Sub Wars is great when its servers stay afloat.
As much as I enjoyed the first Steel Diver, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed with just how little content it had to offer. Steel Diver: Sub Wars takes a lot of what I loved about the first game, switches up the perspective, and adds a competent online multiplayer option that’s much more compelling than replaying Steel Diver’s single player missions over and over again.
Unlike the first game, Sub Wars moves from 2D to a first-person 3D perspective, creating what is essentially a slow first-person shooter. Don’t take “slow” as a bad thing, though. Iwata wasn’t wrong when he called it a "contemplative first-person shooter” during the February 13, Nintendo Direct. You have to carefully time your shots while taking into account the position and speed of the enemy sub. This makes hitting the opponent, especially from long distances, a difficult, yet satisfying experience.
To navigate your sub through the game’s turbulent waters, you can choose to control your depth, speed, and position either by using levers on the touch screen, or by simply using the Circle Pad and face buttons. I first used the touch screen, but the face buttons feel more natural and provide tighter control of both your depth and speed. You can also launch torpedoes using both control methods, but I preferred the traditional method.
Unlike the first game, Sub Wars offers both single player and multiplayer modes. In single player, you’re tasked with seven different missions (or 2 if you’re playing the free version), each with three difficulty levels to complete. These missions range from navigating your sub through rings to underwater warfare. Finishing them under a certain time limit earn you a star medal. Star medals are needed to unlock sub patterns and one of the subs. While the single player missions act as a nice diversion, they’re little more than tutorials to prepare you for the multiplayer mode.
Multiplayer in Sub Wars is a rather simple, eight-player, team Deathmatch that can be played both locally and online. There are no other objectives than to just sink the enemy subs. While this may sound boring, it’s anything but. Searching for enemy subs with your periscope and radar, dodging incoming torpedoes, masking your sub's presence to avoid detection and homing torpedoes, and using each stage’s terrain to your advantage are all aspects of Sub Wars that make it surprisingly enjoyable. You can even communicate with your teammates by using Morse code to type out letters during the game.
Of course, multiplayer could still get a bit boring because of the lack of mission goals. However, you also unlock new subs, patterns, and crew as you play, which keeps things interesting. The different subs, while aesthetically distinct, also handle differently. Some subs are small, fast, and carry weaker torpedoes, while others are larger and can take and serve much more damage. All are viable online; just pick the one that best suits your playing style. To further customize your subs, you can apply patterns, give them their own color theme, and chose the crew members who will be stationed on them. Crew members give the sub different bonuses, affecting its overall stats. Again, the crew you choose is entirely up to your play style, and bigger ships can carry more crew.
Unfortunately, I have found the online multiplayer to be unstable. I often get error messages before I even enter a game, and nearly half of my games end in disconnects. It’s frustrating, as I’d love nothing more than to play the game. However, I haven’t seen that many complaints from others online, so this may be an isolated incident. Though I’m not sure why I can play Mario Kart 7, browse the eShop, and download games without any issues, while I’m lucky to finish a game in Sub Wars. If you’re on campus Wi-Fi like me, you may want to see how the free version of the game responds before you purchase it. Many of the complaints I’ve read online seem to come from people living in college dorms.
Steel Diver: Sub Wars is a great follow-up to game that had potential, but just wasn’t meaty enough to meet expectations. Sub Wars’ addition of multiplayer more than makes up for the past game’s brevity. When it works, it’s a blast to play; however, you may see more error messages than subs.