The unexpected arcade strategy title published by Arc System Works, Ground Divers, has probably gone under the radar in the midst of this overwhelming month of game releases, updates, and announcements. However, its intriguing premise and endearing character designs caught my interest, and after playing, it’s highly evident that this is the perfect handheld Nintendo Switch experience.
The world of Ground Divers is one yearning for renewable energy. After war was initiated following the loss of resources, an unknown savior descended on the Earth with a tool called the Tsuruhashi. Utilizing this device, the savior brought a fascinating new material humanity dubbed “Rare Matter” before he vanished entirely.
With these startling new developments in mind, society focused its efforts on the underground, creating “mining frames,” tools used to dig and find more Rare Matter. Eventually, these creations led to a newfound profession, Ground Divers, miners who worked together to delve deeper within the planet.
The game has players control a nameless and voiceless protagonist, a Ground Diver, who is part of a new team. The team’s leader, Anne, and designer Kadel provide mining frame Tsuruhashi for expected purposes. Interestingly, Tsuruhashi differs from other mining frames thanks to a unique substance it houses, called the CHEER Crystal, which strengthens its structure depending on the player’s encouragement and bonding with the device.
The narrative of this title definitely comes off as more intricate and dialogue-heavy than expected. Still, the cast is quite charming, and the premise is compelling enough for it all to hit. It’s certainly not the collective selling point, but it can be seen as an appreciative supplement to build attachment.
The core of the experience lies in the actual earth excursions, though, where players remotely operate Tsuruhashi. Put simply, the gameplay is arcade-like with lite strategy components, as players place pins around a map to guide the robot in performing various actions. Of course, the primary one is digging, with the overall goal being either reaching the bottom of a level or reaching a designated spot containing the necessary material.
Nonetheless, several systems are at play here, such as blocks acting as unique obstacles with differing amounts of durability. Additionally, enemies can be found scouring the premises, attacking Tsuruhashi on sight. And while Tsuruhashi can attack, combative encounters are not exactly the desired outcome, especially against particularly mighty foes.
Further, Action Points are another factor to keep in mind since they determine the level of available actions one can perform with Tsuruhashi. Defeating opponents does grant AP, but the safer and more potent way to gain it is usually by destroying special star blocks. Essentially, it’s best to know when to pick your battles.
If left undirected, Tsuruhashi performs actions on its own, and as you can imagine, this can quickly lead it into danger, especially in later stages. Therefore, consistent vigilance is required to maintain Tsuruhashi’s well-being, which can thankfully be enhanced at Pits, custom-built bases. Alongside upgrading Tsuruhashi’s general parameters, health restoration can occur here.
There are other facets to keep in mind, such as useable items, but the general gameplay loop is straightforward, even if the initial elements seem overwhelming. Unfortunately, the tutorial doesn’t favor this trait, as it tends to over-explain the more basic mechanics, resulting in an overwhelming initiation that can catch players off-guard. My advice is to just learn by playing, and you’ll most likely understand the ins and outs of progression naturally, with more granular aspects making themselves known to you throughout the game.
Getting into the swing of digging, discovering, and occasional battling is a fulfilling gameplay loop, though it can grow dull after repeated sessions. I found this title best played in short bursts rather than lengthy dedicated sessions, making handheld mode an ideal avenue.
The systems’ simplicity and the brevity of stages are indeed a match made in heaven for that brand of appeal. Other elements like purchasing cosmetics and upgrades or learning more about the cast via intel are entertaining asides that help grant this game even more of a distinct identity.
There’s not much to say about Ground Divers since what you see here is what you get. The main draw, the strategical and varied arcade levels, are enjoyable mini-adventures fraught with an appropriate degree of decision-making and danger, ultimately coalescing into satisfying victories.
Moreover, the stellar character designs, wholesome cast, and home base divergences add some well-appreciated flavor. Admittedly, I did find myself growing somewhat bored at points because of the short and repetitious gameplay loop. Still, it gets the job done, managing to be an ideal game for those yearning for a not overly committal experience.
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