You’d be forgiven for thinking it’s just adding new systems with reckless abandon, but somehow Dave the Diver all comes together to be the best designed game of 2023. For more awards, head to our Game of the Year 2023 page.
Fraser Brown, Online Editor: There should be too much going on in Dave the Diver. You’ve got a restaurant to manage, fish to collect, mysteries to uncover, big ol’ sharks trying to eat you, and some roguelike elements that would normally stress me out—but this scuba adventure is, miraculously, never anything less than effortless and elegant. It has the chill vibes of a summer holiday spent on a boat, all sunny skies and Hawaiian shirts, and despite my long list of tasks, I never feel burdened or busy. Pure joy.
Robin Valentine, Senior Editor: Really there’s not much Dave the Diver does that hasn’t been done before. You’ve farmed and fished and waited tables in videogames before, and it doesn’t really iterate on any of those basic ideas to any wildly innovative degree. What makes it so special is the way it just keeps piling in all of those ideas, constantly expanding the experience so that any time you’re starting to feel like you’ve seen everything it’s got to offer, it reveals yet another layer.
It turns that moment of discovery—of realising a game is more than you thought it was—into the core joy of the game. And it manages it without getting bogged down in tutorialising or overwhelming you with tasks. It’s a very cosy game, but also a really elegantly designed one.
Chris Livingston, Senior Editor: That was one of my favorite things about it—on any given night I could sit down to do a quick bit of fishing and serving, and wind up doing something completely different that I wasn’t expecting. When I first started the game I thought it might be this pleasantly mindless sort of busywork that’s perfect after a long day, but at every turn Dave is throwing curveballs your way. You pop in to do a quick dive and wind up on a stealth mission through a factory filled with armed guards, or a rival chef shows up at the sushi bar and now you’re in a cook-off, or you’re swimming around and find an ancient temple that requires controlling two different characters at once to solve. Mindless little games that keep you busy can be great, but Dave the Diver is definitely not that.
I’ve also never played a game and thought “Gosh, I wish this had more cutscenes in it.” But the cutscenes in Dave the Diver are so darn good I’d actually plunk down cash to buy an Extra Cutscene DLC pack. They can be serene and enchanting, such as the first time Dave sees a whale the size of a submarine or meets a playful dolphin. They can be ominous as the massive eyeball of a giant squid rolls over and focuses on him, or exciting, like when a big boss like a shark or giant crab first menacingly appears and its name slams onto the screen like it’s being introduced in a Guy Ritchie movie.
(Image credit: MINTROCKET)
Mostly the cutscenes are simply hilarious and beautifully animated, like when Chef Bancho unlocks a new recipe and has an overdramatic, anime-inspired cooking session with his flashing blade, or a skeptical customer has an out-of-body experience when tasting a new dish and ascends into a cloud of hearts or has a vision of crashing waves and glowing jellyfish. Like the sushi itself, these moments are exquisite.
Ted Litchfield, Associate Editor: I love how Dave the Diver has almost the exact same weapon system as Metal Gear Solid 5: that slowly unfurling chart of sick new fish pacification devices, the way you can see a nonlethal version of your favorite gun hanging out some ways down the line, just begging you to unlock it.
Really, Bancho Sushi is kind of like Mother Base too, when you think about it. While I love all the charming wait staff you can hire in Dave the Diver, they still have nothing on my Diamond Dogs crew. Some former Spetsnaz guy named like “Calumnious Capybara” who speaks in a perfect neutral midwestern accent and always thanks me for doing CQC moves on him.