On the surface Divekick is a supremely simple fighting game. This level of simplicity is mostly due to the controls (all two of them) which let you ‘dive’ and ‘kick’. That really is all, it’s a 2D fighting game with no buttons for directional movement, and no punches to be seen. This sounds pretty stupid, and it is, but it also makes for an excellent fighting game with a surprising amount of depth.
Despite the game telling you your two commands are ‘dive’ and ‘kick’ (which you can map to any two buttons), in reality the buttons are ‘jump’ and ‘dive kick’. The dive button makes your character jump up, and the kick button sends them forwards and down in a kicking motion. Though there are no specific movement buttons you can use dive kicking to move forwards, and you can press kick while on the ground to hop backwards. This limited movement forces the player to really think about how they are moving, because one slight miscalculation can easily end up in you being dive kicked yourself.
The beauty of this system is that a kick is a one shot kill; there may be life bars on screen, but they are really superfluous. Your aim is to dive kick the other player, and if you succeed at this you win the round. This may sound all rather stupid, but in reality what they have done is captured the tensest and most exciting bit of any fighting game. That moment when the next hit is going to win, and the game could go to either player. The moment when any slight slip up could cost you everything. It means the stakes are always high, and it makes for a wonderful experience.
The restricted movement combined with the all-powerful dive kicks gives the game a very deliberate pace. There is only limited room to play defensively, as blocking isn’t an option and moving backwards can easily trap you in a corner. It’s a constant battle to put yourself in the position where you can dive kick your opponent, while making sure you are in a position where they cannot do the same to you. It makes for quick matches, and close matches, and though it seems overtly simple there is a lot of room for skilful play here.
One of the biggest strengths of Divekick is its accessibility. Though there are a number of complexities layered upon the dive and kick system, it is a game that instantly makes sense. You have two buttons, you can see what they do and when you play the game movement and attacking just makes sense. The speed of the matches always means there is a closeness to them, and that there isn’t much room for frustration. You know instantly when you make a mistake, but there’s not enough time to feel bad about it. And though it is very possible to play Divekick well, there is more of a chance of losing a round against a beginner purely due to the limited control. This makes it more fun for all involved, and really the ludicrousness of the game itself just makes it fun no matter if you win or lose.
That is the brilliance of Divekick, it’s just fun to play and it is easy to get your head around. Simply put, it is the perfect game to play with a group of friends. No matter who wins and who loses, all with have a lot of fun. Victory always seems possible, and what you are doing is so fundamentally silly that it’s hard not to get carried away in the lunacy of it all. One could easily point out how some of the more crazy additions to the roster – the ones who veer away from a normal dive kick (but still are only controlled by two buttons) – create a certain unbalance. One character for example (based on fighting game developer Seth Killian) teleports instead of jumping, but kicks like everyone else. This makes him really confusing to play against the first time, and does result in what feels like a few cheap deaths. But to get annoyed by this would be to take the game too seriously. The game is just a lot of fun, and these crazy characters may seem unbalanced, but they add the craziness of it all and end up only making it more enjoyable.
The best way to play Divekick is local multiplayer (the option the game menu actually defaults to) and this means you can balance the fights yourself. If you get really into Divekick then you will start to learn how all the characters work and things will stop seeming cheap to you, then the character variety (combined with some secondary systems like special moves) just creates a deeper experience. However if you are just playing with friends then they can marvel at the weirdness of some of the roster, but still get a lot of fun out of sticking to the more simple characters.
There is a single player component to Divekick, and it is entirely what is expected from the genre and nothing more. You get an arcade mode for all characters, which comprises of an opening cutscene, a few fights and then an ending cutscene after defeating the boss. The cutscenes are very rudimentary, merely still comic book style frames with a bit of text; but what is in them is usually quite entertaining. Divekick can be a very funny game, and though the story offering is incredibly light, it is fun. It’s a shame that in a world after the most recent Mortal Kombat (which upped the game for fighting game single players with its excellent, and lengthy, campaign) things haven’t changed, but Divekick is a small game. It has visuals reminiscent of a flash game, and the production values are extremely low. In the end what single player content is there is serviceable, and the different characters are all interesting enough to incentivise playing through it multiple times. Also it’s a great way to learn what the fighters on the roster can do.
Online play is also included, and it is very solid. There are ranked matches, private matches, and you can create and search for lobbies. It’s what you expect and nothing more, but it is all that is really needed. There’s stat tracking and persistence, and the online play is incredibly smooth. Playing online isn’t as fun as messing around on Divekick with a few friends in local multiplayer, but it is still a great way to play the game. Online is also where the games depth shines. Though your average player will win more than in a normal fighting game, there are still a lot of skilful players out there. Divekick is a game you can master, but the high stakes and simplicity do leave a room for error and make error very punishable. This evens the playing field somewhat, and the short matches are enough to quash frustration. The end result is a game with enough depth to keep you coming back and make online play viable, but also a game that is fundamentally simple enough to be enjoyed by all players.
Though there are some weird complications, the simplicity in the end is the brilliance of Divekick. It’s certainly not the best looking game or the most fully featured, but it can be one of the most fun. It’s a fighting game for fighting game fans, due to some hilarious parodies and a huge number of inside jokes. But, very importantly, it’s also one that newcomers will understand and enjoy. By going back to basics, but allowing certain complexities, Divekick has captured what is so great about fighting games. It’s a game you will want to show to your friends even if they rarely play game, and that’s something really special. Put simply, it’s knowingly stupid but stupidly brilliant