The concept for Divekick started out as a joke among members of the fighting game community last year. It was mostly a satirical take at how fighting games could be distilled into a simple set of rounds with one-hit-kill duels, only make use of two buttons and still be pretty exciting. Fast forward a year or so, and we got an actual commercial release of Divekick, incredibly enough.
While the basic concept of one-hit fights is still the main draw for Divekick, the gameplay has grown into something a little more complex than what was once teased and shown at fighting game competitions and gaming events like Evolution, Final Round and PAX last year. The two main characters first shown in the demo then, Dive and Kick — Divekick‘s own Ryu and Ken duo — remain basically the same. They play in a manner that is as simple as Divekick‘s description: you jump and kick down at your opponent. Whoever lands a blow first, wins.
It’s in the rest of the cast that the inherent complexity of Divekick comes into play. Without taking into account the absurdity of most of these characters’ visual design, which include a female take of Mortal Kombat‘s Kung Lao, rejected Street Fighter II concept art and even a few caricatures of real life people, there’s a substantial amount of variety of takes within such a constrained formula. For instance, one of the fighters doesn’t directly damage his opponent with a kick; it’s the kickback lightning bolt that comes later that does the job, which demands a special degree of skill to avoid.
The two-button gameplay is a much welcomed twist for a fighting game and Divekick makes creative use of that limitation. There’s no horizontal movement unless you use the dive button before jumping, which propels your character backwards, or jump and then use kick, which can vary depending on your chosen fighter. Special moves charge up as you jump and kick and are used by pressing both buttons at once. These vary from fighter to fighter and can be decisive in a match.
Patience truly is a virtue, especially in this game’s case. Fights in Divekick last for five rounds and are usually decided in a matter of seconds. Most times, whoever jumps first and takes the initiative is the one losing the match, but that degree of patience can only take you so far with more experienced online opponents. Landing a hit over your foe’s head guarantees a concussion, which limits their movement and speed for a few seconds. Losing four rounds in a row brings about the “fraud detection warning,” which is nothing more than an in-joke itself and is tied to an achievement/trophy.
Replay wise, alongside a very time consuming list of achievements and trophies to earn (if you’re into that sort of thing), Divekick offers a story mode, a local two-player versus option and online player and ranked matches. At the time of this review, online matchmaking is still relatively problematic while playing the game on PSN, but the few fights played worked well and didn’t suffer from any noticeable lag. Divekick makes use of the GGPO online infrastructure much like other games like Street Fighter III: Third Strike and a handful of SNK fighters. With that in mind, once these matchmaking issues are fixed, Divekick‘s overall online experience should be very stable.
While varied, positively insanely designed and mostly fun to play around with, Divekick might turn off most players who aren’t really into following the professional fighting game circuit. The aforementioned real life characters are pokes and jabs at the community from which Divekick spawned from and well as some of the more fantastical of designs, which are in themselves a joke within that group. These jokes aren’t just limited to characters: they’re all over Divekick. Fighting game fans who follow professional gaming and online streams will find lots of hidden laughs that should best go unspoiled.
On the other hand, if you don’t mind not getting all (if any) of the in-jokes and a few cases of what might be considered casually offensive to some, Divekick is still entertaining and offers a surprising amount of strategy and depth on whatever system you decide to play it on. Currently, it is a cross buy title on PlayStation Network, meaning one purchase guarantees both the PlayStation 3 and Vita versions of Divekick; on PC, it’s available through Steam. Both versions of the game go for $9.99.