Review: 'Divekick' - Project Mayhem

The fighting game genre is one of the most beloved, competitive, and intense subdivisions of video games, and it's also the most complex. From the basic concept of kicking and punching your opponent until their life bar runs out, the genre has evolved into multi-hit, tag team, death matches with mysterious creatures that can conjure screen-filling projectiles by doing an eight button combo move. While it's not clear where exactly things got so complicate, it's a pretty safe bet that it was around the time of the release of "Street Fighter II" and "Mortal Kombat." Those two franchises birthed a genre that has spawned countless games, which have grown and evolved over the years. However, there is one game that is looking to rein things in, and take fighting games back to a much simpler time. "Divekick" pits opponents head-to-head, using only two buttons, and one move: the divekick.

One True Game Studios and Iron Galaxy Studios have come together to create one of the most deceivingly complex fighting games ever released. The game has a very limited move set for each of its thirteen characters, consisting of a jump (dive), an attack (kick), and assorted special moves that can be activated after building up their fight meters. Other than that, it's the best of five rounds, where the first person to land a direct hit divekick wins.

It sounds so simple, but it's really not.

"Divekick" quickly turns into a game of angles and geometry, blended with timing and skill. The best thing to compare it to is a Wild West showdown. Whoever can walk the ten paces, turn, and shoot most accurately survives. In this analogy, the dive dance that the characters do before kicking is the ten paces, and the kick is the pull of the trigger. Miss your move, and you leave yourself wide open for a headshot. Shockingly, the end result is a truly unique gaming experience that virtually anyone can pick up and play. It's an awesome feeling to see some take just a tiny piece of another genre and turn it into a full-fledged experience that feels completely fresh.

Both the PlayStation 3 and PS Vita versions of "Divekick" include a story mode, as well as local and online versus modes, which are all pretty standard for your modern day fighting games. However, the Vita version's local multiplayer actually takes place on one system, with the game's unique control scheme allowing for player one to be situated on the left using the directional pads, and player two on the right using the face buttons, making for some very intimate battles.

"Divekick" was originally conceived to be a parody of the fighting game genre, but eventually evolved into a respectable entry of its own, while retaining a lot of the humor that comes along with being a spoof. The game is pretty upfront about its take on the genre by whittling the extent of the gameplay down to two buttons, but beyond that, "Divekick" manages to squeeze in jokes at every turn, making fun of everything from gamers to the games that they play, with pop culture satire all over the place (not one, but two characters have the same origin story as The Fresh Prince). The end result is a serious game that clearly doesn't take itself too seriously.

Each of the game's characters are based on either real people, and/or are influenced by characters from other fighting franchises like "Marvel vs. Capcom," "Tekken," and "Soul Calibur." Famed fighting game champion Seth Killian is featured as a character, the game's villain S-Kill, along side Redacted, a cigar chewing bear who looks an awfully lot like a certain angry X-man. The Baz is based off of a rejected "Street Fighter II" character, and Kung Pao certainly seems a lot like Kung Lao, with her fly hat and teleportation skills. There's a lot of tongue in cheek humor, but that's something that's very hard to do well in video games, and virtually impossible to pull off when it comes to fighting games.

For all of its simple, and minimalistic choices, "Divekick" does make one slight misstep. At the top of the game, players are asked to choose two buttons they want to use to "dive" and to "kick." While that's simple enough, you're also choosing the buttons that control everything else in the game as well - including the menus. While the novelty is amusing, the joke wears off pretty quickly as you're trying to navigate the menus with whatever two buttons you happen to think work best for jump and attack. No matter what way you slice it, left, right, up, down, and start, are and will always be, the most intuitive, easy ways to navigate a menu. Fortunately, this is pretty much "Divekick"'s only failure.

In this day and age it's surprising that there aren't more games like "Divekick," independently grown (Kickstarter-funded) titles that pay homage to the genres that spawned them, while skewering them at the same time. This game is so simple that it's hard to explain, and that's part of what makes it so great. It's just a slice of a fighting game, blown up to be this intense experience. At first glance it's easy to brush off "Divekick" as a joke, but once you dig into it, it becomes clear that there's actually quite a bit of skill and geometry built into the game that you truly couldn't appreciate unless you play it. If you've ever spent any time playing a "Street Fighter," "Tekken," "Mortal Kombat," "BlazBlue," or any other head-to-head fighter, you owe it to yourself to check out "Divekick" and be reminded about what makes those games so great, and clearly it's divekicks.

Score: 9 out of 10

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