We have games about games, and we have games about the people who play them, but Divekick is a strange beast that makes itself about a subculture of gaming fans. The entire identity of this game was born from the fighting game community and its many sub-sections, and it is impossible to fully appreciate it without a bit of understanding of that culture. But it goes beyond just humor and creates its own play style no other fighting game can say it has. Where more and more fighters try to complicate things with move lists and complex combinations, Divekick goes in the opposite direction and simplifies it to the most core mechanic.
See, in Divekick, you do one of two things about 90% of the time. First, you dive. Then, you kick. First person kicked loses. As the original trailer states, two buttons, no joysticks. Just dive and kick. That sounds like it would be an empty experience, but it’s not. Divekick is brilliant in its minimalist design, using it to make the small differences between the cast of characters count all the more important and game affecting, and tossing in some very simple meter powers to keep things just modern enough not to scare off a casual audience. In fact, it’s more inviting. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a good beginner friendly fighter since Super Smash Bros, and like that game, it does take time to master.
First, you have to figure out which character you gel with best, and there’s a lot to choose from, all a parody of someone or something in some way. And this is where we start hitting that cultural barrier of understanding hard.
The Ryu of the game, Dive is a math nerd from West Philadelphia that trains under a dive kick master and uses his knowledge of angles to calculate the best diving angles. No real strength or weaknesses, and his ground and air specials let him surprise the enemy with faster falling and a surprise jump arc from the ground. Stand in for Street Fighter‘s Yang.
Dive’s brother and the game’s Ken. He’s much faster and offense focused than Dive, with specials that have him kick down faster and hit the ground so hard that the enemy is knocked into the air and dazed. This ladies’ man is the Yun stand in, but also a divekicking reference of Will Smith, even spouting random Will Smith films as loss quotes.
A weaselly fighter based off of Martin “Marn” Phan, a professional tournament player that moved to League of Legends. He’s also the most mean-spirited character, responsible for countless terrible things in the game and has a backstory that works in a real life controversy involving Marn rigging a Guilty Gear tourney. The tubby buffoon has a good bit of Street Fighter’s Rufus and the X-Men’s Magneto in him, and his specials have him running away and floating a bit in air with a hidden double jump. Kind of a coward.
A parody of Kung Lao and Kitana from the Mortal Kombat series, Kung Pow is a champion from “Downworld” that wants to get back home. She fights with slower kicks that hit in a more forward arc and can use portals for surprise attacks. May also be based a little design wise on Pai from Virtua Fighter and Chun-Li from Street Fighter(mostly due to the art’s focus on her thighs).
A skunk bear that’s just a few details away from being a wolverine, the parody should be obvious, especially when she knocks people up in the air after a divekick. The name is a joke because you can’t very well call her Wolverine for copyright reasons. Sheer speed is her game, and her specials change her position and let her hop around the battlefield. She gets involved because of Uncle Sensei’s cigars are her preferred brand.
Dr. Victoria Shoals
A dedicated doctor who wants to stop a dangerous illness among divekickers, using modified footwear and wearing a mask to hide a disfigurement caused by said illness. She’s an obvious expy of Dr. Doom as he appears in the Marvel Vs. Capcom series, outright stealing his foot dive technique that has become so popular among MvCplayers. Her specials allow her special movement in the air, and she practically owns air space in battle. Her name comes from the Dr. Scholl’s brand of shoe inserts.
A parody of the old martial arts expect Gen from Street Fighter, Uncle Sensei is Dive and Kick’s teacher. He made Divekick popular, but Mr. N rigging a tourney ruined him and made him financially destitute. He has elements of Akuma and Sagat in his design and move-set as well, and can enter an alternate pose on his hands to change things up. He can also jump super high in the air. His life is a hilarious stream of failures and misfortune.
A parody of tourney organizer Alex Jebailey made when Jebailey paid the staff to make him into a character, not aware he would be the joke character. Funny enough, he became the games community manager. He’s also a lethal joke character, as his specials affect the target’s meter and buys time in a game with very short matches. His ego causes his head to grow with each win, making him easy to hit, but this also changes his physics and can throw people off a little.
A character taken from unused character designs for the Street Fighter series, Baz was put in during a kickstarter campaign by request of Two Best Friends, a let’s play duo that use the character a lot in their videos. His move-set has elements of Zero and Spider-Man from the MvC series, while his story paints him as a complete loser nobody wants any part of. His lightning kick special is an interesting twist on the formula, as the kick itself does nothing, it’s the lighting trail that causes a hit.
Parody of Mark Julio, one of the major members of controller designing company MadCatz, Markman only wants to enter the fight to advertise his kickbox device. He’s also based on Phoenix Wright in Marvel Vs. Capcom 3, as he searches through junk for parts to his kickbox device, tossing out items that can affect both players (such as oil and glue) and becomes a much tougher fighter once he has the parts he needs.
Imagine if a Youtube comment section gained form and basic intelligence, and you have Stream. The monster is every terrible part of the internet rolled into a vile form that spouts idiotic phrases and throws out the most offensive bile. He’s just here to troll everyone. He fights like a mixture of Firebrand in MvC3 and Dhalsim from Street Fighter, using fire on his legs to give himself a larger hit radius, and a buffering special that completely hides him from everyone’s view for a few seconds.
The final boss of story mode, S-Kill is a parody of former Capcom community manager Seth Killian, obsessed with tweaking the other characters to balance the game, with exception to Jefailey, who is so terrible that buffs are needed. He has a double jump he must use to kick, and has a play style similar to Seth from Street Fighter IV (who is based on him as well). He has two very nasty specials that counter a kick for an easy hit, along with a powered-up form that gives him the ability to teleport all over the place.
A former divekicking expert who died due to cheating from Mr. N, he came back from Heaven to deal with unfinished business. He’s based on a Kickstarter backer’s late brother who loved playing random, so Kenny’s basic move-set changes every match. His specials place out light orbs on the field that freeze the enemy shortly once touched.
The most popular character of the Saints Row series, Johnny entered Divekick through a simulation and is generally frustrated by the bizarre rules of moving in this world. Johnny was introduced in the Addition Edition + update, and he brings some interesting specials. His ground move has a car smash into the enemy, he launches a mini-black hole in the air that draws people in, and his powered-up form has Shaundi come in with a dubstep gun that messes with the opponent’s controls.
The player character from indie arena brawler Nidhogg, The Fencer arrived in Divekick randomly after being swallowed by the Nidhogg. He was added about a year after Johnny and is a character with average stats. However, he can grab his sword off the ground and toss it as an instant death projectile, roll around the field, and in powered-up form, an leave the screen as he does in his game of origin to instantly win.
As you can see, this is a game made for a very particular audience in mind. There’s a lot of discussion in fighting game circles about the necessity of the basics, and Divekick takes that to heart in design. The initial idea was a simple fighting game with two characters and bare-bones, two button fighting, but that foundation was expanded significantly over development, giving every fighter a special trait or trick that set them apart, taking notes from more complicated fighters out there, but never losing the two button concept. The idea of divekicks being the central move comes from an injoke about how central divekick attacks are to so many play styles, the characters have their identities and even tier formed by similar character rosters, and the game is loaded with background references and nods to both fighting games and the world of tournaments. It’s a game made by fans, for fans, yet with mechanics that are simply universal.
You can learn Divekick in under a minute, but there’s still so many variables every match, keeping it fresh. With all the more complicated features removed, the game plays out either as a twitch based offense battle, or a mental chess game as each player tries to read out the situation and try to get in that one hit as fast as possible. Because nobody has free movement, you have to keep in mind descent speed, arcs, and angles, or you will die very fast. It’s a game that punishes button mashing significantly, but not so much that new players can’t grasp it. Battles being so quick also helps out, as the game never wears out its welcome too fast and never gets that frustrating when you find yourself on a losing streak because you can bounce back rather easily.
The game is also an interesting look at the fighting game community, from their lingo to their major personalities. But it also comes across as bizarre gibberish if you’re not familiar with that very alien world of salt and inside humor, which is actually a bit of a disservice to the mechanics. Still, it really is worth it to try and understand, though the humor does get a bit thick. Kick screaming “SHARK’S TALE” in pain or a loading screen quote making a Back to the Future reference are things anti-comedy is made out of, but it never reaches that subversive level of humor regularly. It’s actually a tad too on the nose when you get the humor, and some gags get annoying pretty fast (like the stereotypical voice of Kung Pow). It’s very, very stupid humor, but it’s at least aware of that and gets chuckles more from inside jokes. S-Kill’s dialog is absolute gold if you have any understanding of tiers and Seth Killian’s history.
It’s a tad surreal that the people behind this would go on to work on the rebooted Killer Instinct series. The music is pretty good (with S-Kill’s theme standing out as just plain badass with great guitar riffs), but the art is quite amateur outside Johnny Gat’s design. It’s a game ridiculously rough around the edges, but I think that works for it. It’s like some lost Adult Swim comedy made for a very niche audience, and that’s charming in its own right. If anything else, it’s a rare look into the world of fighting game enthusiasts, and that’s a subject we could have anthropologists study for years.