Divekick Review: Spaceballs for the fighting game community
At a Glance
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If I learned anything from Spaceballs, it’s that the best parodies are also damn fine creations in and of themselves. They’re not just a string of isolated “jokes” (I’m looking at you, Epic Movie). There’s a real love and craft to making something that celebrates the genre and laughs with it, not at it (again, screw you Epic Movie).
Divekick, the debut from Iron Galaxy Studios, is Spaceballs. It’s Airplane. It’s Shaun of the Dead. What I mean is sure, it’s a parody of fighting games, but the level of detail and in-jokes contained makes it clear this is more tribute than mockery.
It’s one of the best fighting games I’m likely to play in my lifetime.
Divekick is silly, no question. The game is controlled with only two buttons. One launches you into the air. The other sends you speeding back to Earth, leg extended to kick your opponent. Dive. Kick. Hitting both buttons at once allows you to execute a special move if you’ve built up enough meter.
Rounds are nothing short of sudden death—you and your opponent are fragile, and can be knocked unconscious with one hit. Best of nine wins the match.
The game has thirteen characters, all unlocked from the start. Two of the characters—named, of course, Dive and Kick—play the most “normal,” with a standard jump and attack that makes them easily approachable. The other eleven characters have unique gimmicks: The Baz creates a lightning trail behind him, for example, and Jefailey’s head grows larger each time he wins a round.
The core competitive experience of diving and kicking never changes, though, and Divekick excels because of this minimalist design.
I generally don’t leap out of my seat when it comes to fighting games, primarily because I lack the patience. Since I’m only tangentially interested in the genre, I find it difficult to memorize lists of combos and drill down into each character’s idiosyncrasies.
By whittling down to the core tenets of a genre that seems impenetrable to newcomers, Divekick reveals what’s so fascinating about fighting games. The strategy, the give-and-take, the psychology involved in understanding your opponent—these properties are essential to the genre, and they survive Divekick's simplification unscathed. The difference is you no longer have to master complex strings of button presses to see the appeal.
I’ve played Divekick against dozens of people now, and each match is different. Some people prefer to hang back, playing off their opponent’s impatience. Others dive right in as soon as the round starts, hoping to catch the other person off guard. Even the choice of character says a lot about a person, because they all play so different.
Again, these are all attractive qualities that can be found in other fighting games. Divekick simply removes the artifice, the flashy combos, the c-c-c-combo breakers, the health bars and all the rest to present a fighting game whittled down to its purest form.
A whole new, delightfully dumb world
Though multiplayer is undoubtedly the focus of Divekick, the singleplayer mode is remarkably robust. Each fighter has a custom campaign with a nonsensical plot conveyed through comic book-style scenes. Learn how Uncle Sensei was betrayed by the dastardly Mr. N, or how Redacted (the pregnant skunk bear) developed a love for cigars.
The stories are dumb-smart, a blend of inside jokes and sheer absurdity that draws from a wide range of influences both in and out of the fighting game community.
While the pop-culture references are occasionally inspired (Uncle Sensei’s dojo is located in Bel Air, and Kick spouts Will Smith quotes regularly), it’s the in-jokes that elevate Divekick above the average parody. There are just so many. Loading screens feature “tips” from Uncle Sensei, often referencing tropes of the genre. Some characters are direct references to famous members of the fighting game community: for example, S-Kill (the game’s final boss) is based off professional fighting game player and sometimes-announcer Seth Killian. Many are based on characters in other fighting games, such as Kung Pao (a parody of Mortal Kombat’s Kung Lao).
Divekick may mock elements of the fighting game community, but it does so the way an older brother teases his siblings. Only people who know and love the genre could craft such an extensive, pointed parody.
Divekick is a perfect party game. Get a bunch of friends together, whether or not they play fighting games (or even games in general), and everyone will be having fun in moments. There are a few annoyances—even though I understand the reasons, navigating the menus with only two buttons is frustrating—but the core game is a fabulous reimagining/parody of fighting games that manages to convey what’s so fascinating about the genre in general without overwhelming newcomers.
Even if you’re obsessed with fighting games, Divekick sports the psychological and strategic challenges that characterize the genre, hiding a surprisingly complex game underneath an unassuming exterior.
It's just a great all-around fighting game—surely the best for me personally.
And don’t call me Shirley.