As a ten year old with nothing better to do than hang out at the community pool, I was instantly drawn to their arcade cabinet for Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes. I wasn’t familiar with comics, but what impressionable child isn’t fascinated with masked men and women firing death rays and throwing giant boulders? I coaxed a few quarters out of my parents, but after a few rounds, my “mash all the buttons” strategy brought my game to a grinding halt and I quickly abandoned the glowing beacon for a relaxing swim.
I later learned that the intimidation I faced was hardly limited to mash-happy tykes. The fighting game genre is notorious for its steep learning curve; to stand a chance against the average player you must memorize dozens of complex button presses and learn the moves of every character on the roster. Since most fighting games don’t even teach rudimentary skills, it’s easy to feel discouraged, frustrated and unwelcome.
Divekick attempts to knock down this steep, unfriendly barrier by offering an elegant solution: instead of relying on 8 buttons and a stick, every player makes do with two buttons. “Dive” sends you flying into the air, and “Kick” unleashes a downward diagonal strike. Successfully landing a kick wins the round, and the first person to five rounds wins the match.
There are a few more systems in play, but for the most part, these basic rules are everything you need to know before stepping into the ring. This sublime simplicity does wonders to even the playing field for greenhorns and casual players alike; instead of rewarding the player who puts in the effort to memorize a move sheet, every match turns into a battle of wits. Is your roommate backing himself into a corner because he’s avoiding your kicks, or is he luring you into a trap? Players young and old can feel the same tension and sense of accomplishment that permeates professional matches. I’d call it a miracle, but it’s more likely that Iron Galaxy was the first team to put real effort into attracting new blood.
Divekick complements the dead-simple controls with a jovial nature that isn’t afraid to poke fun at itself. From the simplistic graphics to the overzealous announcer, the game would feel right at home on Eric Cartman’s Pretendo 65. Even if the myriad jokes about the fighting game community fly over your head, it’s hard not to chuckle at a Will Smith surrogate fighting an irradiated skunk bear or a loading screen tip that quotes The Lion King.
As with any fighting game, playing against a flesh-and-bone adversary is the only way to truly enjoy Divekick. The story mode is good for learning the ropes and a few silent smirks, but the brain-dead A.I. is too easy to conquer for everyone but the most basic of players. If you’re friendless or want to take your game to the next level, the GGPO-powered online matchmaking system does an amicable job of keeping fights lag-free. The PS3 and Vita versions- buying one nets you the other- share the same online servers and rankings, and aside from the occasional slowdown issue on the Vita (which never really affected my performance), neither console gets branded as the inferior way to play.
For too long, the fighter genre has been plagued by a drive to build games only for its hardcore fans, unknowingly locking themselves off from a larger audience. With Divekick, Iron Galaxy has swooped in and sliced away the fat, leaving an appetizing, no-frills steak that anyone can digest. The ten-year-old sulking by the Marvel vs. Capcom machine is no more. He has been replaced by a confident warrior, eager for his next match against an armor-clad podiatrist.
Disclaimer: A review copy for PS3/Vita was provided by Iron Galaxy.