Sometimes, a game is great at hiding its true nature. Ground Divers is a fantastic example. It looks cheerful and bright. I mean, you’re outright using CHEER Crystals to power your mining frame robot. Said robot is adorable, as are many of the creatures lurking beneath the earth. It seems like this is a happy, friendly world! But it isn’t! None of those subterranean abominations are your friends! Everything is trying to kill you! Even trying to dig deeper means death! But I mean, at least it’s an entertaining way to go.
The world is in big trouble. People abused and used up natural resources. Which means folks are scrounging for power now. This has lead to to the titular Ground Divers. They’re groups of individuals that use mining frames, essentially mech suits, to dig below the ground for new energy sources. Players are the latest member of Studio Tsuruhashi, a group that uses a new mining frame called Tsuruhashi to take on assignments and search for precious commodities. (Tsuruhashi itself being named after a person who found revolutionary Rare Matter that helped solve an energy crisis before.) Your goal is to go through different missions to acquire materials, energy, and knowledge.
When I first started Ground Divers, I expected something lighthearted. Something that would offer some challenge, but be more of a puzzle. The initial round of tutorials almost annoyed me. Before you take Tsuruhashi on a first mission, Anne walks you through every action you can take. You don’t directly control the mining frame. Rather, you place pins. These dictate actions. Tsuruhashi can dig toward one pin, create a “Pit” camp with another, and perform a special move with the third, should you dictate it. All of these rely on AP earned from resting or digging through certain kinds of blocks. While you also can choose to use items and what to do when at a Pit, Tsuruhashi largely takes on most actions by itself. It even has an “autopilot” dig mode if you haven’t assigned any locations.
After exploring the Secret Bamboo Springs, I was glad the Land of Beginnings tutorials were as detailed as they were. There’s a lot of nuance to the game! Even on the normal difficulty! That early introduction reinforces how important energy and timing can be. Enemies get agitated the longer you hang around a layer. Which, in turn, makes them more aggressive. Cheering makes Tsuruhashi stronger, but too much makes the character overheat. In the first two parts of Secret Bamboo Springs, AP isn’t a problem! It’s easy to dig through to the next layer and find the certain “goals” along the way for more AP. Except once you dig deeper, you’ll find more environmental hazards and fewer high AP “scores.” Not to mention investing in Pit upgrades to strengthen Tsuruhashi and unlock support units, healing options, and other abilities ends up feeling necessary. Factor in the nuance that comes when setting pins, and it can get shockingly intimidating!
Which really brings up how much of a roguelike Ground Divers is and how well it works. The resources you bring back with you on a successful run allow you to create equipment. These can be equipped to give players an edge on their next run. You also might accumulate items, which can let you assist Tsuruhashi with dealing damage or healing. (If you don’t have those, the mining frame will automatically attack and you have to hope you “cheered” enough to ensure survival.) The idea of crafting equipment, as well as getting new customization options for Tsuruhashi and the room, add a bit of replay value. So does the layout of each stage being different each time you return to it.
Though honestly, much of Ground DIvers’ ambiance also encourages replays. As I mentioned before, this is a bright and colorful game. It has personality! When you hop in, a Hironobu Kageyama theme song hits you. (You probably recognize him best as the person behind the Dragon Ball Z “Cha-La Head-Cha-La” theme song.) Shigeto Koyama, who created designs for Big Hero 6, Darling in the Franxx, Rebuild of Evangelion, and SSSS.Gridman, designed the game’s mecha. Zombie Land Saga Anthology’s Kakeru Kakemaru worked on the character designs. A lot of effort went into making sure the game looks and sounds good! Though, I do wish some of that also went into the characters’ personalities. Even a character like Anne, who gets tons of screen time, feels like a one-note character. Dorothy suffers the most from this, as her whole personality is lusting after Anne.
Generally, it is easy to dig into Ground Divers. Yes, it gets very difficult very quickly. Sweltering Sand Wasteland is a wake-up call after Secret Bamboo Springs. However, the game is manageable if you pay attention and wisely direct Tsuruhashi. There’s a charm to it. Not to mention the different difficulty levels and additional challenges for each region offer a reason to go back and get the three stars to fully “complete” them.
Ground Divers is available for the Nintendo Switch.