Hype train station derailment
It takes a lot for something to win over someone who has already set their mind against it. It's tough to even understand sometimes how such a thing even happens with someone who tries to keep a relatively open mind.
Something about Divekick rubbed me the wrong way from the outset. It was a silly little thing then, based on a (not at all funny) joke. But it was still that; just a joke. I didn't care for it at all, but I also didn't have to pay attention to it. A story here and there cropped up from time to time, but I could easily scroll past it.
But then, something happened. The guy behind it, Adam "Keits" Heart, decided to make a Kickstarter to make it a real thing. Now I'd been following Keits' writings for a while, and I respect the man, I really do. But I didn't have any interest in his project at all. However, the more I tried to avoid it, the more it was being thrown in my face. It plastered front page several times a week on every video game site I'd visited for months, every one of my fighting game fan friends kept asking me about it over and over (somehow, they all have less memory retention than I do), and every time the game was even mentioned online, in came hundred-page comments about how "gdlk" it was. It was like one giant hive-mind circle-jerk joke that would not leave me alone. Even once it released, the joke spilled over into reviews on every reputable site (and some that weren't) known to man, with short reviews about how perfect the game is, whilst using only fighting game memes and lingo in ways that didn't actually tell you why it was supposed to be so good.
A couple of months had passed, and the fervor died down, except for certain websites. I saw it on Steam sale for less than $3, and I figured "What the hell, the best I could do is give it a fair shot."
Worst two-something I've ever spent.
To be fair, it does have much more depth than I had anticipated. In every other regard, however, it falls short of even my already ground level expectations, and even the depth feels wrong.
Right from the get-go, you're visually assaulted by the graphical quality. The character and background drawings are decent enough, but they're godawful as sprites and have some utterly horrendous animation. It takes a lot of work to screw up animation for a game where 90% of the actions are rising into the air and dropping back down, but dammit, they managed.
The characters are mostly appalling, with half of the cast being parodies of real Fighting Game Community "personalities". It's this half of the roster that I absolutely loathe, with the remaining half being a mix of somewhat tolerable and "pretty okay." Look, video game memes can be hit or miss, but most of them are amusing for a while. Who didn't slip "All your base are belong to us" or "The cake is a lie" into conversation from time to time at some point? But video game community jokes and memes are pretty much never entertaining, between the tournaments and the talking heads and the bullshit Youtube Let's Players. Look, I GET the references, they are just stupid. There's literally only one character in the game that I genuinely like, and that's Stream.
So okay, the game could look like horse manure and still be great, and the characters are mostly a superficial thing anyway, so when it boils down to it, what is it that matters most? Gameplay. Strike three, Divekick. The game, as it is so often boasted, consists of literally just two buttons to control: Dive, and Kick - one to jump into the air, the other to come back down and attempt to plant down in the opponent's face. Simple enough, and just the fact that there is no way to maneuver your character outside of these acts does require a bit of strategical thinking. And then there's the gem system, which does about as much as it did in Street Fighter X Tekken (i.e. their effects are mostly barely noticeable), and that's how it all started. But then they started cramming in all the different other things - the air and ground specials, the character-specific eccentrics, and so on. It took what could have been a simple, quick one-on-one game, and made it into something much more complicated. It seems to detract from the game's original intended spirit, such as it was.
Compounding all of these annoyances, is the fact that despite the game being developed by the sort of guys that would masturbate over tier lists, it's got absolute shit for balance. There are a select few characters that head and shoulders above the rest, and a few that are absolute flounders, and the rest are stuck somewhere in the middle, grasping for a chance to rise or fall to either of the other sides. The CPU makes good use of this fact; the characters that are absolute trash in the hands of a player, also are the easiest to beat. The tougher characters, however, dominate nearly every time. The Baz in particular was the biggest source of frustration, even more so than the boss, because when the computer plays him, every single round has him firing himself in the direction your character is, faster than possible to react 90% of the time.
I guess probably the best part is that online is mostly functional, such as it is, or at least it was during the brief time that I monkeyed with it. They definitely have made sure they weren't one of those companies that believes that automatically slapping GGPO onto a game without customizing it to fit the game makes online "good", but then again there is a lot less to worry about in something that doesn't have command moves, 360s, proper combos, and the like.
I've been one of the biggest advocates for change, or at least trying something new, in fighting games, for the better part of the decade. As much as I love the genre, every game pretty much hits the same set of checkboxes and plays it safe, and that's what causes things to grow stale. However, I do not feel that Divekick is anywhere close to what is needed for a competently put-together fighting game that shuns the norm - it's all at once too much, and not enough. In fact, to be perfectly honest, despite its roots, I hesitate to consider it a fighting game at all. It's really more of a... PVP falling simulator.