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Sometimes the simplest things in life can be the best. And while sometimes you need fifteen buttons to play a game, sometimes you only need two. Today we'll be reviewing the two-button fighting game, Divekick. Originally envisioned and created by a tiny team of gamers in the fighting game community, Divekick seeks to break down the complex fighting game into a single move, a jumping downwards kick (or divekick). First conceived very late at night after a tournament ("hey, wouldn't it be hilarious to make a game where you can only divekick?"), it ran through a successful kickstarter campaign, cancelled that campaign since they found a publisher, successfully got greenlit on Steam, and now released on Steam/PSN/Vita. Not bad at all for its origins.
So why a divekick, what's so special or fun about that? Well, in fighting games, divekicks are notorious for being quick, unpredictable moves that are difficult to react to. After a jump, characters with divekicks can generally go into the kick at any time. This makes it hard to know how exactly they'll be attacking since their trajectory instantly changes once they press the button. These are great moves to apply pressure on an opponent as well as control spacing, which is essentially the basic goal of any fighting game. Throwing a fireball is a method of controlling space and making your opponent react to it. Using an uppercut controls space and lets them know they can't just jump at you. It's essentially a game of making your opponent do what you want.
"But still, a game with just one move? Isn't that boring?" Well, no. Here matches are first to five wins, and one successful kick wins a round. With complex button commands and combos and supers removed, the only things left are basic spacing and mindgames. It turns out that this is still extremely fun, yet has depth. As a side effect, absolutely anyone can play this game and have a blast. In this sense, a simple two-button one-versus-one game is a great introduction to fighters in general. You can still have the thrill of beating people up without having to learn details about the game before you get to truly enjoy it. But Divekick does introduce a few more things to spice the game up.
Since the Divekick team was able to find a publisher, characters have been expanded far beyond the original Dive and Kick, and everyone has far more than three total frames of animation. The cast now includes 13 characters, with variations in their jump and kick characteristics. Additionally, each character now has two moves, performed by pressing jump+kick either on the ground or air. These can only be used after obtaining enough meter (which you gain by kicking). With these move, we do have some more variety and there's a little more you can adapt while playing against people aside from pure spacing and mindgames. Although, it does then fall away somewhat from the original concept of being a completely pure game with a single move.
Divekick has standard story/versus/online play modes, and is clearly geared towards local or online play to keep people playing, as there are no unlocks or other carrots to keep playing single player. The story mode for each character has a decent expository opening. Then you fight several cpu characters (increasing in difficulty) before fighting the final boss, S-Kill, who stands in the way of the end videos and credits. Like much of the game, S-Kill is a spot-on parody of other fighters and the fighting game community in general. S-Kill is the username of Seth Killian, who was the former community manager of Capcom, and he even managed to get himself into Street Fighter IV as a playable boss character. Now he's back as the boss of another game, with his signature "backwards" joystick hand placement and permanently full meter to serve as an antagonizing last boss. In fact, really all of the characters have inside references. It's a bit of a gift to the people it's made for. Then online play is bolstered by GGPO, the golden child of online fighter technologies. Online matches do seem to work well, although some connections will always be laggy enough that no intelligent netcode could make it fully fluid.
While the presention is leagues better than the prototype, and more than enough for a simple kind of game, it still does leave a bit to be desired. The characters, backgrounds, and videos are actually pretty good (although please stop using Bink!), but the menus and voice acting bring the overall feel down a notch. Like everything, the menus are controlled with only two buttons. The team did a good job creatively working with/around this. However, some menus such as character select are inescapable, and you need to press escape to leave an actual match (so why can't I just use escape in menus?). The fullscreen mechanic also seems very odd, and I am personally unable to alt-tab properly from the game. No matter what, it runs at an internal 1280x720, which then expands and takes over your entire foreground if you play in fullscreen. Want to get back to Windows? I was forced to exit the game. The voice acting, especially when listened to by itself in the raw files, simply sounds less professional than you'd expect from an actual studio/publisher like Iron Galaxy. The voice mix should also be louder during gameplay itself.
Although I recognize that this isn't going to be a major competitive game, and that it may have sacrificed a bit in order to make it more appealing to the public, Divekick is still a great time. Best of all, it's still very useful and entertaining to both fighting game vets and casual gamers. Hopefully it finds enough success to make the effort worthwhile. $10 puts it at a middle-tier budget pricepoint, where it's something you may think about yet still cheap enough for knowledgable impulse buys. Being fun, fast, and hilarious is a great combination, and it should pull interest once people see it in action. A solid, accessible fighting game always has its place, and I'm happy with how the final product turned out.