These statements are true: Divekick is a joke best taken seriously. Divekick is a game that uses exactly two buttons and zero joysticks. In a very real sense, Divekick is not just the best fighting game ever made, but the only fighting game ever made. Divekick’s setup is terrible, but its punchline is hilarious. Divekick’s jokes are for fans of fighting games. Divekick is a gift to the universe.
To understand why Divekick even exists, why anyone would make a fighting game that uses two buttons and no joystick (the buttons, needless to say, are “dive” and “kick”), you have to understand a little about the Fighting Game Community. Called the FGC for short, the Fighting Game Community is united more by their love of competitive fighting games than any formal organization. With the release of < i>Street Fighter IV in 2008, the FGC has seen a surge in popularity that’s steadily increased to this day (EVO, America’s biggest fighting game tournament, drew 1.7 million viewers on TwitchTV this summer). Capcom has continued to support Street Fighter IV, and many other games have joined the circuit—Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 is America’s current favorite, and there are dozens of games with dedicated followings large and small.
The fighting game community has its own lingo, its own celebrities (both famous and infamous) and plenty of jokes that are completely incomprehensible to anyone outside of it. Divekick is pure concentrated FGC with zero explanation and zero apology. References are dropped left and right without any other commentary, and even jokes as (relatively) obvious as the final boss being a blatant stand-in for Street Fighter champion turned Street Fighter designer and community manager Seth Killian will fly right over the heads of anyone who doesn’t already know who that is. If you already understand Divekick Divekick already understands you.
That might be okay in a sort of by-fans-for-fans way but the real issue is that the game isn’t even terribly funny if you actually get the jokes. Divekick’s approach to humor is reminiscent of a recent tweet from @dril:
contains far more references to jokes or references to references than it does actual jokes. For example: This is a game made in 2013, and there is a character named Kung Pao. This is a joke that has literally never been funny, appearing in a game made in 2013. I cannot condone this sort of behavior.
However: this game.
This god damn game.
This god damnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn game.
Okay, so here’s the real joke, the most fundamental joke involved in Divekick: The divekick is overpowered. The divekick is annoying. The divekick is bullshit. In fighting games, characters with divekicks can attack very quickly from the air in ways that are hard to block and anticipate. They jump, they dive, they kick, in one of the more ridiculous conceits in a pretty ridiculous genre.
Divekick levels the playing field: Everyone has a divekick, and nobody has anything else. Each divekick does exactly one billion points of damage. Whoever is kicked first loses. You press dive to jump, and you press kick to kick, descending at a sharp angle and pulverizing your opponent, hopefully in the head, which will make them temporarily dizzy at the beginning of the next round.
It is in this moment that the game becomes ludicrously, genuinely, seriously funny. Two warriors kick the ground as quickly as they possibly can, each desperate to strike first, each knowing that to be out of position for a single moment is to die. This makes the game incredibly tense, despite the visual hilarity. Rounds are decided in a single split second decision, and so many things can go wrong: jump too early, kick too late, land just out of reach, just barely miss. Each round is a horrifying moment in which you and your opponent simultaneously try to avoid the single mistake that leads to an instant defeat.
Divekick requires no memorization, no practice to learn its basic mechanics. Divekick is 100% mental. The only way to win at Divekick is to know what your opponent is doing before they do it, making Divekick resemble the world’s fastest game of poke—which is, in essence what a fighting game is. The FGC has a term for this—“Yomi—which means essentially to know the mind of the opponent, to understand how they act, and to force them to make mistakes, act predictably and fall into your traps.
Divekick’s mechanical simplicity is made up for by human complexity. What’s more, because the game is so simple, it captures the absolute core essence of what makes fighting games fun without requiring the massive amounts of memorization, practice and background knowledge that fighting games require. The game is pure Yomi—there’s no other skill involved. There’s actually a fairly large cast, all of which play in unique but never overwhelmingly complicated ways. Jeffailrey, for example, can charge his kicks to attack very quickly, but every time he wins his head increases in size, making him easier to hit. The Baz can’t score knockouts with his kicks, but he creates a line of electricity in his path a second after he kicks across the screen.
Divekick may be a parody, but it’s not a joke. Divekick is a party game that is still a competitive videogame. You can get better at Divekick, but only by truly knowing the mind of your opponent. No strategy guide or youtube video or gamefaq will make you better at Divekick. Only perfect understanding of yourself and others will make you better at Divekick. If Divekick is a joke, so is the universe.
Divekick was developed by One True Game Studios and Iron Galaxy Studios and published by Iron Galaxy Studios. It is available for the PlayStation 3, Vita and PC.
Andrew Vanden Bossche is freelance writer who maintains a surreal video game terror blog at http://mammonmachine.com and a twitter account, @mammonmachine, which is a popular resource for both anime puns and flirtation advice.