Steel Diver
| Steel Diver

According to Richard Branson, we're going to be exploring the depths of the deep blue sea soon in his Virgin Oceanic submarine.

Of course, this is the same man who told us many years ago that we'd be blasting off into space on interstellar cruises, so perhaps we should take it with a pinch of salt.

Until his fleet of deep sea divers is in place, there's Steel Diver, Nintendo's stereoscopic vision of what submarine travel should be like.

Steel Diver presents possibly the best-looking visuals on the Nintendo 3DS yet, with gorgeous underwater scenes. The content, on the other hand, is a little hit and miss.

Steely good time

Each level requires you navigate murky waters dodging mines, enemy submarines, and other dangers.

There are three subs to choose from, each handling slightly differently to accommodate various levels of skill. In general, however, the controls remain roughly the same - although they're not how you'd expect.

Two sliders on the touchscreen represent your horizontal speed and your vertical speed, and both need to be moved into the appropriate position for every particular situation that you face.

Keeping a steady hand and balancing each slider to prevent disaster is crucial. If you collide with an explosive or a wall, the touchscreen may spring a leak, and you'll need to touch it to patch the hole up.

Level design is a huge plus point in Steel Diver, as we've come to expect from Nintendo. There's a great amount of variety to enemy placement, mission objectives, and the paths you'll need to take.

The difficulty curve, however, is a little extreme.

For the first half an hour of play you'll encounter no problems at all. The second half of the game, however, is brutally challenging.

This move from fairly easy to insanely difficult sweeps in without a moment's notice.

Preparing to dive

The stereoscopic 3D effects are some of the best we've seen in a 3DS game to date.

You can really feel the depth to the backdrops, with underwater movement and plenty of effects giving the scenarios lots of life. Enemies can attack from the background, and incoming missiles look like they're actually moving towards you.

The interface looks great, and the dreamy music gives the game an underwater ambience.

Hull breach

But, while we have a lot of love for Steel Diver, it's difficult to overlook the gaping holes in its hull.

Story mode is incredibly short, clocking in at around an hour to complete the seven available levels. Each of these can be completed with the three subs, but levels aren't as exciting after the first playthrough.

Time Trials attempt to add replayability to these missions, but they're really just an added gimmick.

Abort, abort!

Steel Diver tries to add value for your money with two extra mini-game style modes.

Periscope Strike is a dull shooting range game where you fire torpedoes at ships from a first-person perspective. It's not very fun, and you'll most likely play it once and never try it again.

Steel Commander is an interesting but flawed turn-based strategy game.

Playing out a little like the classic Battleships, the mode lets you place pieces on a grid and then try to work out where the enemy has placed his.

You can move your submarine into your opponent's half, and try to sink their ships. The objective is to sink all their aircraft carriers.

However, if you lose your submarine via depth charges, then it's also Game Over. Tactically, it's a bit of a mess. You can simply move your sub around until you find the aircraft carriers, and then finish them off in just a couple of goes.

This mini-game is also available to play with a friend via Download Play, and this proves to be a little more fun than against the AI. Still, it's not something you'll stick with for very long.

Steel Diver shows glimmers of Nintendo brilliance, but is simply far too flawed and rushed to recommend.

If Nintendo decides to take its time and prepare a more meaty and well considered sequel, we'll be all hands on deck.

Steel Diver

Steel Diver provides exciting, tactical underwater action, but a steep difficulty curve and lack of content make it difficult to recommend