How to improve the E3 Expo

E3 2011 was considerd a runaway success by just about everybody you ask. The show went smoothly, the booths were packed, there was plenty of awesome games on display, and as far as I know, nobody got hurt. So why nitpick? Well, there are some issues with E3 and I think it would be wrong not to talk about them. Here are a few ideas I have about how to improve the gaming industry’s greatest event.

Increase access to the show

I discussed how the ESA is in essence creating a closed loop by restricting access to smaller media sites a bit before the show, so I’ll keep that brief, but there are ways in which the E3 Expo could improve access to the show floor without compromising the media’s ability to work.
E3 2011 ran from Tuesday to Thursday. The press conferences generally take place on Monday and Tuesday, and a few parties last until Friday or Saturday, but the show floor itself is only open for three days. Publishers spend unspeakable amounts of money to construct their booths, only to have them up for three days. My idea would be to extend the show for two more days, but allow those who don’t qualify for media badges only to attend days 4 and 5, while days 1, 2, and 3 would be media exclusive. The media would benefit by dramatically smaller crowds during their stay, and even with one less day, the general attendees would also have a smaller crowd. The extra two days would also extend coverage of the show, allowing for some of the smaller titles to get some additional exposure. Due to thinner crowds, the ESA could relax the media restrictions enough to get smaller sites a better chance at attending the conference.

Consider a new venue

Los Angeles is actually not the most ideal city for holding E3. It’s convenient for many of the developers that live in the area, but for travelers, it’s not great. The city is expensive, it’s public transportation isn’t as good as other popular convention cities, and downtown LA doesn’t have much to offer in regards to activities besides crummy bars and some movie theaters. A city like Las Vegas offers better public transport, more hotel options, better activities, and an overall more affordable destination for most travelers. Even San Diego or the Bay Area would be better if they wanted to keep the convention in California.

Require more from official partners

The E3 Expo is a huge benefit to the city of Los Angeles, its hotels and restaurants, and local businesses. Hotels, in order to be part of the official E3 housing, should offer free Internet to their guests. My hotel, which was a very nice hotel, still charged a $13/day Internet fee. I guarantee that they’d drop that fee for E3 attendees if it was a requirement to be part of official E3 housing.
Given the huge boon to the local economy that E3 provides, it wouldn’t be hard for the expo to leverage their muscle just a bit more to help attendees get some extra perks. I’ve been to other conventions that have handled this much more proactively than E3 does.
I hope it doesn’t sound like I dislike E3, because I love going to the conference each year, but I do think it could be better. It seems that each year the show has a healthy showing and a good time is had by its attendees, but I rarely see the show organizers strive to improve the conference in a measurable way. With a few improvements, E3 could be more accessible, more affordable, and an overall more comfortable expo to attend for both media and general attendees.

StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm screenshots emerge

A Dutch website, has posted a big batch of screenshots for StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, which is part 2 of 3 of the StarCraft 2 story arc. All of the screens come from the single player portion of the game and they contain heavy spoilers in them for the Wings of Liberty campaign. If you haven’t finished Wings of Liberty, it would be a good idea to hold off checking out these screens. If you have finished the Wings of Liberty campaign, the spoilers in the screens are very minor. Check ’em out in the gallery below. (Click on individual images to enlarge.)

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The original image post on Inside Gamer is found here:

The decline of Sonic the Hedgehog and his hope for new glory

It’s no secret that Sega has struggled to put out quality Sonic titles. They occasionally come out with a decent effort, but your average Sonic the Hedgehog game is disappointing these days. What once was Sega’s flagship mascot that drove the sales of millions of consoles is now the butt of many jokes by gamers, journalists, and analysts. Why does Sega struggle so mightily to get things right? Is the problem on Sega’s side, or does the issue lie with Sonic himself?

Sonic the Hedgehog released in 1991 for the Sega Genesis. For all intents and purposes, he was intended to be Sega’s version of Mario; and for a while, he was doing his job well. Sonic helped push the Sega Genesis into a position of market leadership for 16-bit consoles in 1992, placing Nintendo is 2nd place for the first time since 1985. Sonic the Hedgehog arrived with a deafening boom. And that’s the kind of entrance you needed to make in the early 1990s. You had to show up in extreme fashion for anybody to take notice. In an era of neon shorts, MTV, Hulkmania, Ninja Turtles, and the Bigfoot pizza, loud and flashy is how we wanted our entertainment. Sonic the Hedgehog was built for the early 1990s.

Sonic the Hedgehog box art
Fast and full of that '90s attitude.

Sonic burst onto the scene, allowing Sega to create their “blast processing” buzzword and usher in their newfound in your face attitude. As long as extreme was cool, Sonic had no trouble pleasing Sega fans. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Sonic CD followed quickly after the first release, and sales were strong for Sonic 2, which saw over 6 million copies sold. Sonic CD managed to buoy the Sega CD for longer than it deserved to be around, but it wouldn’t be long before Sonic’s appeal would begin to falter. Sonic the Hedgehog 3 would release to favorable reviews, but would only sell 1.8 million copies compared to Sonic the Hedgehog 2’s 6.3 million. While still no slouch, Sonic was seeing a decline. With Sonic and Knuckles, reviews remained positive, but grumblings about Sonic’s originality were starting to surface among journalists and gamers alike.

Sega continued producing Sonic games for their consoles with mixed results until the launch of the Dreamcast when Sonic Adventure came out. Again, Sonic was back on top with reviewers and fans excited by Sega’s latest effort. The game had been successfully brought into the 3D realm, despite some glitches and unsure feelings regarding Sonic’s new friends. It wouldn’t take long for that unsure feeling to grow. Sonic’s look also got a makeover, losing his pot belly and gaining some height, longer hair, and a bigger capacity for sarcasm. In the days of waning extremism, Sega dialed up his extreme attitude a few notches.

Sonic Generations
Sonic of the early 90s (right) alongside the more modern Sonic (left).

Sonic Adventure 2 still saw favorable reviews,  but Sega did little to correct some of the issues Sonic Adventure had (camera problems, odd glitches, unwelcome extra friends). In the end, Sonic Adventure 2 would become the signpost for the series, where the sign it bears reads, “CAUTION: BUMPY ROAD AHEAD.”

I remember being at E3 2003 and seeing Sonic Heroes. I got some good time with the game on the show floor, and I left hoping that what I had just played was just severely lacking polish and that it would be cleaned up by release. The gameplay seemed interesting, but it was a technical mess. Upon release, I found that most of those technical issues were still in the game, making it a big disappointment and a an obvious misstep.

Nostalgia and good will couldn’t keep up with Sonic’s slide into the downward spiral going forward; especially when 2005 saw the release of Shadow the Hedgehog. While Sega did a good job capturing the early 1990’s in your face attitude, their attempt to get in on the mid-00’s angst and “mature gaming” movement was a misfire of epic proportions. Forcing themes of maturity into one of gaming’s most lighthearted franchises didn’t spur on new fans, it only alienated fans more.

Subsequent releases in the mainline Sonic the Hedgehog series have continued to disappoint. 2006’s Sonic the Hedgehog and 2008’s Sonic Unleashed both turned Sonic into a sad joke. Any word of a new Sonic game has since been met with derision, mockery, and downright bitterness from once Sonic supporters and fans. I personally handled the review for Sonic Unleashed, and it was at that point that I resolved to avoid any Sonic games until they were both proven through solid reviews and the lens of time.

The Werehog did far more harm than good for the Sonic franchise

So why did Sonic falter when Mario was able to continue to flourish under Nintendo’s watch? Well, while Sonic himself was changed to fit the evolving fads of the 1990s and 2000s, Mario never needed changing as a character, simply because he wasn’t created as a reaction to what was hot in marketing. Both characters appeared in product-of-their-times titles, but only Sonic changed noticeably as a character. Mario could afford the occasional misstep, but everybody learned to blame that individual game, and not the Mario character himself. Additionally, Nintendo has been far more reserved in mainline Mario releases while Sega has been fairly liberal in their project green lighting. Nintendo refused to repeat mistakes between their releases, while Sega often repeated and magnified their bad decisions.

So is their hope for Sonic? Well, if you’ve been paying attention to the handheld space, you’ve known that Sonic has actually done quite well with his mainline titles on the GBA and DS. Additionally, Sonic Colors was well received on the Wii, even if many people refused to believe it. It just feels as if Sega is going to have to roll out multiple solid efforts before fans are going to fully trust again.

And what of Sonic Generations? For those that don’t know, Sonic Generations looks to be offering a mix of the old-school Sonic we all loved in the 1990s and mashes his up with the current era Sonic. The game will visit 20 years worth of Sonic levels, allowing the player to control either the classic Sonic in 2D side-scrolling action or the current era Sonic with 3D action. Early buzz is positive, and E3 2011 will be the make or break moment for the game. The concept is great, and it just might be what Sega needs to get the series back on track again.

Sega hopes that Sonic Generations will please Sonic fans from both eras.

Personally, I feel that Sonic is a relic of a bygone era. The 1990s ended, and with them so did Sonic’s heyday. Any attempts that Sega has made to modernize Sonic have irritated longtime fans, while his 1990s-based roots continue to shine through and deter those that don’t carry nostalgic feelings. It’s not to say that Sonic won’t see any quality games, but Sonic will never again be looking down at Mario unless Nintendo loses its collective mind. The Sonic name still carries decent weight in the industry, but if Sonic Generations is a flop, the damage just might be irreparable.

In one week I’ll be down in Los Angeles, attending the E3 expo. Among all the huge titles that are sure to be at the show, I hope Sonic shows well. A well-received Sonic can only help this industry when far too many games are based on space marines and bro-fist military squads.

StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm teaser trailer

Update 2: The trailer is back up. It’s different than the last one, but still good. When the dust settles and the embargo ninjas get scarce, I’ll post the original trailer once more as I have a copy of it. The description below the video describes the original trailer that leaked.

Update: The video was taken down. I’ve embedded a YouTube video for now, but we’ll see how long that lasts.

Earlier this week select journalists and StarCraft community members were shown Heart of the Swarm and today a teaser trailer was released. I’ve embedded the trailer below. For those that haven’t finished Wings of Liberty, there are some big time spoilers in the video and in my reaction below the video.

In the trailer we see Nova leading a team of Ghosts against Raynor in an attempt to either capture or kill Kerrigan. Kerrigan appears to be back in her old Ghost duds and possibly preparing to do battle alongside Raynor or possibly she’s just finished a battle of her own as Raynor finds her standing alone in a room that’s just taken significant damage.

Thinking about what’s in the trailer, it seems that Raynor is back on the run with Nova coming after him and Kerrigan. It’s possible that the Dominion has deemed Kerrigan too dangerous to leave alive, or that they want her for testing and intelligence purposes. Either way, Raynor and his team are back on the run and I would guess they’ll be looking for help either from the Protoss or other rogue Terran groups. It remains to be seen if we’ll be doing missions that involve Raynor at all in Heart of the Swarm, but at least we can see that their stories will advance significantly.

We do know that Heart of the Swarm will focus much more heavily on the Zerg, as their campaign will play out here. I was pretty surprised the trailer was devoid of Zerg. Blizzard still hasn’t committed to a release date for Heart of the Swarm, but I’m eager to find out those details.

The E3 2011 hype train is out of control

Best ever. Will blow your mind. Insane lineup. Tons of surprises. No holding back. Biggest ever. Gargantuan. Best ever.

Those are just some of the descriptors spilling out of the various journalists that have already been through their pre-E3 weeks. At first I was taking it all in as hyperbole, but it’s quite impressive to see how many respected journalists that have seen advance looks at games are selling the hype for E3 2011. All this hype excludes the surprises that the big 3 have in store as well. I’ll be attending E3 2011 and it sounds like it’s going to be one of the more crazy shows I’ve been to. Thinking about what we know, here’s what I’m expecting to be some of the big buzz makers at the show:

  • Modern Warfare 3
  • The Last Guardian
  • Battlefield 3
  • Uncharted 3
  • Project Cafe (Wii successor)
  • BioShock Infinite
  • Sony NGP
  • Mass Effect 3
  • Rage
  • Elder Scrolls: Skyrim
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution
  • Gears of War 3
  • Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
  • Batman Arkham City
  • Mario Kart 3DS
  • Super Mario Bros. 3DS
  • The rumored Halo project
It’s a pretty long list, and that’s just basing things off of what we already know. I’m really hoping that Pikmin 3 makes a showing for Nintendo, that the Kinect and Move find ways of proving their worth, and that the NGP proves to be more valuable of a gaming platform than the PSP. It’s going to be a huge show and we’ll be previewing it in our next podcast. What are you looking forward to at E3 2011?

Latest PS3 and 360 updates causing issues with older systems

Update: It now appears that the culprit for the freezes, lockups, and overheating is actually L.A. Noire itself. Sony’s update seems to be safe, and any consoles having issues after that update seem to be coincidental at this point. Rockstar has admitted that L.A. Noire is having issues jiving with some 360 and PS3 consoles.

Both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 have seen system updates lately, and it seems that both updates are somewhat problematic for older versions of the consoles. In the case of the PlayStation 3, the newest update is to address the issues with the PSN security breach, and the update is required to regain access to your PSN account. The problem, however, is that people are reporting that after updating their consoles that they’re starting to have random console shutdowns or lockups. Rockstar has posted in their support FAQ the following in response to people complaining about freezes or shutdowns during L.A. Noire play sessions:

Question: My PS3 turns itself off when I am playing L.A. Noire. What can I do?

Answer: We have received some reports of PS3s overheating while playing L.A. Noire or beeping three times before shutting down/turning themselves off, mostly on older 60GB and 80GB fat models.
Primary reports seem to be that updating to firmware 3.61 will cause PlayStations to overheat. There have been various reports of this on a few different games now, all reporting their PS3s turning off or “Red Lighting” after having installed 3.61. This can range from games randomly freezing to PS3s turning off anywhere between 30 mins use to 2 hours. We have confirmed locally that multiple games (Rockstar and non-Rockstar) overheat or freeze only when 3.61 is installed.
At this time we are recommending contacting Sony directly to report the overheating issue. However, this is not the end of our support; we are continuing to test L.A. Noire on all firmware versions and hardware models to isolate the issues and see what can be done. As always, we will update this article as soon as we have updates.

So Rockstar seems to have internally found that it’s the older 60GB and 80GB models that are having issues, but it doesn’t sound entirely limited to them. Obviously overheating is a dangerous thing for your console to experience, so if you have problems after the update, don’t continue to play or else you risk damaging your console. I have a 60GB launch system and I don’t plan on updating until I know it’s 100% safe to do so.

As for the Xbox 360, the latest update seems to be equally problematic, if not worse. After updating with the newest update, many Xbox 360 consoles have been unable to read discs. At all. Microsoft has already responded and is now sending replacement consoles to anybody affected by the issue, but there’s no denying that it’s a major hassle and inconvenience to have to wait for your new console to arrive.

These updates are necessary, but it’s crazy that they can get into the wild with such crippling side effects. It seems to me that the console makers need to include a rollback option on these firmware updates, though I understand that often times the updates exist to plug security holes with the previous version. At least you’d still be able to play your console until they fixed the latest release, however.

Portal 2 Review

For anyone who plays games, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of finishing a highly anticipated game with pure satisfaction. Portal 2 is that kind of game. I’m lucky enough to have it be my first Gamer Theory review.

Portal 2 is the sequel to Valve’s critically acclaimed Portal, which was included in 2007’s The Orange Box. For the unfamiliar, Portal was a bold experiment which called for players to create “portals” on the sides of walls and objects. Taking control of the silent protagonist, Chell, these portals allow the player to go through one portal entrance and reappear through the exit in a series of mind-boggling puzzles that rely on things such as moving boxes, pressing buttons, and using momentum to fly through portals to get to out of reach places. It was a game like no other. It was a short game, but oh-so-sweet. It was bold in concept, simple in gameplay, and very innovative and ambitious. In 2011, Valve’s little gaming experiment grows up as a fully loaded game, and one of the best experiences of the year.

The game is divided into two campaigns: a traditional single player experience and a cooperative campaign. The single player game is set decades after the events of the first game. It starts off strong with an interesting, mysterious setting and a witty new character named Wheatley to complement the return of everyone’s favorite villainess, GLaDOS, the computerized mainframe that controls Aperture Science. The character development is simply superb, and the writing exquisite. You’re not going to want to part with these characters after the game is over. The single player levels will start off familiar to veterans of the first game, but as you progress, the masterminds at Valve continually throw curve balls as you’re introduced to new game-changing elements. From light-beam bridges you must send through portals to mysterious gels that make you bounce or glide very fast, they really pushed their creativity. This package is beautifully presented through superb art, charming characters, and an engaging story. The puzzles can be extremely difficult, but never overly frustrating (although I would be lying if I said I never once shut the game off for a breather from this mentally taxing title).

What I call "light-beam bridges"

The co-op mode puts you and one other friend in control of Atlas and P-body, two silly robots you’re probably going to take quite the liking-to. The co-op game is arguably more creative than the single player game. The developers continued to flex their cerebral cortexes with their seemingly bottomless pool of ideas to make one of the most unique cooperative experiences to be found anywhere. The devious puzzles will definitely have you and your partner scratching your heads, but that’s okay, because while you’re trying to wrap your head around a new test chamber, you can occupy yourselves with the gestures you gain as you progress through the co-op mode that help express yourself to your partner. This is helpful for those lacking a microphone. Additionally, you can buy more gestures and hats via DLC (a hit or miss with fans).

Atlas (right) and P-body (left)

One final thing I want to mention is Valve’s platform agnostic approach they created for this game. PlayStation 3 owners can link their Steam account to their PlayStation Network account and have full access to their Steam friends list right from the PS3. Additionally, this means PS3 owners can play co-op with PC and Mac gamers. Now here’s the best part: included with every PS3 copy of the game is free access to the PC/Mac version of the game and cross-platform synchronization. Good deal, no? Xbox 360 players, unfortunately, are segregated in this arrangement, and can only play online with other Xbox Live users, so it wasn’t the perfect blessing.

And there you have it. Portal 2. I’m a fan, and hope you will be, too. Make sure you put this at the top of your lists, newcomers and veterans alike (although newcomers really, really should go play the first one beforehand).

5 out of 5 stars

Best Game Ever: Chrono Trigger

Note: Best Game Ever is a series of posts I’ll be doing dedicated to the best games ever made. Each game I profile will be a game I’d accept as someone’s answer to the question, “what do you think the best game ever is?” So please, do not email me and tell me I’m stupid for posting about game X when game Y is clearly superior. And you never know, game Y might be the next game profiled. For more in the series, check out the “best game ever” category in the side bar.

Chrono Trigger. Back in the heyday of the 16-bit era, RPGs were one of the most popular genres and Japan was producing nearly all of the top titles. Square was one of the top companies during the era, producing the illustrious Final Fantasy series and other popular RPGs. Among those big hits was the fan favorite, Chrono Trigger, originally released for the Super Nintendo.

Chrono Trigger stood out for several reasons. First, the story was very engaging and the storyline could be altered depending on how you played the game. There were several possible endings to see, and some items could only be collected at the sacrifice of missing out on others. It was a fantastic game to discuss with friends to find out how your ending or order of events played out.

Another big reason that Chrono Trigger was so popular was due to its fantastic battle system. The game didn’t have random encounters, so you could skip fights if you wanted, but once you got into fights, they were tons of fun. Chrono Trigger allowed you to combine character attacks, and those attacks varied based on what characters you were combining. Most of the rest of the battle system was pretty standard, but each character was quite unique and it allowed for lots of experimentation and fun. As far as the standard JRPGs go, Chrono Trigger is still a game that provides an enjoyable battle system under the modern lens.

Finally, the other big memorable aspect of Chrono Trigger is its music. From its joyous victory fanfare to its moody and slower tracks, just about any old-school RPG fan can recall multiple musical selections from the game easily.

Luckily, Chrono Trigger is available widely these days. There are re-releases for the DS, the Virtual Console, PSN, and some older consoles. The game holds up very well, and it’s a game I seem to go back to at least once a year for a revisit. There was a sequel released for the PSOne, called Chrono Cross, but it didn’t quite have the same magic as its predecessor despite being a very good game in its own regard.

For these reasons and more not stated, Chrono Trigger is the best game ever.

What Nintendo needs to do with their next console

Speculation is wild regarding the next Nintendo console, which as confirmed to be an HD console. For some fans, simply having a Wii that’s capable of 1080 resolutions. For most, however, Nintendo is in need of some reparations in order to get the hardcore to embrace their next offering. I’ve done some digging around into the rumors, have touched base with some developers I know and some PR people and they seem to think Nintendo is sincere in their desire to regain popularity with hardcore gamers and it’s not just lip service to ensure a strong launch support. So what does Nintendo do to get back in the good graces of the hardcore audience?

Better Online Support

One of the most important areas in which Nintendo needs to improve is in their online offerings. The Wii is online-enabled, but it’s pretty horrible overall in regards to the experience you get with online play. Nintendo needs to make friends list management easier, communication a focal point in gameplay, and a better solution for downloading games, content, and updates/fixes. To accomplish this, Nintendo is going to have to back off of their nanny tendencies and trust in parental supervision a bit more. It’s unlike Nintendo to open up the gates to wider communication via their platforms, but the time is now if they want to seriously contend in the online realm.

And for the love of all that is good and holy, Nintendo, make the Virtual Console service better!

A Standard Control Scheme out of the Box

Using a Classic Controller or a GameCube controller is a decent way to play games in a more standard manner on the Wii, but since neither controller came with the console, the inclusion of standard control schemes in games was an option that was typically an afterthought for many developers. With rumors swirling of a screen embedded into the controller, it’s nice to hear just as many rumors saying that the controller has a dual analog setup. How’s this for crazy? Nintendo has NEVER had a console with a dual analog controller unless it was an optional accessory. It’s time to get on the dual analog train, Nintendo.

Standard Media

While just about everybody has more DVD players than TV sets these days, it can’t hurt for Nintendo to finally support a common disc format that allows the system to play media other than video games. A blu-ray player would be nice, but if they don’t opt for blu-ray, DVD has to be the choice, despite its limited storage capacity. Swapping discs from time to time is preferable to an oddball format that doesn’t allow for any other uses.

Actual 3rd Party Support!

Nintendo has always raked in huge profits thanks to their high selling 1st party games, but no console in history has ever won the console war on the strength of their 1st party library alone. It’s time that Nintendo opens its doors more widely to 3rd parties and provides them with better tools, licensing agreements, and does a better job promoting 3rd party offerings. Many times Microsoft or Sony will help 3rd parties advertise their games and it always helps push more units through the sales channel. Nintendo needs to do the same.

Bring Back Core Titles Development

Miis are everywhere these days, and when used properly they’re great. However, aside from a handful of Zelda and Metroid titles, Nintendo has been far too casual with their offerings to appease the hardcore crowd. Not since Perfect Dark has Nintendo had a strong FPS offering (no, Geist doesn’t count) come from one of their own studios. That’s far too long. Keep up with the Marios and Zeldas, but explore some deeper content as well. While 3rd parties could carry the majority of this burden, it’s the 1st parties that generally need to provide the exclusives.

Make the Gimmicks Count and Support Them

Nintendo loves to engage in quirky behavior with their hardware. Sometimes the quirks turn into significant contributions to the industry (trigger buttons, rumble, d-pad, etc.), and other times those quirks fizzle and are left in the past (bongos, GBA link, Wii Speak, etc.) to fill closet space. While I don’t want Nintendo to stop pushing out their quirky accessories, they need to do a better job at supporting them once they’re out. The Wii Balance Board had some potential that was definitely left untapped. It’s fine to experiment, but don’t leave the buyers out in the cold once they gamble on new concepts.

It’s a long list of things that Nintendo needs to do, but I think that’s pretty indicative of where they stand with the hardcore crowd. Nostalgia always propels Nintendo’s efforts with the older crowd, but that effect seems to be losing its potency as each year goes by. If Nintendo is truly serious about becoming a mainstay in the hardcore gaming circles again, they better come to the next generation with a new attitude and a broader vision. We’ll find out more at E3 2011 this June.

Review: Steel Diver

Steel Diver has been kicking around at Nintendo for quite some time. The first time I played this game, it was a tech demo for the original DS at E3 back in 2004. It didn’t look quite as nice, and it wasn’t as refined, obviously, but the game was there in a very limited form. After the better part of a decade, Nintendo decided to dust the project off and give it a development team and a slot in the Nintendo 3DS launch lineup.

Much like Yoshi Touch & Go for the DS, Steel Diver feels sort of like an introductory title for the 3DS. The game ignores depth in favor of accessibility and simplicity, while attempting to provide some quick thrills that revolves around gameplay that begs for mastery. The missions in the game are fairly simple: get from point A to point B as quickly as possibly and either avoid or take out as many enemies as possible as you go. You’re scored based on how quickly you can pass the mission, how little damage you can take, and how much damage you deal out along the way. Until you really know the levels well, you’ll often have to choose between speed and battle efficiency.

Mixed in with the missions, and also available as its own mode, you engage in periscope battles. This mode uses the  gyroscope in the 3DS and you hold the handheld out in front of you, and rotate around to locate ships on the horizon. The goal is obviously to take down the destroyers quickly and before they can sink you. It’s neat, it’s novel, but it does limit where you can play the game. Trying to take down ships with the periscope is near impossible on an airplane or bus.

The level design is pretty good. Steel Diver does a good job throwing tight passages, mines, enemy destroyers and subs, and obstacles at you while you’re trying to hurry through the stages. It takes lots of tweaking of the knobs and dials on the touch screen to keep your sub going in the direction you want and firing at the right angles during combat. Again, like Yoshi Touch & Go, the real challenge is replaying missions to improve upon scores.

A mode not often talked about is the Steel Commander mode, where you play a tactical game with destroyers and subs. Moving around on a grid, you need to position yourself to be able to destroy your enemy’s supply ships while protecting your own. You can attack and hide at different depths, making for a fun cat and mouse type of experience. With different maps to play on, this mode is seriously a great time sink if you have a friend with their own 3DS to play against.

The visuals and sounds found in Steel Diver are fairly basic, especially when compared to other 3DS games, but they look nice and sound clean overall. The 3D effect is layered well it provides one of the more comfortable launch games to play with the 3D effect cranked up to full. It would have been nice to see just a few more passes of graphical polish or some additional effects added in, especially given that there’s not really a ton going on at any given time on the screen.

Steel Diver is going to be a divisive title. If you don’t mind replaying the same missions for better scores, and if you have a friend that will play the Steel Commander mode with you, Steel Diver is an appealing title. For the types of people that generally pass a mission, move on, and don’t care to chase high scores, Steel Diver will provide a pretty short experience and will probably seem fairly shallow. I fall in with the former group, but unfortunately many might fall into the latter. I’d still recommend the game, but with some reservations due to its length and simplicity.

Overall Score: 3 out of 5