Fighting games are hard.
It’s kind of amazing that I ever got as deep into them as I did, considering how much the genre thrives on its community, something that is in direct conflict to my anti-social nature. But the fact remains that there was a period of time when fighting games were my life. Unfortunately, my aptitude never came anywhere close to matching my enthusiasm.
Fighting games, well, more specifically, being great at fighting games requires the sort of commitment that I just never felt I could offer. While I can certainly hold my own and often excel against your average player, I turn into an panicked button masher when matched with someone that actually knows what they’re doing. Even if I could describe to you in exquisite detail the fine art of focus-attack-dash-canceling or frame advantage, actually applying that knowledge is a different story altogether.
I recall one of my fighting game buddies back in the day once said that if you were to put Super Mario Bros in front of him, he’d likely die on the first goomba. It’s because his brain was so wired for that singular purpose that other games may as well not have existed. I couldn’t live in a world where I didn’t have time for all of the other wonders in interactive entertainment, so my commitment suffered. Like many do, I hit a wall.
Divekick tries to be a lot of things to a lot of people. It’s an attempt to help understand and get over those mental blocks under the guise of nonsense parody. It’s an awkward marriage of ideas that works better than it has any right to, though not without its faults. Reducing a 2D fighter down to one attack eliminates one of the biggest roadblocks for new players and gives them an avenue to understanding important concepts like spacing and mind games, independent of any execution requirements. It’s a wonderful little bit of design ingenuity that’s probably damaged by the novelty of it all. The game is dripping with references that would be impenetrable to anyone not already ingrained in fighting game culture and I wonder how inviting that is to a newcomer. Two years after the fact, it’s hard to find anyone still talking about it, so perhaps I already know the answer to that.
But there are still lessons to be learned from it, especially existing as a commentary on how much more fighting games could do to cultivate and assist new players, whether it be in extensive training modes or even just Divekick-esque exercises to help get a feel for those trickier concepts. We’re already seeing others, like Rising Thunder, attempt to scratch that same itch, balancing depth with accessibility. At the tail end of a fighting game revival last generation, that may be the determining factor in whether or not the genre is fated to return to its underground roots or evolve into something even better. Firmly settled here in the realm of the slightly above-average player, I know which one I’m hoping for.