Like a beautiful and unusual fish that has suddenly risen to the surface, Dave the Diver is an unexpected surprise. Juggling two core systems that work in tandem, it’s a game that excels as both an exploration experience and as a management sim and does so in ways that are intuitive and easy to pick up. However, the real triumph is a focus on novelty at every turn, with a near-constant supply of sudden twists, activities, and ways to engage with the game, resulting in a joyful and approachable adventure that is hard to put down.
Dave is a scuba diver, summoned to a strange blue hole in the ocean filled with all manner of marine life. He’s there to help capture seafood for a local sushi restaurant and its eccentric but expert chef, and he’s soon drawn into the management of the business to an equal depth as his sea explorations. As those underwater investigations swim ever further from the surface, new fantastical elements enter the equation, from sea people to prehistoric creatures, keeping players guessing on both the story and gameplay front.
The underwater dives are uncomplicated but gorgeous, leveraging a pixel-art aesthetic to present a considerable variety of undersea life and a constantly shifting landscape of cliffs, chasms, and tunnels. With guns, harpoons, nets, and more, Dave must snag the tastiest morsels to bring back to the restaurant while monitoring his air tank, avoiding hostile species, and gathering additional supplies. The simple aiming and shooting are enjoyable, and the gradual upgrade of equipment provides a rewarding sense of progression. But the search for new sights and locales drives the fun.
Back above water, Dave is wrangled into serving duties behind the sushi counter amid an offbeat cast of characters, many of whom drive home a theme that people are often more and better than they appear at first glance. Setting menu items, hiring and training staff, and pouring drinks give way to more activities, like running a farm and fish hatchery, competing in reality food competitions, and fleeing pirate boats to protect ancient relics – most with an attached mini-game or interactive component.
The continual layering of these small but rewarding systems transforms Dave the Diver into something exceptional. The flip back and forth between diving action and sushi restaurant management is engaging but might become rote were it not for the constant influx of other new ideas to keep things fresh. Taking wildlife photos, halting invasive fish species, building new weapons, cataloging discovered creatures – everything works together to push the adventure forward while remaining forgiving enough in complexity that a player never feels overwhelmed.
Dave is a charming hero, affable and guileless but capable, kind, and eager to help his friends. As the story grows more outlandish, the bosses ever bigger and more unbelievable, and the story sillier, the grounded and likable lead kept me smiling. A few late-game activities, including some stealth and light beam puzzles, don’t completely hit the mark, but by that point, the investment is high, and it’s easy to push ahead to the end.
You might question whether a sushi restaurant management sim crossed with underwater diving is your cup of tea, but that would be missing the point. Dave the Diver is a unique and memorable vacation away from expectations, and it’s the very fact that you don’t usually play games like this that makes it so satisfying.