Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Divekick Review

When a friend first linked me to the above video, I thought it was rather silly. A game with only two moves? That's weird, I thought. I laughed about it and went on with my life. Somehow word of its Kickstarter, and subsequent Kickstarted cancellation, never made it to me, so the next time I saw it was PAX East 2013.

And my word was I surprised.

I rushed hurriedly to the booth and hopped on a system with a two button arcade box, one of the most unnecessarily overengineered and beautiful pieces I had ever seen. Lovely art with two huge blue and yellow buttons int he middle proudly labeled Dive and Kick. Two matches later and I was hooked. I interviewed the creator, I bought a shirt, I kept up on the news, I raved about it whenever possible, and I waited with anxiousness. It came out yesterday and I was so excited, I wrote a haiku about it.

divekick, Divekick, dive
Divekick divekicks; Divekick, kick
divekick, Divekick, win

If all of the waxing poetic about the game wasn’t an indicator, I like it. Superficially, Divekick is a joke. Obviously. One of the characters is a doctor named Dr. Shoals who has rocket boots and its looking for a cure for a foot disease called Foot Dive. Of course it’s a joke.

But if you give it a chance (i.e. exactly one match), you quickly realize it’s so much more than that. It's a fighting game that attempts, and succeeds in many ways, to equalize all competitors. Gone are people who juggle your character across the map for 30 seconds and leave you with 2 hits until death. No longer can you put your controller down while waiting for someone’s massive combo to end. And obliterated is the feeling that no matter what you do, there are some people that know way more about the game than you and will exploit programming flaws to eviscerate you. By limiting your input to jumping, kicking, and having a few variations on moves for other characters, it’s as close to one on one, equal combat as you can get. You always know exactly what you did wrong and the other player did right to get you.

At least in theory.

As Divekick matured, its roster grew, and with more characters, things to distinguish between characters needed to be added. As a result the roster is significantly expanded, allowing players to choose a character to fit their playstyle. With that comes a certain degree of having to learn a character and I was initially scared that this would mean the end of what I enjoy most about Divekick—its transparency. But as I played, I found that these fears were unfounded as it’s as complex as it is understandable. The metagame of Divekick—trying to figure out when your opponent will attack, how high they’ll jump, etc…—is incredibly complex, but the controls and movesets are so limited, you’re always in control and your opponent's moves are never an unknown.

Put simply, that’s why Divekick is currently my favorite fighting game. There’s nothing mystifying about it. If you lose, it’s because the other person is either faster with their fingers than you, able to outsmart your moves, or lucky enough to land the first hit. And when you are defeated, you see exactly what happened and you can learn from it. Divekick is the first fighting game I’ve ever played in which I didn’t feel alienated when playing friends proficient in fighting games, and that’s intensely satisfying. Even playing pros online, I could win a few matches because I happened to position myself in such a way that they were caught off guard.

The game features single player mode, which has exactly as much story as you'd expect—somewhere between five and six panels of moving comics plus three dialogue banter sessions. Of course there's a local versus mode, even on the Vita, but there's also an online portion which boasts the best netcode of any fighter out there. To be fair though, I've had more than one match with a little lag, and one in which the loading screen came up for a few seconds before the battle resumed.

The art style is hand drawn and can be a little amateurish at times, but it all fits with the themes of the game. The music is unobtrusive and the backgrounds aren’t distracting, lending to the idea that in Divekick, combat is king. Just like in most fighters, you can complete story mode in about half an hour per character if you’re bad. Matches are completed in anywhere between 15 seconds and the absolute maximum of 3 minutes, meaning it's as quick as it is intense.

Though things may seem to be all raindives and sunkicks, there are few things to be mad at Divekick about. The loading screens are far more boring than they should be. Here’s what it looks like, except the circles don't shrink away and the background is black:

No, that’s not the image loading, that’s the whole loading screen. Black background, swirly circle. JUST PUT IN A SWEET BACKGROUND OF DIVE DOING SOME MATH HOMEWORK OR KENNY LOOKIN’ AT A TOURNAMENT. SOMETHING.

Also, the Vita’s static portraits on the character select screen and during the fight were scaled down versions of the PS3 version, resulting in some jaggy graphic artifacts. A simple update could fix that, though I'm not sure why nobody caught it sooner.

Verdict: Come on, have I not gushed enough? Divekick is hands down the most simple, elegant, fair, and accessible fighter I’ve ever played. To fighting game terri-bads like myself, it’s perfect since the investment to get proficient is so low. And to fighter pros, it’s also perfect since the movesets are so simple, you’re forced to be creative and quick thinking to pull off a victory against a seasoned pro. Or lucky. That’ll work too.

Just go buy it, come on man.

As a side note, Iron Galaxy was kind enough to give me a review code for the game the day before its release on a far too late request from me. Even though he wasn't in the office, the CEO himself handled my request quickly and got me the code very quickly, so thanks so much to Dave Lang. Also for the record, I bought the game on Steam just so I could support them with my dollars. You should too!
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