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Steel Diver: Sub Wars (F2P) may have the makings of a Nintendo multiplayer classic

Neiteio

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Nov 10, 2007
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It came out the same day it was announced in a Nintendo Direct -- a mere blip on the radar, even for Nintendo diehards. The relative few who clicked on the OT discovered the appeal of this game, but I suspect many don't realize what we have here. This is good stuff -- really good stuff. A hidden gem that slowly sinks its hooks in you. I played this for 5.5 hours straight. I didn't even realize that much time had passed. This is a completely different experience from Nintendo's other multiplayer staples, Mario Kart and Smash Bros., but I feel people will come to appreciate it in a similar way, if only they try it.

Luckily, it's an easy game to try. Steel Diver: Sub Wars is free-to-play. Which merits some clarification.


Here's how Nintendo handles F2P:

1) In effect, the free version is an unlimited demo. It has two subs (one locked at the start), and two single-player missions. You can play local and online multiplayer, with random people or people of similar skill, in your region and around the world. You play with people from the free version AND the premium version. You can also access Morse code chat -- yes, you can communicate in Morse code, during gameplay, in the multiplayer lobby, and even in a dedicated chatroom accessed from the multiplayer menu. The alphabet of dots and dashes is spelled out on the touchscreen, so you can punch and hold inputs to spell out "P00P" and "THANKS OBAMA" and "SHIET" (that last one is three dots, four dots, two dots, one dot, and a long dash).

2) For $9.99 USD, you can upgrade to the premium version: 18 subs (all customizable with crew members, patterns, custom color schemes, etc), seven missions with three difficulties each (effectively 21 missions, since layouts/enemies/obstacles/time of day change with each difficulty), and access to the shop.

3) The shop, accessible from the premium version, currently has five real-life historical subs available for $1 USD each.

Every ship is well-balanced, so you're not "paying to win." Something is lost for everything gained. For example, the Type VII U-Boat (one of the $1 historical subs) turns a bit faster than the default sub in the free version -- but it also has much shorter torpedo range. You never feel cheap using one of the premium subs, and you never feel at a disadvantage facing them.


So why is it so fun? It plays like a team-based first-person shooter, red vs. blue, 4v4, with no respawn and a spectator camera when you sink. But since you're underwater, you can move in all directions in huge underwater environments, breaching the surface or navigating the trenches. And since your torpedoes are slow-moving, and your sub moves with the weight and inertia you'd expect, you have to guide your shots, and you have to manage your momentum to avoid incoming fire.

There is an element of suspense that almost makes me want to call this "submarine survival horror," since you're constantly scoping your surroundings and pinging your surroundings looking for the enemy, while trying not to expose yourself. You can also use your masker to turn invisible for periods of time, but you'll have to return to the surface to replenish your oxygen if you do so.

You push the Circle Pad up and down to rise and dive; you push X and B to move forward and backwards. You can turn left and right. You can activate a periscope, which can zoom in and out and turn 360 degrees with the D-Pad (or gyro, if you wish). What you'll often do is travel forwards or backwards while scoping your surroundings for enemies. You can tap Y to ping your radar and detect nearby enemies, but doing so can give away your own location. You can activate a map with L; you can fire homing torpedoes with R. Regular torpedoes are fired with A. Everything can also be done via the touchscreen.

The end result is something that starts out atmospheric and immersive as you sail the silent depths, searching for your teammates or the other team, bubbles rushing past you in 3D, the sound of water gurgling in your headphones. The sound is excellent, and the graphics, while simple, grow on you as you play. Then you finally come across a threat -- or the threat finds you -- and the methodical controls create something truly thrilling. You'll see a torpedo coming your way; you'll slam into reverse and turn to nose past it; you'll activate the masker and turn invisible, then thrust forward and rise to the surface for air. Your enemy will go invisible, and you'll look through the periscope to figure out where he is. Then you see the warning: "Torpedo approaching from the starboard side!" You thrust forward and dive, dive, dive, hugging the side of a rock and dipping into a trench so the missile hits the wall instead. You'll round the bend and see your enemy is looking for you -- and then several torpedoes fly out of nowhere and hit him. Not yours, but your teammate, which pinged your location and scoped out the exchange from a half-mile away. While your enemy is engaged, you lock on to his starboard side and sink him.

All of that... played out very, very slowly. But that means every single input counts. You have to think one, two, three steps ahead of your opponents. Going at it alone is risky -- there is some measure of safety if you can find your teammates and sail with them in a pack -- but there is also vulnerability in visibility, and some will prefer to crawl the ocean floor or lurk in the shadows activating their masker every time something moves. Both ways are fun.


I wonder where they'll go from here. This is an excellent F2P model since there's no downtime and you can fully enjoy the core mechanics, without any real disadvantage, just using what the game gives you for free. There are lots of people playing, the lobbies filling up quickly (many Japanese players), and the game notes that if ever there are not enough players, it will fill in the remaining spots with bots. Between that and the single-player, this game will get some mileage. I wonder if they will continue to add new ships and new features -- I'm not expecting TF2 levels of post-game support, but there is potential here for an incrementally enhanced experience.

Likewise, there is HUGE potential for future installments, including a console game. The WiiU might not currently have the userbase to justify a F2P title (although F2P might make the console more enticing)... But certainly, a "Sub Wars U" would make for amazing use of the GamePad, and the extra horsepower of the console would allow for some amazing scenarios.

Imagine a map in the pitch-black darkness of the abyss, forcing players to rely on floodlights in addition to sonar, strategically turning off their lights when they want to get the jump on the enemy. Or imagine a level set in a raging thunderstorm, where the surface is choppy and churned by rain. If Nintendo gave Sub Wars the budget of a Mario Kart or Smash Bros., it could look just as good as it plays -- which would be something amazing, indeed.


So here are my questions to you:

1) Do you think Sub Wars could be nursed into a strong multiplayer franchise for Nintendo, given the right support?

2) What do you think of this game's free-to-play model, with the free version, premium version, and ship shop?

3) What do you think of this game's style of multiplayer -- on its own terms, and in terms of how it complements Nintendo's other offerings?


 

Camjo-Z

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You can always tell a Neiteio thread just from the title, lol.

This really is one of the best MP games I've played in a long time. Everything is very skill based, and the concept is just so unique.

Thankfully the F2P aspect doesn't feel very F2P, or at least how most of us have become accustomed to the term. Seems more like an unlimited demo. It's pretty ingenious on Nintendo's part as well, they probably knew that nobody would go for an underwater FPS so by making it free it encourages more people to check it out while also ensuring a big player base for those who were interested from the start.

And I agree, there's definitely a lot of potential for sequels. I'm interested in seeing their DLC plans if there are any, I'd bet at the least they'll put out some Nintendo themed subs (Blue Marine from SF64, anyone?)
 

Broritos

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Sep 23, 2013
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1. Yes and they better.

2. Better than expected and works just as well as other successful F2P models.

3. Slow and tense. It's the opposite of most popular Nintendo multiplayer games. This could potentially bring a new audience but it will most likely won't translate well for those who mostly enjoy games like Mario Kart. Which is unfortunate as this game could end up being another F-Zero or Starfox. Hopefully the F2P model will grab many players and create a large enough audience to warrant more Steel Divers.
 

POWERSPHERE

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Nov 4, 2006
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I totally downloaded it because it was free, and saw GAF was loving it. And it's pretty fun. Glad they pursued the franchise after the horrid first outing.
 

Neiteio

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Nov 10, 2007
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I totally downloaded it because it was free, and saw GAF was loving it. And it's pretty fun. Glad they pursued the franchise after the horrid first outing.
It was very different, but I loved the first Steel Diver (although I will agree it was waaay overpriced). My ideal sequel would comprise two modes: One in the vein of the first game, with the 2D levels that are all about navigating perilous passageways and sinking enemy ships; and one in the vein of Sub Wars, where the game plays like a 3D first-person arena shooter.

I definitely think Sub Wars is more accessible, though. Mapping the levers for rising/diving and moving forward/backwards to the Circle Pad and X/B buttons makes it a lot more intuitive -- like a dual-analog shooter where the difference is the methodical pacing and the fact you "set" your speed (I.E. to stop moving forward or backwards, you need to dial down the thrust, manually setting it between "forward" and "reverse").

It's a great blend of simulation and twitch-action that comfortably accommodates both those who prefer sticks and buttons and those who prefer touch and gyro. The game also respects your time with fast matchmaking and loading.
 

KojiKnight

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May 24, 2012
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I totally downloaded it because it was free, and saw GAF was loving it. And it's pretty fun. Glad they pursued the franchise after the horrid first outing.
Someone at Nintendo has had a hard-on for the series since before the original DS was launched, glad to see that the majority of people are coming around to it with this iteration. We need more new IPs in genres we never knew we wanted like this.
 

Oregano

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Mar 13, 2013
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Neiteio thread?

Neiteio thread.

I haven't downloaded this yet. I'm really surprised (in a good way) that people are loving it after the poor response the first game got. The original SD should be made the same price as premium subwars on the eShop.
 

Kriken

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Dec 7, 2013
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I really need to try the MP for this game, downloaded it, tried one mission of the SP and just moved on. A real shame, seems like a fun F2P that could consume my time
 

zhorkat

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Are the historical subs just skins of the premium subs or do they have different attributes? Also, can a premium player obtain the historical subs without paying additional money for them?
 

Sendou

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Gotta download it. Maybe if the stream hadn't gone down during Direct over and over again I might have been convinced back then but this will do.
 

Neiteio

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Neiteio thread?

Neiteio thread.

I haven't downloaded this yet. I'm really surprised (in a good way) that people are loving it after the poor response the first game got. The original SD should be made the same price as premium subwars on the eShop.
I think they should have a $15 "super premium version" that combines Sub Wars with the first Steel Diver. Two games in one.
 

Xater

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Jul 28, 2007
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Are the historical subs just skins of the premium subs or do they have different attributes? Also, can a premium player obtain the historical subs without paying additional money for them?
They are entirely different subs and you have to buy them even if you have the Premium game. They are not better than anything else in the game and kinda just if you are into historical subs tbh.

I think this game is really good. Bought it after two matches online and playing it a bunch.
 
May 27, 2013
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1. Yes and they better.

2. Better than expected and works just as well as other successful F2P models.

3. Slow and tense. It's the opposite of most popular Nintendo multiplayer games. This could potentially bring a new audience but it will most likely won't translate well for those who mostly enjoy games like Mario Kart. Which is unfortunate as this game could end up being another F-Zero or Starfox. Hopefully the F2P model will grab many players and create a large enough audience to warrant more Steel Divers.
I agree with all these points and look forward to seeing what kind of post-release support the game will get.
 

mgcastro

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Jun 9, 2012
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The game is ridiculously fun. I wonder how it would fare if it would have released on iOS and Android platforms.
 

Neiteio

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Nov 10, 2007
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Are the historical subs just skins of the premium subs or do they have different attributes? Also, can a premium player obtain the historical subs without paying additional money for them?
The historical subs have their own unique models (based on, well, historical subs!) and their own unique attributes. Attributes include turning speed, surface speed, submerged speed, rising/diving speed, health, missile range, etc, as well as the number of crew you can carry (you rescue crew in the single-player, and they give you passive stat bonuses, like +1 Health).

Premium players have access to 18 subs (over the free version's two), although they still have to unlock them by fulfilling certain conditions in the game (I.E. reach Lv. 16 in multiplayer). Premium players still pay $1 per special sub; there are five such subs in the shop.

Again, none of them are overpowered. They're all well-balanced, suited to different play styles (I.E. one player might like quick, nimble subs that excel at close-range combat, while others might like slow subs that can tanks lots of hits and spam torpedoes from afar).

You can also customize them with tons of different patterns (also unlockable by playing), and you can customize the colors of each pattern. Right now I'm rocking a multi-striped pattern with Bowser-themed colors -- bright orange, dark green, and crimson red. :)
 

Neiteio

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It's great! My only gripe so far is not being able to team up with your friends online.
Yes, if Nintendo is reading this (lol) and wants to update the game in the future, the option to play on teams with friends would be great. I'd start up a GAF submarine league and we would take over the world!
 

zhorkat

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They are entirely different subs and you have to buy them even if you have the Premium game. They are not better than anything else in the game and kinda just if you are into historical subs tbh.

I think this game is really good. Bought it after two matches online and playing it a bunch.
The historical subs have their own unique models (based on, well, historical subs!) and their own unique attributes. Attributes include turning speed, surface speed, submerged speed, rising/diving speed, health, missile range, etc, as well as the number of crew you can carry (you rescue crew in the single-player, and they give you passive stat bonuses, like +1 Health).

Premium players have access to 18 subs (over the free version's two), although they still have to unlock them by fulfilling certain conditions in the game (I.E. reach Lv. 16 in multiplayer). Premium players still pay $1 per special sub; there are five such subs in the shop.

Again, none of them are overpowered. They're all well-balanced, suited to different play styles (I.E. one player might like quick, nimble subs that excel at close-range combat, while others might like slow subs that can tanks lots of hits and spam torpedoes from afar).

You can also customize them with tons of different patterns (also unlockable by playing), and you can customize the colors of each pattern. Right now I'm rocking a multi-striped pattern with Bowser-themed colors -- bright orange, dark green, and crimson red. :)
Thanks! I would have preferred that the historical subs didn't have unique gameplay attributes but at least they don't sound too bad.
 

chronosic

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Feb 22, 2013
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There's so much potential for having your own teams. You could share a clan pattern and colour scheme to really make it your own fleet of subs.
 

RMS Gigantic

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Are the historical subs just skins of the premium subs or do they have different attributes? Also, can a premium player obtain the historical subs without paying additional money for them?
The historical subs have their own attributes (though you can find premium subs that are relatively similar in playstyle or stats). If there is a way to unlock them without paying 99 cents, I don't know if it.

Edit: Beaten big time because I actually went into the game to compare my I-400 with the other premium vehicles!



There's so much potential for having your own teams. You could share a clan pattern and colour scheme to really make it your own fleet of subs.
All the more potential for starting a competitive circuit for this game! Also imagine the team compositions that people could go for! Having one beefy submarine absorb hits while a bunch of faster subs keep a ways away until the big one gets attacked, and then flank the enemy, etc.
 

Xater

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There's so much potential for having your own teams. You could share a clan pattern and colour scheme to really make it your own fleet of subs.
There is even potential for different game modes. Hell I could see a SP game with a campaign that mirrors more the classic space sims. You have a crew that you interact with on your sub in between missions. There is actually a lot of potential in this version of Steel Diver.
 

Neiteio

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Another idea for a future game mode might be a Sub Wars version of Capture the Flag -- the flag would be on the surface, in the harbor of an enemy base, so each team would have to infiltrate the other's base, surface, take the flag, and make it back to their own base. :-O
 

Xater

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Another idea for a future game mode might be a Sub Wars version of Capture the Flag -- the flag would be on the surface, in the harbor of an enemy base, so each team would have to infiltrate the other's base, surface, take the flag, and make it back to their own base. :-O
On the podcast I recorded today I proposed the idea of a skulls mode, but instead of skulls you collect crew members from other subs that you have to get into score zones.
 

Neiteio

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On the podcast I recorded today I proposed the idea of a skulls mode, but instead of skulls you collect crew members from other subs that you have to get into score zones.
This sounds neat, but I'm not sure I understand -- how would you "collect" the crew from enemy subs? Would you sink their sub and collect their crew that way? I'm guessing that sunken subs would respawn in this mode so they have a chance to intercept the subs that stole their crew before they reach the score zones, correct?
 

RMS Gigantic

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Like an AI ship that you have to protect? That could work.
More like a group of ships that four submarines need to defend, while four need to attack. If all ships are sunk, the attacking team wins. If the attacking team stalls for too long, the blue team wins. Otherwise, they try to destroy the enemy submarines as usual.
 

Sputtid

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Sep 18, 2013
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I absolutely would've skipped this one after Steel Diver. Didn't even bother with the OT. But now I'm diving in right away. Thanks, Neiteio!
 

Makai

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Sweet, I'll check it out! Operation Neptune was a favorite of mine growing up, so I was excited for the original Steel Diver, although I have yet to play that either.
 

Neiteio

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Sea monsters would make a cool stage hazard. The first Steel Diver had a huge nautilus in one mission. I'd love to fight that thing in first-person view!

I absolutely would've skipped this one after Steel Diver. Didn't even bother with the OT. But now I'm diving in right away. Thanks, Neiteio!
I have a feeling a lot of people are skipping Sub Wars sight unseen since they didn't care much for the first one. (I loved it, though.)

I'm glad this thread might help a few people give it a try. It is free, after all. :)
 

JacksUsername

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May 23, 2007
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I had some fun with it, but not being able to play with friends pretty much killed my interest in continuing with the game.
 

moolamb

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May 30, 2013
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These are all amazing ideas, I would play it in a heartbeat.

The team deathmatch we have now is already pretty exhilarating. So much emphasis on great manouevring.
 

Jintor

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I'll download it because you're so enthusiastic, Neitieo, but if it's not the sistine chapel of avatar i'm going to be disappointed
 

RMS Gigantic

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I had some fun with it, but not being able to play with friends pretty much killed my interest in continuing with the game.
In the game's defense, if you're playing in random battles with even one person who you know online and have, say, a Skype connection with, you've already stacked half of the team against four random strangers (with a probable language barrier in worldwide random matches)....

If you mean real life friends, the game supports local multiplayer.
 

Neiteio

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Nov 10, 2007
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These are all amazing ideas, I would play it in a heartbeat.

The team deathmatch we have now is already pretty exhilarating. So much emphasis on great manouevring.
Yeah, team deathmatch makes for great moments in this game. During my 5.5-hour play session, there were many memorable scenes. One map is literally set in a Japanese hot spring, outside a bathhouse on a snowy winter day. There are separate springs for men and women, and the red team is in one, and the blue team is in the other, with a fence full of holes dividing them. A single enemy wandered into our side of the springs, and we wolf-packed him before proceeding as a battalion to the enemy's spring. We all arrived at once, a fleet invading the enemy base. It was amazing. :)

On another map, the fish tank (literally a fish tank, with a log on the floor and an aerator that can replenish your oxygen and a treasure chest you can shoot for power-ups), both sides lined up across from each other and waited for someone to make the first move. I must've had seven subs onscreen all at once, torpedoes crisscrossing every which way. Usually you only see one or two subs at once, since most maps are so big, but the fish tank forces everyone to fight in close quarters. :)
 

SuperSah

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Feb 3, 2013
15,934
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It is brilliant fun.

The online is superb, the replays of deaths and spectators modes are welcome.

Morse code chat is educational and fun, and the general atmosphere is spot on.

It's a very, very good game that I hope Nintendo expands on.
 
Dec 15, 2008
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Pro tip: the game plays even better with Circle Pad Pro.

I played a ranked match last where it was 2 on 1, me being the sole person on my team. Took out both subs in under two minutes. Felt real good. Both of those players had a few matches under their belt and I had been playing the single players missions.
 

Neiteio

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I'll download it because you're so enthusiastic, Neitieo, but if it's not the sistine chapel of avatar i'm going to be disappointed
Glad to hear you'll give it a shot, lol.

I anticipate most people's impressions will progress as follows:

- These graphics seem kind of bland. I guess it is a F2P title. Oh, hey, I can move the camera during menus. Neat!

- What the hell is Peppy from Star Fox doing in this game?!

- OK, these controls are kind of neat. I can move forwards/backwards, rise/dive and continue to steer while independently scoping out my surroundings 360* with the periscope.

- Morse code is awesome! But it's a bitch having to go into Settings on the 3DS menu and enable Parental Control so I can use it online. (Simple enough to do, it turns out)

- What?! I can't say "tits" in Morse code! C'mon, Nintendo, everyone has nipples!

- This is suspenseful! Where the hell is the enemy?

- Oh shit, there he is... OH SHIT.

- Hey, I can shout "P00P" in Morse code while spectating my teammates after I've sunk.

- This music is kind of catchy. These sound effects are immersive.

- Hey, these graphics are actually kind of nice. Is that a reflective puddle on the floor of the ship hangar?

- I really want to unlock that lv. 16 ship. I'm currently lv. 10. Hmm... I suppose a few more matches wouldn't hurt...
 

InsaneElite

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May 25, 2013
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Coming from Mechwarrior, the controls were pretty easy to adjust though. Really surprisingly fun experience for something I downloaded on a whim, and a perfect title to pick up and play a match or two in short time intervals.
 

RMS Gigantic

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Sep 11, 2013
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Yeah, team deathmatch makes for great moments in this game. During my 5.5-hour play session, there were many memorable scenes. One map is literally set in a Japanese hot spring, outside a bathhouse on a snowy winter day. There are separate springs for men and women, and the red team is in one, and the blue team is in the other, with a fence full of holes dividing them. A single enemy wandered into our side of the springs, and we wolf-packed him before proceeding as a battalion to the enemy's spring. We all arrived at once, a fleet invading the enemy base. It was amazing. :)

On another map, the fish tank (literally a fish tank, with a log on the floor and an aerator that can replenish your oxygen and a treasure chest you can shoot for power-ups), both sides lined up across from each other and waited for someone to make the first move. I must've had seven subs onscreen all at once, torpedoes crisscrossing every which way. Usually you only see one or two subs at once, since most maps are so big, but the fish tank forces everyone to fight in close quarters. :)
Since we're regaling tails from the OT, let me share that in the fish tank map, I once followed an isolated enemy submarine into the log. Once this enemy sub was firmly inside and past the hole that's in the side near one end of the log, I opened fire from behind this guy. This poor fool was then forced to either try to turn around, exposing an entire broadside for me to fire upon, or keep going until he leaves the log, letting me fire on him unchecked the entire way through. If memory serves, he chose the option to turn and try to fight, but he was sunk before he could rotate half way around.

Pro tip: the game plays even better with Circle Pad Pro.

I played a ranked match last where it was 2 on 1, me being the sole person on my team. Took out both subs in under two minutes. Felt real good. Both of those players had a few matches under their belt and I had been playing the single players missions.
I personally prefer pure buttons. It serves as a mental reminder to me that the controls don't go to neutral simply because you released them.
 

Neiteio

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Since we're regaling tails from the OT, let me share that in the fish tank map, I once followed an isolated enemy submarine into the log. Once this enemy sub was firmly inside and past the hole that's in the side near one end of the log, I opened fire from behind this guy. This poor fool was then forced to either try to turn around, exposing an entire broadside for me to fire upon, or keep going until he leaves the log, letting me fire on him unchecked the entire way through. If memory serves, he chose the option to turn and try to fight, but he was sunk before he could rotate half way around.
I steer clear of the log corridor in the fish tank map for precisely that reason, unless I anticipate I can get through it with the masker on the whole time. :)
 

RMS Gigantic

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I steer clear of the log corridor in the fish tank map for precisely that reason, unless I anticipate I can get through it with the masker on the whole time. :)
Just remember that a masked player still shows up on sonar if they're moving!
 

Broken Joystick

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Apr 30, 2013
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I think if they listen to feedback and develop another F2P sequel and stick it on Wii U, it could be a massive system seller
/sarcasm

But really though, I've enjoyed the single player and have heard tons and tons of praise for multiplayer. Never played the first 3DS game but I'd gladly take on a 1080p HD one too ! GamePad could be used in tons of ways for a submarine.
 

Neiteio

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I'd imagine the Circle Pad Pro just affects the forward/reverse thrusters, correct? In which case, I don't see how it'd offer an advantage. Most of the time, I'm going full-speed ahead, so I simply slam on the X button. But if I need to make a sudden stop or go into reverse to back away from danger or pivot around, I actually reach for the slider on the touchscreen since I can drag it down quicker. :)

RMS Gigantic said:
Just remember that a masked player still shows up on sonar if they're moving!
Ah, that's right! I love the strategy involved in the sonar. If you stay still, no one can detect you when they ping, but by the same token, if they're staying still, they won't show up on your sonar, either!

One thing I don't understand, though -- the map you can toggle on with L. It displays a grid of the map, with certain squares highlighted. What's the difference between a highlighted square and a dark one?