Part parody, part love-letter; Divekick is a passion the passion project of Iron Galaxy Studios. The game takes numerous not so subtle jabs at the fighting genre of games of which it is based, boiling down the genre’s notorious complexities and steep learning curves into a simple two button game. The question is, is a fighting game with only two buttons worth playing?
It is impossible to appreciate a game like Divekick without investigating its origins. Beginning initially as a Kickstarter campaign, Divekick aimed to reach its goal of raising $30,000 in only 30 days. The project was cancelled during its campaign when Divekick’s creator, Adam Heart reached an agreement with his former employer, Iron Galaxy’s David Lang. The former Editor-in-chief of Shoryuken.com would finally have his baby released to the world.
Divekick is a very unique game in that it plays, for better or worse, like nothing you have played before. The moment that I booted up DiveKick I was immediately disoriented. In order to advance past the traditional “press start” screen I was prompted to choose two inputs; one button for diving, the other for kicking. These two choices may seem initially trivial, but these will largely be the only controls you ever use during your time with DiveKick. Everything from selecting game modes, characters, and actual gameplay are designed around a combination of two buttons.
Doing away with mainstays such as the directional-pad, as well as the analog stick is a bold move. DiveKick’s control scheme challenged everything I was accustomed to as a game. At first the unorthodox controls were disorienting, merely navigating the menu of DiveKick can be a chore for those uninitiated.
Once you manage to select a character you are told to choose a power gem. There are three choices, each with different effects. One increases you “dive” by 10%, another would increase my “meter” by 10%, and YOLO (you only live once) would limit my character a 30% increase in all fields while limiting my character to 1/5 lives. Divekick doesn’t operate similar to classic fighting games. Due to the brief nature of each round, matches are won using a “first-to-five” win system rather than the prototypical 2 round structure.
After jumping into a match it is clear that the game is unlike any you have played before. The jump button is generally straight-forward, pushing it causes your character to jump. There exceptions such as some characters being able to double-jump, however this is the concept of the controls that is easiest to grasp. Using the kick button however takes a bit of adjustment. Using it while grounded causes your character to jump backwards, alternatively using it in the air causes your momentum to shift forward while you kick down. If it sounds like I am speaking another language, great, I have properly conveyed the feeling of what it feels like to start playing Divekick.
To speak bluntly, at the start of this game I thought it was a joke that had gone too far. Even as someone who has never been a “hard-core” fighting game enthusiast the in-jokes and references were not lost on me, but what is all this without gameplay? It wasn’t until I landed my first, (albeit accidental) “headshot” that I began to truly appreciate the combat.
When you are able to score a headshot your opponent is “dizzied” for the following round. What this means is that for a short period of time your opponent (or if reversed, you) restricted in your range of movement. You jump shorter, kick slower and become an overall easy target.
After I stopped battling the controls, a wave of joy began to wash over me. No longer diving and kicking with reckless abandon, I was now using them in harmony to unleash strategic attacks. Buried under the simple nature of the controls is that the game is designed around parry’s. Each character “dives” and “kicks” much differently, and the way you approach each one varies match-to-match.
Adding even more depth to the combat is the inclusion of special moves. Staples of the fighting-game genre, I was sceptical however about how a game utilizing two buttons would make use of them. Each of Divekick’s characters has not one, but two special moves, each of which is ingeniously context sensitive. Using both “dive” and “kick” together while on the ground or in the air results in different outcomes. All special moves must be used after building up enough of your meter, with air and ground special-attacks having independent thresholds. Furthermore filling your meter entirely causes your “Kick Factor” to initiate. Once executed characters benefit from unique and varied increases to attributes such as diving angle, speed, or even invulnerability. For a game that I initially wrote off as being a “one note” joke, Divekick kept me coming back for more.
After grasping the intricacies that the game had to offer, I began to fall in love with its humour. Whether it is hilarious quotes from “Uncle Sensei” during loading screens, or bits of dialogue spouted during wins or losses in matches, Divekick kept me chuckling for hours. Some jokes may have gone over my head being that I am not an “insider” but there are more than enough that stuck. A lot of what makes the game funny is its devotion to being absolutely ridiculous. Dr.Shoals (parody of Dr.Scholls) is just one of many overt jokes that will have you grinning ear to ear.
Unfortunately I do have to point out a few of the games major flaws. I mentioned how short matches tended to be. This in and of itself is fantastic, the fact that the story mode matches its brevity is not. Each characters story mode can be completed in around fifteen minutes, culminating in a boss battle with a figure that fans of the genre are sure to know. Due to how much I grew to love the gameplay, I often began another characters story immediately following completion. With just thirteen characters that leaves you with around three hours of gameplay in the story mode alone.
Here is where another major issue of mine sat. Divekick has been promoted as a game that utilizes GGPO software for multiplayer. GGPO (Good Game Peace Out) is software that is designed to offer a seamless, arcade-like multiplayer experience with little to no lag. I wish I could verify the implementation of GGPO in Divekick, but despite my best attempts I was never able to find a game. I created lobbies; I searched both Ranked and Unranked matches for lengthy periods of time, nothing. It is disappointing because Divekick’s parry based gameplay seems like a perfect fit for multiplayer.
Multiplayer obstacles aside, Divekick is a truly one of a kind experience. If you are a fan of fighting games or perhaps a lapsed one such as I am, you will find sheer joy in the games complex-simplicity.