Who would’ve thought a fishing game would make it into my list of favorite games of the year with Dredge, let alone two, now that Dave the Diver became a thing in my life. That’s right, Mintrocket’s newly out of early access and into retail game about a semi-retired diver entering the sushi business is among 2023’s best releases. And that’s for good reason: this game is freaking addictive, but in a very good way.
As the titular Dave, you run into your old pal Cobra who is opening a sushi restaurant and needs some help procuring ingredients, that’s where Dave’s skill in diving and harpooning come into play, but it’ll take much more than simply catching fish in order to have a thriving business. Oh no, there’s so much to Dave the Diver that’s not apparent right off the bat that you’ll be surprised.
First off, you have to deal with the eccentric sushi chef that runs the joint, Boncho, who is as knowledgeable about Japanese cuisine as he is a pain in Dave’s butt, but since he’s exemplary at his profession, you have no choice but to accept him for what he is. There are a number of plates you have to keep in the air while helping him out, and that’s where much of the depth is to be found, pun intended.
That’s because Big Blue Hole, the fishing spot right next to the restaurant, is a very special place. It’s where all the magic that goes into making the perfect sushi menu happens, since its layout changes every time Dave goes underwater, thus offering a huge variety of seafood to procure, not to mention a lot of useful items that will help him in his run. We’ll call it runs, but Dave the Diver isn’t exactly a roguelike, but uses some elements from the genre in its benefit.
But for as varied as that special section of sea can be, nothing would go a long way without the proper equipment, and that’s where running a business comes into play, because you’ll need money to spend on better gear, and what makes more money than a sushi place, am I right?
Wrong! You’ll start off barely making enough to get your restaurant going, especially after the island it’s in is hit by a mysterious earthquake, but it doesn’t take long until you start cooking with gas. Since Dave the Diver is a game first and foremost, it takes realism as far as it benefits its fun factor. As in it’ll only take a few days until you have a stronger harpoon, thicker diving suit and even a better O2 tank that will take you deeper into the sea and towards weirder and more exotic fish to turn into sushi.
And better yet, the more you play, newer and exciting new features start popping up, adding more flavor to the mouth-watering dish that Dave the Diver is all throughout. Days into your entrepreneurial adventure, you’ll start bumping into all sorts of people that have a number of favors to ask of you, things you will either have to fulfill by diving or in the restaurant, or even both, forcing you to balance off the needs of your sushi place with your own.
Much of the charm of the game lies in its incredibly varied gameplay, but there’s a lot to be said about its dialog, which is funny and surprisingly well written. When you get to full steam running your business, you’ll get to engage with social media posts about the restaurant too, and they’re wholly dependent on how well you manage orders, and how quickly and efficiently you carry yourself, starting off as waiter and eventually working your way to management when you finally start hiring some help.
Dave the Diver is also quite pleasant on the eyes. It uses a mix of pixel art and polygonal models that really pops, and the animation on characters is as hilarious as it is expedient, as they don’t waste much time playing on screen. The best bits are when Boncho or some other of the characters you interact with have a breakthrough, it’s when special screen-wide short snippets play where the pixel art mastery from the folks at Mintrocket really shines.
This is definitely the sort of game that will stick to your hard drive for months because it’s so fun to dive in from time to time, it’s rewarding enough even for a few minutes’ play, since that’s exactly how long each section an in-game day takes to complete. That added with the sheer amount of different activities to keep track of helps Dave the Diver maintain its freshness, and when we’re talking about fish, that’s extra important.
This is one that I’ll keep around for sure as there’s likely much more to uncover down the line, and discovering new layers in the already immensely satisfying loop that Dave the Diver offers up is a joy. I’ll definitely be talking more about this game when our Game of the Year coverage starts as it’ll be on my list, and that’s no fisherman’s tale!