There’s no tutorial or training mode whatsoever in Divekick, a fighting game that seeks to distill a typically intimidating genre down to just two buttons. One button sends your fighter diving straight up into the air. The other breaks that dive into a flying kick toward your opponent. You can’t move left or right on a whim; you’ll need to dive and kick your way into a favourable position. Every hit is lethal.
From there, it’s up to you to suss out what can be done within those boundaries. There’s about a dozen characters, many of whom draw heavily from obscure fighting game memes and jargon. You may expect a control scheme like Divekick‘s to render character selection superficial, but moving around during a fight builds a meter that can be spent for a unique special attack. Kick can rain down on unsuspecting foes with an extra-fast kick, Dr. Shoals can redirect her kick mid-air, while Kenny possesses a Mokujin-esque ability to mimic other fighter’s special moves at random. You also choose your fighter’s colour scheme and a “gem” that can slightly augment your dive or kick. There’s even a “YOLO” gem that significantly increases both your dive and kick but starts you at a four round deficit, always on the brink of a loss.
Rounds are always 1v1, and the first to win five takes the match. If you’re playing solo, the lone way to get into a match is to play through Story mode. The AI does a pretty good job of providing a tough yet fallible level of skill, but the story mode falls flat in presentation. Each character gets an opening vignette, a couple of milestone fights, and an ending scene, but they take the form of mostly-silent dialogue exchanges and grainy pans over the usually crisp artwork. It’s too bad that the otherwise high energy of Divekick starts to sag in the place it could have gone the most wild.
It’s especially disappointing that it’s your only choice when playing offline. There’s no straight-up ladder or any other diversions, and while it may seem absurd, the lack of a training mode hurts the game. Each character has their own diving speed, kicking angles and special attacks. Figuring it all out as you go along can be part of the fun, but more often that not it frustrated and obfuscated my attempts to refine my performance. If you are into fighting online, everything was perfectly stable from my time. It’s all 1v1 match-ups, ranked or unranked.
That barebones approach keeps the focus rightfully on the core concept that Iron Galaxy and One True Game have worked hard to balance. Like the games it pays homage to, it takes hours of time and analysis to legitimately compete, but without the minutia of move sets to learn and explore and modes to conquer, I found it increasingly difficult to find the interest to stick with it.
Divekick is a clever proof of concept for a fighting game reduction, and while that concept never quite turns into a fighting game great, it remains a precise and fast-paced alternative in a genre where it can often take hours just to get a grip on a single character. It takes all but ten seconds to grasp the basics of Divekick, but unless you really get into the online, it struggles to maintain a long-lasting infatuation.