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Ground Divers! Review

Ground Divers!

Ground Divers! is when a very simple premise is needlessly expanded upon and bloated to a point where its appeal dwindles. The concept of quick paced, rogue-like gameplay with arcadey sensibilities should make for addicting gameplay and it does in Ground Divers! when its hands-off. Sadly the experience gets bogged down with extraneous and long-winded elements. There is potential with Ground Divers! and most of what it aspires for is enjoyable. Just where does it go wrong and what did it get right? Find out in our Ground Divers! review!

Ground Divers!
Developer: Studio Tsuruhashi
Publisher: Arc System Works
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: June 30, 2022
Players: 1
Price: $14.99 USD

The world is on the brink of exhausting all resources and people are pushed to excavate anything that can be used as an energy source. Minerals, crude or anything that can generate energy is buried deep within the Earth’s crust and its up to Ground Divers to acquire it and convert it.

This is not as easy as it seems. There are untold horrors burrowing under the surface and tunneling is a matter of balancing resources to go as deep as possible. This also means being brave enough to stick around hostile layers to excavate before getting crushed.

Every stage has several layers and each layer is made of tiles with varying density. Players will also weigh the spaces which have treasures and threats since actions cost AP and that is the main resource to move along at a brisk pace if players don’t wish to get annihilated when the timer runs out.

The thing is with Ground Divers!, players do not actually control the main character Tsuruhashi. This digging droid has a mind of his own and will require constant guidance and direction from the player. The object is a matter of directing Tsuruhashi where to go and to lay down cable.

Once in a while, Tsuruhashi can become absent minded and will start to wander while the player does a survey of the area or while planning a route. Sometimes he falls asleep and to wake him up, players have to “cheer” for him. This is probably the weakest design choice in the game and creates too much of a barrier from what should be a casual pick-up-and-play game.

Cheering is necessary to keep Tsuruhashi on task. Overdoing it will make the little guy overheat, but it’s important to keep him motivated. This creates a situation where the player will be rhythmically tapping the shoulder button to cheer Tsuruhashi.

At times, it feels like tapping your head while rubbing your stomach. Ground Divers! already is challenging enough when it comes to the fast paced digging and battles. Having to remember to cheer is needlessly excessive in a game where several layers deep can be undone quickly by a surprise subterranean demon.

Compounded with the optional but ultimately necessary objectives; later stages in Ground Divers! become intense and chaotic. For a game with such intense difficulty, it is surprising by how it looks like a phone game.

Ground Divers! is not much to look at. The game graphics just barely have personality. It is mostly the character sprites, portraits and the enemies that have any appeal. Everything else is mostly tiles of dirt or some other elemental variant.

The scant pieces of background art used during the story is sterile and flatly drawn. Thankfully, character art fares much better and are designed by manga artist Kakeru Kakemaru. His appealing designs are clean and have defined line work, with pleasant roundness to make them easy on the eyes.

The portraits are expressive and have very basic animation implemented. It is too bad they are wasted in such a dull story that interrupts frequently. Surprisingly, the story of Ground Divers! is unusually verbose, with visual novel-like cutscenes that drag on for far too long.

Before players can jump in and start drilling, the tutorial is excruciatingly lengthy for gameplay that is very simple. Several stages are dedicated to explain the mechanics and various operations and players can’t just skip through the text because they also have to do what the screen prompts them to do, very slowly.

As if the tedious and extraneous story wasn’t a hassle; the real issue with Ground Divers! is that it is only enjoyable in small doses. The core game is very thin and is held together by a fleeting burst of adrenaline that fades after every completed stage.

There is not much substance to Ground Divers! and its premise overstays its welcome quickly. Even when the challenge ramps up significantly, instead of feeling excitement- the feeling is mostly boredom. The gameplay might have been more compelling if it was leaner and didn’t have some of the fluff like the cheering or if gamers could actually control Tsuruhashi.

Ground Divers! is stuck in a limbo where it it has the foundation of an addictive rogue-action arcade game, but is held back by unnecessary features. This needed a separate mode where its minimalized or if the options allowed for some tweaking. It has cute anime girls in it and a cool tiger-man, but it isn’t enough to endure the slew of annoyances that get in the way of trying to dig a hole.

Ground Divers! was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a copy provided by Arc System Works. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Ground Divers! is now available for Nintendo Switch.

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The Verdict: 6

The Good

  • Appealing 2D graphics and character design
  • Core gameplay is stimulating and replayable
  • Panic-inducing spikes of difficulty
  • Resource management module is deep
  • A unique mish-mash of arcade style gameplay and rogue-like elements

The Bad

  • Tsuruhashi wanting to take a nap or getting distracted
  • Messy interface layout that obstructs view
  • Bland characters and pointless story that overstays its welcome
  • Highly repetitive music with very short loops
  • The overall experience becomes boring

About

A youth destined for damnation.