I expected two things out of Divekick: Diving and Kicking. In Divekick, the dive button dives (jumps) straight up, and the kick button will have your character spring back if you press it on the ground or kick in a forward moving fashion. A single hit would bring defeat to you or your opponent.
This is all I knew before I started playing, and frankly, I was excited. I figured that if a game focused entirely around one attack, with characters given different angles and properties to play with, there would still be enough there to make for some interesting fights with friends. It would remove a significant barrier to entry, allowing players to focus simply on their character’s fundamentals and learn how to deal with each opponent’s diving and kicking style.
However, it turns out there’s a lot more to Divekick than I initially thought.
In addition to diving and kicking (which some characters need to charge or adjust their angle to do), each character has a couple of special abilities they can perform by pressing both buttons simultaneously. These range from simply building meter (which, when full, will activate the speed and jump-increasing Kickfactor) to a parry that will practically guarantee a headshot on any opponent if it blocks an incoming kick. By the way, a successful headshot will drain your opponent’s meter, make them jump lower and move slower for a short while, and forbid them from using any abilities, regardless of if they use meter or not, during that time.
On top of that, you need to keep the gems that you and your opponent select in mind, because a 10% boost to dive speed, kick speed, or meter gain is going to impact the way that they play, as should the one you pick. Not as simple as it first seemed, is it?
Honestly, I felt a bit betrayed by Divekick at first. It seemed more complex than it needed to be, and I was frustrated by the fact that people were teleporting around and searching the ground and tossing projectiles like Phoenix Wright in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 looking for evidence. However, once I played a few characters Story Modes (sadly, the only single-player option available in the game, which means that you can’t practice certain matchups against the computer unless you get to them somewhat at random), I started to get a feel for how everyone operated, and things that I once thought were chaotic and overly complex began to make sense.
For instance, Redacted is a basically a human sized wolverine who smokes cigars and stands and dive kicks a lot like Wolverine in the Marvel vs. Capcom series. She is obscenely fast, jumps and backjumps insanely high, and her kick is very shallow. Her ground special just has her growl and build meter for a while. At first, I didn’t think this made much sense, because her aerial special is just a short wall-cling, and that didn’t even require much meter usage… but then I hit Kickfactor and realized exactly how dangerous she could be.
With Markman, I had a similar experience. His ground special has him search the ground for an item to build a “kickbox” with (think a Divekick two-button arcade stick). When he doesn’t find one of the parts necessary for the kickbox, he just tosses it, creating an annoying obstacle in the middle of the battlefield. A vial of poison will drain whoever gets to close’s meter, a vial of glue will stick the person to the ground for a second, oil will add a bit of randomness to a player’s jumps and landings, springs will annoyingly have the player on top of them short hop in place until they kick off of it, and holes in the ground just drop a player perpetually from the floor through the ceiling until they kick away from it or it disappears.
However, the fun begins when you complete the hitbox. His regular Divekick is kind of shallow and slow (unless you kick on just the right frame of the dive that speeds it up and surrounds it with lightning), so if you miss from a high angle, you basically sign your death warrant. When the hitbox is complete, you’ve got a little bit of time where your specials are replaced with rising kicks which can be activated from the ground or the air. This means that you can start baiting an opponent into leaping above you mid-divekick, then use the rising kick to take them out as they try to land a headshot.
The more I played, the more I started to think about matchups for each character. Optimal positioning, ways I could trick players into making themselves open. Stuff that’s often driven from focus by simple execution requirements in other fighters became the core of my online experience (these work against the computer, but I felt that these strategies were easier to devise against people than AI, and there’s no practice mode or versus CPU mode that lets you practice your matchups anyway).
After a bit of frustration, I realized that the more complex aspects of each character were balanced by the way that they fought. Yes, S-Kill could teleport all over the place in dangerous ways, but he needs to teleport twice before he can kick (unless he uses one of his specials). The Baz seems cheap at first because he can adjust his attack angle from directly below him to across the screen horizontally. He directs a stream of lightning that appears after he’s passed by and remains for a short while, like Zero’s Raikousen in Marvel vs Capcom 3. Because of this, he can’t hurt you before his lighting appears, so you can kick him at almost any angle mid-flight with very little risk of being hurt if your angle and response time are appropriate.
The additional complexity leads for more interesting (and often more frustrating) matches than just dives and kicks would have alone, and eventually I grew to appreciate the game that Divekick is as opposed to being annoyed that it wasn’t what I wanted it to be.
On the topic of being annoyed, I found that often Divekick’s humor became a little too inside-jokey. I was personally amused that S-Kill’s stance has him crossing one hand over the other like the way that Seth Killian plays on an arcade stick and that Markman’s dialogue is full of references to sales and sponsorship (a la Madcatz, where the real Mark Julio works), but outside of that, I had no idea who most of the characters who referenced real people were referencing or why they were funny. I didn’t get why Mr. N wore a neck pillow which protected him from one headshot or why Kenny was an angel who changed fighting styles each round like Tekken’s Mokujin.
I realized that Mr. N had Rufus’s dive kick from Street Fighter IV, but I felt that my ignorance of the fighting game community and its celebrities kind of locked me out of some of the humor. Jefailey’s head inflating each round he won made sense at least (and made his matches more interesting, with his increased floatiness and risk of headshot). It kind of drove home the fact that the game isn’t really meant to get new players into fighters as much as it is to distill fighting games down for people who already enjoy them.
I only bring this up because so much of the game is focused around its sense of humor, and when the game isn’t just relying on inside jokes and references (Dive shouting out titles of Will Smith films and Will Smith songs and his constant Will Smith lyric references got old after about one match), it can be pretty funny. The “Tips from Uncle Sensei” at each loading screen are strange, sometimes relate to Uncle Sensei’s personal life of poverty, and occasionally made me laugh out loud while waiting for my next match.
I also appreciate the little bit of commentary that pops up when certain conditions are met in a fight. Two double KOs in a row? The game accuses the match of being staged. Sweep someone in a match? They’re certified a fraud. Snatch victory from the clutches of defeat, winning five rounds in a row after you’ve lost 4? The game will inform you that your opponent choked. It’s a little bit of flavor I liked when it wasn’t just hoping I’d recognize something it mentioned.