes towards the restaurant at the end of the day, which you’ll manage by serving in the evenings, hiring staff to help during busy periods, and making sure resources and ingredients are stocked, along with fulfilling the general housekeeping. It’s a majestic old adventure of diving for loot and food, and running your very own successful business, with a grand mystery underneath the surface of the water involving a long-lost civilisation for Save to find.The five D’s to diving, and two of them are… Diving
Pixel art games normally don’t get enough praise in my opinion, as some of them not only look incredibly good, but just manage to do so much more thematically, and emotionally than a lot of AAA games. I like pretty graphics for sure, but seeing the amount of cool detail, use of vibrant colours and some impressive pixel art animations just make me all warm and fuzzy on the inside. And Dave the Diver does this in droves, with excellent presentation and plenty of heart.
The story of Dave is a simple tale, yet has plenty of engaging twists, turns and a lot of appeal with Dave being just your average guy looking for a better way of life, with purpose and sushi. I loved Dave, and all the weird colourful characters he meets along the way, from his sushi master chef Bancho, who slices, dices and makes beautiful meals within the blink of an eye. To Cobra, the fast-talking, business-savvy dude who loves people making him money, yet has a soft side who cares for everyone including Dave, to Duff, a weapons specialist who looks like he plays WOW for much longer than he should. And the other weirdos of the sea who are keen to eat sushi and find the long-lost people of the deep ocean.
Every character was charming and brought something to Dave’s adventure, be it story or gameplay-driven. Not only are the cast charming, but the art style, animation, and general vibe of the world is super cosy, beautiful, and very eye-catching. I just loved being in the world of Dave the Diver, meeting all the strange, yet lovable personalities who each brought their own sense of purpose to the story and gameplay, seeing the vast tropical paradise above and below the ocean surface, and being submerged in the depth of the pixel sea.
I never wanted to break away, or keep diving deeper and deeper to find the heart of the mystery, yet was also utterly compelled by just diving for ingredients and running my business with all these pretty visuals and wonderful characters. All this diving is making me hungry
Dave the Diver has a great gameplay loop, and cycle to keep you invested for the long haul. It was so good I ended up spending way too much time playing this and thinking I only spent 10 minutes playing.
The setup both story-wise and gameplay is you dive into the “Big Blue Hole”, an area of the ocean which has strange characteristics including how it changes drastically each time you dive into it, and find all manner of goodies. This could be finding ingredients for dishes to serve at your restaurant, materials to upgrade your gear, the restaurant itself, and finding much more curious discoveries that will get your mind racing.
This is a resource management and business game at its core, where running the restaurant and how successful it is depends on your level of skill and definition when diving for loot, resources and ingredients. Each part of the game offers its own style of gameplay, with differing tensions, high stakes and requirements that will gradually get harder the more you play.
Diving requires Dave to harpoon various fish for his sushi dishes, but many of them can pose a threat and need better gear to take on. But the bigger the fish, the better the meals, so it’s worth taking that extra risk if you can. But along with finding fish, you’ll be finding other rarities of the seas to sell on for extra cash or discovering a random bottle of ocean-fine soy sauce to make your meals extra delicious. But remember to manage his oxygen and the further you dive down, the harder it is to go back up …. Plus that’s where all the weird, scary sea monsters live … including those freak sea cucumbers.
But this is what makes Dave the Diver’s diving section so engaging and enjoyable. It’s a risk-and-reward system where taking on bigger risks can increase your rewards immensely. Do I dive further down? Do I carry more than I should as it slows me down? Should I fight that giant shark with a spoon (or a baseball bat, underwater machine gun, ect)? I absolutely loved this approach as it fits all types of play styles, whether you like to take it slow and steady, or like me, keep diving risky, carrying way too much extra weight than I should and get a massive payday. It’s utterly great, and the random nature of the Big Blue Hole just kept my curiosity and smug greediness alive and well… until a shark ate me that is.
Plus there is a meaningful progression system, where you can upgrade your gear to do much more, and being able to accomplish more, and work towards having better gear is a great incentive. It feels meaningful and actively beneficial to my venture into the deep blue. But there are some neat little twists on how you get better weapons and tools, as you find random weapons scattered among the deep, and collecting enough of these will unlock blueprints to permanently craft said weapons. So it’s never fully reliant on just buying what you need. You have to actively work for them in one way or another, making progression an enriching experience.
I also like the multitude of side activities to do, such as an Eco-App that tracks you doing beneficial events for the ocean. Such as getting rid of an overpopulation of dangerous fish, and gathering seagrass and shells for scientific research of the deep. While nothing truly excels in side content, aside from the occasional rescue mission or so forth, there is a nice amount of depth to this that will dynamically change your thought process every dive.
But Dave the Diver is a highly flexible game in that regard, as you can dive, do what you feel happy doing or go that extra step to getting more. And more fish, loot and so forth is good as you can upgrade your gear and be an even better diver, unlocking the deeper depths of the sea, and capturing more exotic fishes for your sushi dishes. It is a great gameplay loop that will surely keep any player invested for hours and hours.
The randomisation element does help with each dive, as events and special objectives will pop up, including a series of missions where you must aid a dolphin and protect its young from pirates. Or finding a rare species of starfish, shark, or seaweed to serve as a dish at the restaurant. A lot of these are generic though, with the odd mission standing out. It would have been nice to see more exciting sub-missions and side objectives, but there is enough here to enjoy including the weirder stuff the deep you go, and the odd random mission which sees you doing good for the ocean.The Fine Art of Sushi and Restaurant Management
Then there is the other side of Dave’s venture, the running of a thriving sushi business. Something which takes up less time than diving, but comes with many more layers and management requirements, including hiring and training staff, promoting via social media, and making sure you have enough income and resources.
Running the restaurant itself is a manic yet highly engrossing affair, as you prepare the menu for the evening, get your staff ready, and go out and serve. The kitchen prepares the food and Dave will have to serve dishes as they come out, pour green tea (I managed to do this perfectly every time!), clean up stinky leftovers and of course, make sure there is a fresh supply of wasabi for the kitchen to cook with. There is a lot, and it can get frantic at times. With enough staff, however, you will manage and see the money roll in. But of course, there are overhead costs and making sure staff are well trained. So again, like the diving, there are differing factors in making sure you get a good income, but also grow the restaurant with great service and reviews.
The management side has a lot of little things to it, and while it may seem overwhelming on paper, in execution it’s a high-octane mini-game of running a business. It’s fun, a little crazy and evolves when you hire more staff, train them and gather more interesting foods for your menu. All the little things worked exceptionally well, but I did feel there could have been a little more fleshing out in certain gameplay aspects.
The social media aspect is neat, but mere window dressing to upgrade the restaurant's status to allow more staff and food to be served. It’s not much else and while there is the odd special customer/request, there is very little else to make it feel fully fleshed out. Having to deal with food critics in a meaningful way, or even to be in the kitchen and prepare the food with fun little mini-games would have spiced things up in a variety of ways. Granted, there are some instances where you have to make a special meal for someone, but it's not the most enthralling thing honestly.
But still, Dave the Diver manages to make it fun, and engaging and requires various skills to pull it off.
There is another game similar to Dave, called Moonlighter, which sees you open and run a little shop that sells goods you find in a nearby underground labyrinth. It’s a cool concept, but Moonlighter didn’t excel where Dave does. Moonlighter was much slower, grindy and just plain difficult at times. Dave is akin to the best roguelikes, such as Hades, where the fast pace and various smaller subsystems and mechanics all add up to an enthralling gameplay experience. There are plenty of things to remember, especially for the management side, which at first had me sweating as I wanted to dive and serve food.
But everything is quite graspable and as long as you dive well and get enough, you’ll be fine. Everything is easily manageable through your in-game smartphone, and the pacing means you’ll never feel out of touch or place. There is enough depth here to alter dishes, improve them, hire and train staff to make your business thrive enough more, or simply, don’t do it so much. You can just be happy and run the show at your own pace, and that’s fine.
Plus, there are some neat cosmetics elements to play around with, dishes you can craft, and enhance to level up the satisfaction level of your customers, and the fast-paced nature of service time always gets me pumped up, especially when I have a full-time, loads of dishes to serve and could see it all happen, like poetry in motion.
It gave me such a warm, rewarded feeling that many other games like this didn’t manage.Overall?
Dave the Diver is quite simply a sublime game, with a magnificent gameplay loop of scavenging, exploration, and business management. The ventures Dave, his love of sushi and his exciting diving endeavours will be something everyone can enjoy, and those who love roguelikes will find this quite possibly one of the best in the genre. The hearty risk and reward factor and a wholesome sense of progression will keep you invested for many, many hours. I immensely adore the presentation, weird and wonderful world, lovable characters, and a gathering of systems that are utterly compelling from start to finish.
The notion of more indie games, where creativity reigns supreme and would only come from a studio of passionate and joyous developers is indeed a very sensible one, that I'm sure everyone who loves the generic AAA open-world snooze fest should consider. And Dave the Diver is a perfect case example of how indie games are so important in modern gaming, and there should be more of them like this.
+++ Lovely and wholesome presentation
++ Engaging and enjoyable gameplay loop
++ Awesome exploration and business management elements
- Some sections could be a little more fleshed out
A review copy of Dave the Diver was kindly provided by the publisher for this review.