August 25, 2013

If you’ve ever paid attention to the brief bio at the bottom of my articles, you’ll probably have noticed that it says I was raised in the arcades of the 1990s. This is quite true. Growing up, I actually didn’t haver a huge amount of access to games. Sure, I had a NES and a few games, but I completely skipped the Super Nintendo/Megadrive generation, and my next console was a Nintendo 64, which wasn’t exactly the go-to console for cutting edge arcade conversions.

So, for most of the mid-to-late 1990s, my gaming happened in the arcades. and in those days, that meant I played a lot of fighting games (and also a lot of Daytona, but that’s not important right now). It started out with a bootleg version of Streetfighter II at a local video shop that gave every character fireballs. When Mortal Kombat came out, my friends and I devoured it, learning how to do all the fatalities and even some of the secrets. I spent a lot of time with the early King of Fighters games, and could do okay in Samurai Shodown.

When the 3D fighters emerged, I found myself drawn to them. The slow, technical style of Virtua Fighter was too hard for me to get a handle on, and I found myself playing a lot of Tekken, and, later on, the first Dead or Alive. But the one that really captured my attention was Soul Edge, and then its sequel, Soul Calibur. I got to a point where I was undefeatable with some characters, and Soul Calibur remains, to this day, the only fighting game I’d ever consider myself tournament-quality material.


So the revival of fighting games heralded by Street Fighter IV a few years ago has been really satisfying to see. The success of fighting game-focused tournaments such as Evolution has also been amazing to watch for someone that used to have to line up coins along an arcade machine to reserve a turn against whoever was the local champion.

To the outsider, fighting games seem prohibitively arcane. The complex inputs required to pull off anything beyond basic punches and kicks, coupled with terms such as ‘cancelling’, ‘hit confirmation’, ‘countering’, ‘building meter’ and ‘zoning’ scare a lot of people off. While moving a joystick in a quarter circle (or the zig-zagging forward, down, down-forward motion) and then hitting a punch button is as natural to me as putting my hands over the WASD keys on a PC keyboard, they are difficult for newbies to grasp.

Enter Divekick. Divekick boils the entire fighting game genre down to its most fundamental elements. It’s not exactly a deconstruction, but it reveals the underlying framework that fighting games are built on. The controls are extremely simple: There are two buttons: Dive, which launches you into the air, and Kick, which causes you to flying kick. The two buttons can be pressed together to activate a special move, and the Kick button will cause you to jump backwards if you press it while on the ground.


And that’s the entire control scheme for all the characters in the game. You don’t even use a joystick. The result, however, is a deep and surprisingly satisfying fighting experience. Fights become battles of psychology, trying to feel out your opponent and their tactics, waiting for the right opportunity to land a hit. The simple toolbox exposes much more of the underlying psychology inherent in high-level fighting.

This is helped by the fact that, despite appearances at the top of the screen, characters don’t have health at all. A single successful hit is all it takes to knock out your opponent. Rounds last twenty seconds, and each match is a best of five series.

Divekick is not content to just break down fighting games into their underlying components, however. The game is laced (salted?) with references to the genre, and the overall feeling is more like a love letter than a parody. The plot, such as it is, mostly concerns two brothers, Dive and Kick, who are out to… well, show the world how to Divekick, really. They’re each as ridiculous as they sound, as are the other characters. Dr Shoals is a woman who treats the mysterious condition of “dive foot”, before contracting it herself. Some characters are based on real fighting game community celebrities. S-Kill is former Capcom employee and fighting game commentator Seth Killian (and yes, the real Seth Killian can teleport just like that, or so I’m told) and Jefailey is based on Evo organiser Alex Jebailey. Some characters are fairly clear parodies of fighting game character archetypes, such as the classic bearded “grand master” character or the “beast man” character.


In a way, it’s a bit of a shame that the game has rooted itself so deeply in fighting game lore. The simple design of the controls makes it very easy to pick up and play, and people who aren’t otherwise into the genre should be able to find themselves having fun with this. I worry that they’ll find the in-jokes and references a bit off-putting, however, and the game’s treatment of its female cast is more than a little troublesome.

Visually, Divekick is a little rough around the edges, looking like it could have been made a few years ago with Flash or something similar, and the current version has some annoying artefacts at high resolution on the PC. Don’t expect Street Fighter IV or Guilty Gear-level visuals here.

I think that, while Divekick has a few execution problems, the fundamental idea of the game more than makes up for this, and we’re looking here at a game that will, if nothing else, go on to be influential on future fighting game development. By taking apart what makes the genre so intimidating and examining it so cleverly, the developers of Divekick may have just saved the entire fighting game genre from itself.

Divekick is available now on Steam for PC, or Playstation Store for PS3 and PS Vita. PC version reviewed.


Unique control setup emphasises the psychological aspects of the genre
Surprisingly deep fighting mechanics
A love letter to fighting games


In-jokes are perhaps a little too insular and may put new players off
Borrows from some of the more unfortunate aspects of the fighting game community
Some issues with graphics on the PC

Overall Score: