If you were to spend a few hours watching professional-level competitive fighting game players duke it out, you'd quickly notice that beyond all the spectacle of flashy super attacks and finger-melting combos, there's a metagame being played that is often more important than who can throw the bigger fireball. The key to success for really talented players lies in being able to read your opponent's intentions before he or she launches an assault, and then being able to set traps they might be likely to fall into.
At particularly high levels of play, fighting games evolve into battles of the mind. Yes, it's impressive to land a 100-hit super combo, but even more impressive is a player who can trick his or her foe into using the wrong attack, or frustrate their opponent until they begin to play foolishly. This is the real draw of the competitive fighting game scene but, unfortunately, with most games there's a pretty sizable learning curve to climb before one can attempt to screw with other people's heads.
That's where Divekick comes in.
The biggest issue with Divekick is that this is a fighter designed by devoted fighting game fans for devoted fighting game fans, and seemingly no one else. Beyond its central gameplay concept, every element in Divekick is steeped in hyper-esoteric memes that were spawned within the fighting game community. One character, named "The Baz," was lifted straight from character concepts ditched by Capcom in the early days of the Street Fighter franchise. His name is a reference to a line of garish pants popular with pro wrestlers during the early 90s, and while that could be considered a form of satire, the fact remains that a lame character design is still a lame character design. This could be forgiven if it was a one-off attempt at failed humor, but every character and line of dialogue in the game oozes memetic humor that simply isn't funny anymore (if it ever was). Maybe the fighting game community will enjoy all the references, but to anyone outside of that insular group the Divekick roster has almost no appeal.
While the two-button concept works reasonably well (at least when playing against other humans; the AI is pretty braindead), the title suffers from art direction that is simultaneously low-budget and bizarre in the worst possible way. Straight up, Divekick looks like a middle-of-the-road Flash game. Normally that wouldn't be a strike against a game designed specifically to hold crisp, responsive combat above all else, but Divekick often fails in that regard too. Even after a few moments of play, you'll notice attacks sail harmlessly through your opponent instead of winning you the round. Likewise, while the idea of stripping down special attacks has a noble purpose, it's impossible not to notice how this also removes all of the bombast and spectacle we've come to expect from the fighting game genre.
In simplifying a fighter down to its most basic components, the creators of Divekick have taken a brave approach to fighting game design, but they unfortunately forgot to ensure that these components actually work. In any given match you'll spend most of your time hopping back and forth, hoping to avoid the inevitable, seemingly random attack that might hit your character in just the right spot to knock him or her out, while also attempting to line up an attack that might cripple your opponent (or more often, send you flying ineffectually to the opposite side of the screen). Divekick may be designed to promote intense mind games between players, but the inherent promise of that concept is crippled by a lack of basic functionality.
Maybe Divekick is the future of fighting games. Maybe the hardcore tournament set really does want a fighter so barebones that it's basically marrow. Everyone else would be better served going elsewhere for their virtual pugilism fix.
This review is based on a PSN download of Divekick, provided by Sony. The game supports Cross Buy across PlayStation 3 and Vita.
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Sony PlayStation 3 (late 2012)