By Ben Barrett on August 21st, 2013 at 9:00 pm.
Divekick is the simplest game you’ll ever play.
Setting two opposing characters against one another with the same ability, there’s little to learn. There’s no direct control of left/right movement, one button jumps, the other performs the titular maneouvre (thus moving forward) or leaps you backwards if grounded. Each impact with an opposing player is an instant KO and the first to five wins the battle. Characters are different only in the angle and speed of their one attack and the size of their body. Five minutes in you’ll know everything.
Which is why Divekick is the most complex game you’ll ever play.
Those tiny differences in angle and speed are everything. Despite the obvious similarities, controlling one character is vastly different from another. The basic starter, Dive, can simply leap into the air and then come down at a similar rate. Others have slower jumps – making them more predictable – but faster dives, meaning if you haven’t reacted correctly you’re in deep trouble. Some get even more complicated: my favoured avatar, S-Kill (we’ll get back to this name in a moment), slow-teleports instead of jumping, totally invisible and intangible while on the move. His kicks are obnoxiously slow, however, so the game becomes a dance of picking the exact right time to strike.
I told a small fib: on top of different types of divekick, each character has two activated abilities, one in the air and one on the ground. Each uses some amount of a meter that builds with every attack. If allowed to fill it activates ‘kick-factor,’ vastly increasing a character’s speed and quickly draining. Otherwise, it is a resource to be used on these abilities. Each, again, contributes to totally different match-ups and must be considered when planning moves. If S-Kill’s air ability – a teleport that puts him just above and facing his target – is available to him, certain actions become suicide. But it uses up such a huge portion of his gauge that baiting one out is very profitable, especially when it then leaves him in a vulnerable state.
The genius of each character’s design betrays the immaculate fighting game pedigree of Divekick’s designers. Just playing with numbers wouldn’t be enough to make an enthralling experience, more asymmetrical differences are required. After an hour with the game, I no longer saw the similarities between two different opponents, only worried about their specific strengths. It’s a lecture on design, elegantly but obviously displaying how simple changes can add massive variance. This is a game that no-one but fighting game community veterens could create. Not just because the idea would be ridiculous to others, but also ten seconds can’t go by without a reference to some FGC in-joke or event.
Remember my character, S-Kill? Not only is it a play on the word ‘skill’ but a more direct reference to former Capcom community manager and balance guru Seth Killian. His clothes and physical structure are based on the man and his dialogue is a wisely chosen mixtures of caricature and actual quotes; not least of which are from the greatest e-sports moment of all time. Others are former players and tournament organisers, or amiable parodies of Marvel Vs. Capcom’s Dr. Doom and other famously high-tier characters. The humour is everywhere: I was in stitches every time I won a match with S-Kill and he pulled out a randomly generated five word sequence, imitating Capcom’s habit of adding more words to “Street Fighter” per sequel.
Will you enjoy it? If you’ve followed fighting games, yes, but that probably means you’ve already bought it. How about you, shooter man? Or you, guy who just finished a thirteen hour stretch of Crusader Kings 2? While some (but not all) of the jokes may not be understood by less than ardent fans, I think this could be the thing to get someone into fighting games. Much like how DOTA and its various ‘spiritual successors’ were developed on the idea of RTSs, Divekick is a game developed on the idea of fighting games. It’s removed the execution requirements, the long combo strings to learn, and left the pure heart. Mind games, out-thinking an opponent, ensuring you have the right spacing to maximise your characters strengths and minimise weaknesses. At the very least, after playing you’ll look at the genre differently, seeing the deeper strategy behind the flashy, microsecond-perfect plays.
Divekick’s just £7, over on Steam.