Time Logged before Full Steam Ahead: 90 Minutes
I’m going to oversimplify things a little here, so please bear with me. No matter what mechanics, genre, themes, or budget a game has, their interaction with the player can be broken down to a cycle of three steps: choice, action, result.
Lots of games pride themselves on the freedom of choice they give to the players,. Similarly, in many games, the mechanics are multi-faceted, intricate machines which are prepared to account for a dizzying array of player actions. Not every game succeeds in showing how player choices matter, but some do an excellent job of showing how a player’s choices and actions affect the world of the game.
This is a drastic oversimplification of things, and I’m sure many of my friends with enthusiasm for game design and theory would say as much, but for today’s episode, oversimplification is appropriate; I’d argue oversimplification is what Divekick is all about.
Divekick is a 2013 fighting game. Everything in the game, from menus to character selection to the fights themselves, is controlled with exactly two buttons. In fights, this means that the fighters have exactly two moves: dive, and kick.
When I dive, my character jumps into the air.
When I kick, my character kicks downward from their dive.
That is the entirety of the game.
In service of making this mechanical coupling even more significant, rounds are only 20 seconds long. Each fighter has only one hit point. Once someone is kicked, the round is over. The different characters have minor variations, but most of these can be broken down as the height or speed of their dives, and the angle or velocity of their kicks.
In a way, Divekick is an excellent example of minimalism. The fighting game genre is loaded with difficult-to-complete combos, casts of dozens, hundreds of complex character match-ups, and endless complex tactical decisions.
In the midst of all this, Divekick asks, and pretty successfully answers the question, “how much game can we create with just two buttons?” One of the things I greatly appreciate about Divekick stems directly from how this simplicity. In lots of games, especially fighting games, it can be hard to learn from my mistakes. After all, if I can’t understand what is happening to my characters, or how the other characters work, how can I possibly plan for it? People who are actually good at fighting games dedicate a lot of thought and memory to memorizing various characters’ movesets and animations, all in an effort to understand how they lose, and then plan how to win. I suppose, oddly enough, I just don’t have the patience to be good at most fighting games.
In waltzes Divekick, with the simplest moveset in recent memory, and the promise that I will only lose in one of three ways:
- I dived when I should have kicked.
- I kicked when I should have dived.
- I did nothing when I should have done something.
I would actually love to see what truly talented, experienced fans of the genre would make of Divekick. I’d imagine that despite its simplicity, there is a lot of strategy that requires the kind of split-second reflexes and decision making that I just don’t have.
I’ll grant, given just that explanation, Divekick sounds like an amazing game. A game that uses its simplicity to appeal to both inexperienced players and competitive fighters alike.
I’ve tried to write this sentence four or five times, but I’m finding it difficult to find a delicate way to say it, so screw it. Divekick features a character called Kung Pao, who is one of the most uncomfortable racial stereotypes I have ever encountered in gaming. The announcer for the matches speaks with an accent a la Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffanys. What’s more, the game presents these elements not as critique, or even commentary on the fighting game genre.
At some point, I would actually love to see someone make a game that does that, because the fighting game genre does tend to fall into these stereotypes. Instead, we get Divekick, a game where these elements are played for laughs.
In an effort to gain a better understanding of these elements, and how Divekick is perceived by fighting game fans, I reached out to local fighting game clubs. I wanted to know if fans of fighting games also found Divekick insensitive, or if there was some hidden depth of satire that required more familiarity with the genre.
No dice. I didn’t get any response back. That’s a shame, because I really wanted to get more out of this game than a lingering discomfort. I want to take a moment to emphasize that I have never met the creators of Divekick, and I certainly don’t want to give the impression that they are bad people; never met ‘em. But there are parts of the game they made that are so uncomfortable I shut down the game after only thirty minutes.
Races and cultures should not be subject to oversimplification, but like I said earlier, that’s pretty much what this game is all about.
Next Episode – Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones