Dave the Diver cast a line and reeled me in when I played through it on Steam Deck earlier this year. It’s lured once again on Nintendo Switch.
Sorry, I had to get the fishing puns out of the way. But if you haven’t yet played Dave the Diver, a delightful experience that somehow mixes roguelike spearfishing exploration and a time management sushi restaurant simulator into one of the most joyful games of the year, the Nintendo Switch version is a place to get your feet wet.
The game is packed with different types of activities, and as Polygon’s review says, Dave the Diver’s vast number of mechanics shouldn’t work but somehow do. The shark meat of the game is capturing or hunting fish and aquatic life during the diving portions of the game so that you can serve up your spoils for dinner at the sushi restaurant. But as the in-game days pass by, Dave the Diver will layer on things like a farm, a fish farm (yes, they’re different things), upgrading weapons, and playing mini-games.
It all stays manageable because of the way Dave the Diver slowly rolls out new systems as you get further into the game — which was something the developers adjusted over the course of development. “In the early internal testing versions, we introduced the farm and fish farm content earlier to appeal to players with the rich in-game content,” the game’s director, Jaeho Hwang, says in an email interview with The Verge. “The feedback we received at that time was that it felt too distracting, and players couldn’t focus. So, we established a system that made it easier for us to adjust the timetable of content unlocks and put in a lot of testing to find the optimal timing.”
The in-universe smartphone, which has things like a to-do app to manage quests, an app to buy weapons and gear, and an in-universe Instagram clone (“Cooksta”) to scroll through posts about your restaurant, helps a lot, too. “In Dave the Diver, we have many systems, and we had a lot of discussions about how to convey them through UI effectively,” Hwang explained. “During this process, we were greatly impressed by games like Like A Dragon and Animal Crossing, where they used smartphones to navigate and manage various complex menus intuitively.”
Dave the Diver’s core loop helps keep the game from being too overwhelming. Diving for fish and treasures can be tense because you also have to fend off fearsome sharks and not run out of oxygen, while running the restaurant is a frantic but satisfying rush of filling orders and raking in cash. But you can never really lose — if you mess up a day, there’s always the next one.
“In Dave the Diver, we transition from a ‘slow, tense state’ during the daytime to a ‘hectic business scenario’ at night,” Hwang says. “Players are busy checking customer orders while carefully pouring drinks, but all interactions are done without the risk of ‘death.’ We believed that these two entirely different loops (of day and night) would complement each other by reducing the gameplay tension of the other, all while offering new forms of fun.”
I spent nearly 20 hours with Dave the Diver on my Steam Deck and felt the short bursts of time between things like diving and restaurant management were well suited to a portable device. According to Hwang, the team had to make some changes so Dave the Diver would work well on Nintendo’s system. “Since Switch has a smaller screen than a PC, and even more so than the Steam Deck, we adjusted the overall size of the UI and text to enhance player comprehensibility,” Hwang said. “Smooth gameplay on Switch calls for the support of low-end specs, which required a significant amount of optimization on our end.”
There’s still some optimization work to go. On the Switch, loading times are longer than they are on Steam Deck, and the game occasionally hitches or dips into lower frame rates. And I’m still only in the initial hours into Dave the Diver on the Switch — I can’t speak to the game’s performance during its bosses or in a later area that sometimes chugged my Steam Deck.
But the worse performance hasn’t made much of a difference in what it’s like to actually play Dave the Diver. And the game’s personality still shines on the Switch: the pixel art looks great (especially in the over-the-top cutscenes), the dialogue and characters are just as charming, the soundtrack is filled with great music (the sushi restaurant’s music rules), and the main campaign is surprisingly… deep.
It’s a busy time of year for gaming. It might be hard to fit in time to play Dave the Diver amid heavyweights like Super Mario Bros. Wonder, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, and Alan Wake 2. But if you need a break from Nintendo’s mind-melting platforming, Sony’s dual-Spidey superhero-ing, or whatever horrors Remedy has cooked up, the Switch version of Dave the Diver offers calmer waters and a relaxing respite from what’s already been a busy fall.
Dave the Diver launches on Nintendo Switch on October 26th. There’s a demo you can play now. The game is already available on PC and Mac.