In development since 2004, this game is finally ready to surface.
When we last saw Steel Diver, it was a dark, confusing submarine simulator that seemed like a poor choice to show off the brand new Nintendo DS system. That's right, the game debuted at E3 2004, then disappeared completely for years. The new version, being shown at E3 2010 for Nintendo 3DS, is much brighter and easier to understand.
For starters, the gameplay is now shown from a 2D side-scrolling perspective. This design limits the added effect of a 3D display, but it does make the game much easier to follow. It seems that Steel Diver has morphed into a sort of underwater platformer. The goal, at least in this demo, is simply to avoid the walls and get your submarine to the level's end without a catastrophic hull rupture.
Navigating the undersea canyons is easier said than done, since you don't have direct control over the sub. Instead, the touch screen is arrayed with virtual controls that you manipulate and manage in real time to "drive" the submarine. There's a horizontal lever for speed, a vertical lever for depth, and a rotating lever for pitch. Each tool is easy to use and understand, but the trick is managing the three of them as the sub moves through water. You obviously can't adjust every control at the same time, so it's important to pay attention and make small but frequent adjustments. The result feels more like a simulation than you'd expect from Nintendo, but the quasi-platforming gameplay is deceptively simple.
There are also torpedo controls on the touch screen, so maybe Steel Diver is hiding combat and other gameplay elements for the final version. Nintendo says the game is almost complete (as you'd expect, after six years in development) and should be available at or near the 3DS launch, whenever that time comes.