Dave the Diver: Shallow Fishing Saved By Charming Characters – PC Review
Having only just recovered from the gargantuan task of reviewing Final Fantasy 16, I felt that reviewing Dave the Diver, a seemingly innocuous game about fishing and managing a sushi restaurant, would be a comparative breeze. Unfortunately, video games are never so simple, and while Dave the Diver is certainly a far more enjoyable game than Final Fantasy 16, its complexity, nuances, numerous issues, and overwhelmingly delightful sense of charm and joy have left me with a far greater and longwinded impression than I thought I would have.
“Whether it’s the extravagant meals you prep and enhance or the fish with which you make them, everything looks positively appetizing.”
Dave the Diver is a visual marvel, reinvigorating the pixel-art aesthetic with anime-infused high-octane animations while seamlessly combining it with an eclectic range of art styles ranging from traditional Korean art to modern 3D recreations of various fish.
The dynamic underwater locales you explore are as gorgeous as they are varied. From the sun-soaked shimmering sapphire waters with its myriad of multicoloured fish effortlessly gliding by to the hauntingly gloomy depths with its eerily pitch-black caverns and fang-laden horrors, there’s no shortage of atmosphere and visual splendour in Dave the Diver.
Fortunately, these gorgeous visuals also apply to the phenomenally charismatic cast of characters that populate the lakeside sushi bar you work for. The titular Dave’s jovial design was a particular highlight for me, his dainty porkpie hat precariously resting atop his unpretentious head as he dashes from customer to customer, a smile as wide as the Giant Blue Hole itself perpetually plastered on his face.
Every character, from the ancient civilisation enthusiast Dr. Bacon to the sternly dedicated chef Bancho, has been lovingly designed to perfectly complement their rich and incredibly memorable personalities. Their witty one-liners and cosy banter aside, from the moment I laid eyes on each of Dave the Diver’s characters, I became immediately entranced.
Additionally, the fish which you will busy yourself with for much of Dave the Diver’s lengthy runtime have also been expertly recreated, at least to my untrained eye. Whether it’s the extravagant meals you prep and enhance or the fish with which you make them, everything looks positively appetizing, even to this dedicated vegetarian.
“The majority of missions in Dave the Diver follow the rigidly repetitive fetch quest formula.”
When you’re not gawking at the gorgeous visuals on display in Dave the Diver, you’ll be partaking in its story. This is by far the game’s weakest aspect, owing to the fact that the majority of its missions follow the rigidly repetitive fetch quest formula. Primarily, Dave the Diver will see you delve deep within its watery playground in search of parts to build some newfangled device that will allow you to further progress in the narrative. This could be a translator that lets you communicate with a mysterious ancient civilisation or a headlamp that lets you easily explore the darker underbelly of the Giant Blue Hole.
However, players must also gather the requisite fish to feed their ever-growing customer base during the latter portion of an in-game day. This is just as important as pursuing the main quest line, as it nets you profits that you can then spend on upgrading your gear, an essential purchase as the better your gear, the more areas you can access and fish you can catch.
Unfortunately, this means that you’ll frequently pass up on searching for whatever item the main quest wants you to get. You’re restricted in what you can bring back to the surface thanks to an initially punishing weight limit that slows your swim speed to a crawl once you become over-encumbered.
This leaves you vulnerable not only to the vicious and frequently terrifying sharks but also to reaching the surface or an escape pod before your oxygen runs out. If you do lose all of your oxygen, you’ll only be able to take one of the items you collected with you. So, the incentive to leave as soon as you’ve reached your weight limit, regardless of whether or not you’ve located the main quest item, is incredibly high.
“Unfortunately, I found that the fishing mechanic lacked the necessary depth required to make it an interesting standalone activity.”
Critically, this brings your main story progression to a screeching halt, further slowing down the already dawdling drip-feed of new mechanics. It’s a shame, too, as there are many unique gameplay features introduced over the course of Dave the Diver’s runtime, from gambling to rhythm games. The lengthy gaps between meaningful new mechanics wouldn’t be such a fundamental issue if the fishing gameplay was fun.
Unfortunately, I found that the fishing mechanic lacked the necessary depth required to make it an interesting standalone activity. Admittedly, it was engrossingly entertaining for the first few hours as discovering new fish felt novel and the same soothing track that plays whenever you’re underwater was catchy.
However, the tedium eventually set in, and I soon felt I had seen everything the sea had to offer and upgraded my gear enough that there was little to no challenge. l quickly found myself absentmindedly engaging in the same gameplay loop repeatedly, delving into the sea intending to pursue the dull fetch quest but eventually surfacing without having made any meaningful progress.
The underwater experience for much of Dave the Diver felt very reminiscent of Groundhog Day, an endlessly soporific exercise in repetition offset only ever so slightly by a minor tweak in an area’s layout, a different item to fetch, or the type of fish I encountered.
“None of this would work if it weren’t for the individuality that Dave the Diver affords the player, offering numerous ways to customise and personalise the entire experience.”
Fortunately, absolutely none of the above issues matter in the slightest, as it is all in service of Dave the Diver’s more substantial and enjoyable gameplay loop: the incredibly engrossing sushi bar management sim. Despite only taking up one of the three sections of an in-game day, its individualistic and creative nature allows for a far greater sense of freedom while offering much-needed context and meaning to the more shallow aspects of the game.
My enjoyment of the game’s management sim gameplay loop was partially derived from its chaotic nature. Serving an overwhelming number of customers, desperately trying to rush from one to another while attempting to perfect the various mini-games, is surprisingly not as stressful nor as challenging as it sounds. Frequently, I found myself longing to return to this portion of the game so that I could indulge in the micromanagement of the potentially prosperous sushi restaurant.
Crucially, however, none of this would work if it weren’t for the individuality that it affords the player, offering numerous ways to customise and personalise the entire experience. From the staff that works for you to the decor that perfectly positions the sushi bar as a picturesque foreground to the striking night sky, your input into the functionality and aesthetic of the restaurant is fundamental.
For example, I found myself growing attached to Liu, the incompetent sous-chef who quickly became obsolete the second I put out an advertisement looking for new staff. His goofy grin and jaunty dance endeared me to him almost immediately, and I frequently hesitated to replace him with far more efficient chefs. Similarly, a piece of decor, a simple photograph of Dave, Bancho, and Cobra standing by the restaurant, became a priceless fixture, an irreplaceable memory no matter how enticing the alternate unlockable decorations were.
“The immense satisfaction you receive from offering an enhanced dish to your patrons and earning a huge payout as a result, is a serotonin-inducing rush that never gets old. “
Preparing your menu for the evening is also a key aspect of the management sim portion of Dave the Diver. You can only select a handful of dishes to serve, each one varying in cost and overall diner satisfaction. Picking and choosing a balance of expensive and enjoyable meals requires a significant amount of thoughtful consideration, especially when you factor in the risk-reward nature of enhancing a meal.
Each dish can be upgraded by consuming the resources required for said dish. Enhancing a meal increases its worth, both financially and in terms of how enjoyable it is. You can opt to enhance a meal but risk losing the ability to serve it that evening, potentially forcing yourself to serve cheaper meals and earning less money overall. This is the aspect of the management sim that offers meaning to the fishing component of Dave the Diver, as you’re encouraged to hunt specific fish with which to enhance your meals and thus ultimately make a bigger profit.
It is why the tedium of fishing has no real bearing on the overall enjoyment of Dave the Diver, as the immense satisfaction you receive from finally offering an enhanced dish to your patrons and earning a huge payout as a result, is a serotonin-inducing rush that never gets old. You’re constantly rewarded for your hard work and efforts, as the money you earn will go to upgrading your diving gear, getting better staff, and unlocking more dynamic decorations, all of which greatly enhance the overall experience.
“This charismatic and eclectic group of misfits are exceptionally memorable, owing to the fact that the writing beautifully captures their diverse and incredibly likable personalities.”
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss the most integral aspect of Dave the Diver. The absorbingly witty cast of characters, who give the game its signature charm and make the entire experience uniquely endearing in a way few games have managed to do before, is a true highlight and a genuine treasure.
This charismatic and eclectic group of misfits are exceptionally memorable, owing to the fact that the writing beautifully captures their diverse and incredibly likable personalities, allowing each of them to flourish in their own unique ways through cosy, often times hilarious, and occasionally raw conversations with the titular Dave.
Everyone from the core trio, Dave, Bancho, and Cobra, to the side characters have a lot to say and do and contribute to the central narrative, as well as their own interpersonal stories in interesting and meaningful ways. Even the VIP customers, diners with specific meal requests, come with their own backstories, often intertwined with the meal they are demanding. These short side quests reminded me of the wonderfully wholesome Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories and elevated the sushi restaurant aspect of Dave the Diver that much more.
“For the extremely low price of $17.99, it’s hard to fault this rich and rewarding work of art.”
All of this is to say, perhaps surprisingly to some, that Dave the Diver is a phenomenal indie game, one that is near perfection, were it not for some minor issues. Beyond the repetitive nature of some of its gameplay elements, as well as some other factors I’ve omitted from this review, such as the inherently visceral nature of hunting fish, ridiculously easy boss fights, and overly simplistic puzzles, Dave the Diver is a gorgeous and memorable experience from start to finish.
Its lovable cast of characters, engrossing restaurant management gameplay, stunning visuals, and dedication to the art form of sushi cement it as a deeply unique, creative, and ultimately fulfilling video game deserving of both your time and praise. For the extremely low price of $17.99, it’s hard to fault this rich and rewarding work of art.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on PC, code was provided by the Publisher.
Dave the Diver Review
Dave the Diver is an incredibly charming experience, offering players a somewhat repetitive gameplay loop fortunately saved by its wonderful characters. It's often time cosy atmosphere, offset ever so slightly by the visceral act of hunting fish, and engrossing sushi bar management gameplay kept me coming back for more, despite repetitive fetch quest objectives and ironically shallow fishing. Considering its very low price point, this gorgeous, hilarious, and extremely enjoyable experience is absolutely worth it, especially for all the sushi enthusiasts out there.
Jaw-droppingly stunning art style
Engrossingly fun sushi bar management gameplay
Plenty of charm and personality in every character