Dave the Diver kicks fishy ass – Review – WGB, Home of AWESOME Reviews

The brilliance of sushi is in its simple but gorgeous flavours and the wide variety of experiences it can offer. Because the taste comes from just a few ingredients, each piece of fish and grain of rice has to be the best it can possibly be. Dave the Diver is much the same: it’s a game of many different flavours, each one simple yet executed fantastically. There are a couple of bad dishes in its wide assortment, but the rest are so good it’s hard to care.

Okay, enough with the questionable metaphors, though. What actually is Dave the Diver? Well, that’s a complicated question. By day you are diving into the depths in search of the very best fish, and by night you’re helping serve them up to waves of guests. As time progresses and you upgrade gear it becomes more and more of a adventure game, complete with an ancient underwater race of fish people, giant sea monsters and plenty of new types of fish to grab. By the end of the game Dave is a diver, a waiter, a business manager, a farmer, an explorer, a hero and probably very bloody tired. This little indie game contains more heart, polish and creativity than the vast majority of massive triple-A releases, and I think it has a very good chance of ending up

Dave’s an affable lad, all the more so because of his big belly and cheerful nature. Most of the story is based on people pushing him into doing things, leaving him slightly annoyed but playing along with their requests. At the beginning of the game, a pal turns up to explain an exciting new discovery: the Blue Hole, a seemingly magical area of water where the wildlife and terrain shifts daily. Different types of fish appear, and buried within the depths are numerous secrets waiting to be uncovered by a middle-aged bloke wearing a scuba suit. So naturally this dude decides to build a sushi bar there, hiring a top chef named Bancho to handle the cooking while Dave does the diving and helps out.

Obviously, the premise sets up a comedic tone and the game leans into it, from the dramatic cutscenes of Bancho preparing sushi to the over-the-top VIP guests and side characters, like Duff, the overweight anime weeb who makes guns and can dive gracefully into a pool. This isn’t a game that takes itself seriously but still tries to piece together a compelling and enjoyable story, a goal that it mostly succeeds in hitting, all while delivering some gorgeous pixel art straight into your peepers.

The game does a good job of making the core mechanics feed into each other. Your forays into the dark waters provide the raw ingredients for the sushi, the sushi brings in the money for upgrades which in turn lets you delve deeper, capture bigger targets and progress the main storyline. It’s an engaging and addictive loop, and I often found myself falling prey to the “just one more go” mentality that Dave the Diver quietly cooks up. Just one more dive, just one more shift in the sushi bar. Just. One. More.

Because the layout of the Blue Hole changes somewhat and because of how you can find different upgrades and add-ons, there’s the slightest hint of a roguelite to each dive where sometimes you get extra lucky and other times less so. Although if you do run out of air you’ll resurface and only be allowed to keep a single fish or item. You can fit in a couple of dives in a day, though, so it’s rare to wind up with absolutely nothing. There’s even the option to do a night dive, though that cuts into restaurant time.

Speaking of which, at the end of the day you switch from being a diver to a manager of a sushi bar. There are quite a few elements here to talk about so let’s start with the simplest: the menu. At the start of each night, you can pick and choose what to serve guests, each different item having a cost and a flavour rating. Once guests start ordering poor Dave has to jog back and forth, serving up food and pouring drinks. He’s slow, though, and tires easily, so hiring some staff is the next big step in making the bar a success. They can be trained to become better at serving and cooking, too. As the bar becomes more popular it can be ranked up which lets more people come in but ramps up the operating costs, and later on you can mix cocktails, serve much fancier food and decorate the place with all sorts of stuff.

The devs have done an impressive job of constantly feeding new mechanics into the game at a steady pace. A fish farm is a prime example, giving you a way to supply the sushi bar while you progress the story, and a regular farm to grow crops for more complex recipes. Special events and VIP guests push you to try new recipes in the sushi bar, too, and there are heaps of random minigames that pop up. At one point the whole game briefly turns into a visual novel, and then you’re solving puzzles using two characters, or racing sea horses, or dancing to questionable pop music. The variety is impressive, and they are sprinkled throughout the game at a really nice pace.

In the water, your initial job is to catch fish using a harpoon to snag them as they swim by. Really, though, the dart gun and the net gun are the better choice as undamaged fish are of a higher grade. But not everything is so willing to be caught and eaten. Numerous species will put up a fight, usually by charging at you, so combat tends to boil down to swimming out of the way and harpooning them as they go past. It can be clumsy, especially in close range because even touching an enemy drops your oxygen supply which results in being forced back up to the surface with all your loot gone unless you can find a refill somewhere. It works, though.

Boss battles pop up from time to time as well, forcing Dave to go heat-to-tentacle with a giant squid, huge sharks, a massive lobster with a dump truck for a shell and much more. The deep dark ocean is a terrifying place indeed. Again, the mechanics in these fights are simple enough: learn the pattern, smack them a few times and voila, giant squid sushi is on the menu.

Scattered around the ocean are various resources to acquire, from simple ingredients to new types of weapons. For some reason the Blue Hole does not allow regular weapons to survive, so you need to first discover things like a tranq gun and then get Duff to build one out of resources you scavenge from the Blue Hole itself. These can then be upgraded further and further, requiring rarer and rarer types of elements. Other things you can find are temporary such as weapon upgrade kits or underwater scooters.

Not every random minigame that gets introduced is worth playing, mind you – a couple of them kind of suck, actually, like one brief sequence where Dave imitates Solid Snake by evading cameras and guards. But since the majority of them are one-offs or entirely optional it’s hard to get annoyed at their existence.

Like Dave himself, Dave the Diver gives off some seriously chill vibes. It’s happy to let the player take their time and play how they want, whether that’s banging through the main story or just quietly running their sushi bar, raking in the gold and diving for new ingredients. For this review, I clocked in at around 21 hours of playtime, which included seeing the credits, doing a fair few side missions and generally dicking about in a bid to achieve Diamond rank in the restaurant. Whatever way you slice it, there’s quite a bit of content to enjoy, and I didn’t even do some of the other stuff like tackling the optional bosses.

No matter what I was doing, me and Dave were having a pretty good time and along the way a strange little family of misfits was born, all based around my own favourite food: sushi. Dave the Diver isn’t as deep as the ocean, but it’s deep enough and casts its net wide to drag in all manner of crazy elements. The mix of underwater water adventuring and sushi bar management is like a sumptuous piece of salmon nigiri: simple yet elegant, basic and yet somehow so effortlessly tasty. The game’s other elements serve as the soy sauce for dipping and wasabi for that little touch of tingle on the tongue.

Okay, okay, let’s get away from the sushi comparisons again. The simple way of saying it is that Dave the Diver is a fantastic, endlessly charming game that consistently manages to introduce new elements to keep it feeling fresh and delicious.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

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