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Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament 8 (UFGT8 for short) is different from other events. Hosted by Shoryuken.com’s Adam “Keits” Heart, the competition has an array of special features besides the usual weekend of non-stop battles. Visitors can participate in a mystery game tournament, play the table-top game Super Balrog Ball, and more.
This year, the UFGT8 team stepped things up. They not only have their own exclusive events, but they also have their own fighting game: Divekick, a title by Heart's Team Space Apes that deconstructs of the current state of the genre. It takes on one type of attack that has been synonymous with top-tier warriors for the past decade and boils it down to its bare essence.
Divekicks are jumping attacks where you stop your usual jump arc and strike your foe at a difficult-to-counter angle that have been around since Dhalsim in Street Fighter 2. Over time, however, it's been common for divekicks to be low-risk offensive tools with huge combo and mix-up possibilities. They make getting into close range easy and terrorize those without an invincible go-to move like the Shoryuken to keep the opponent from getting too overzealous.
In Divekick the game, you use a lap-size controller with two giant buttons: Dive (jump) and Kick. All successful strikes instantly KO the opponent, and if you nail him in the head, he'll move slower during the next round. You also have a super meter you can build through repeated dives until you activate a "Kick Factor" power-up. As simple as the game is, it does require a fair amount of strategy and mind games as each character has different jump heights and kick angles.
The two initial characters are Dive and Kick, two teens with a striking resemblance to Street Fighter 3 twins Yun and Yang whom you can tweak using Street Fighter X Tekken-style gems. In an pre-tournament exhibition, Heart revealed that the game had three secret characters: a giant wolverine with a cigar; obligatory, sexist, female combatant Kung Pao; and Mr. N, a not-so-subtle jab at an famous tournament player. The game has a couple of in-jokes only hardcore players would understand, like a super gem locked behind a $8.95 pay wall and a Fraud Detection System.
The most interesting thing about Divekick is that it’s partly a protest work with a message. Unlike other genres where having a narrative theme is increasingly expected, fighters are mainly focused on engaging action. I can think of a few brawlers that felt like the developers wanted to say something, like Super Smash Brothers Brawl’s duel themes of “This is a shrine to Nintendo and your childhood” and “Screw competitive play,” but most would criticize me for thinking too hard.
Divekick parodies the current trends in Capcom games, where last year Wolverine wrecked havock in the original Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and the company thought it was OK for Yun and Yang to dominate Super Street Fighter 4: Arcade Edition. If we’re going to allow our titles to have people who can crush half the cast because of one move, then why don’t we just play a game with nothing but that technique? If the risk/reward ratio for these attacks is so lopsided, then why don’t we skip the formality of learning combos and have divekicks kill in one hit?
That doesn’t mean that the game’s message is gospel — I use a fair share of divekick characters myself — but it’s a depiction of an abstract idea that makes you think about something in a new way. You know… art.
Update: Team Space Apes is now known as One True Game Studios.
While Divekick was originally only playable at UFGT8, it has since appeared at Community Effort Orlando 2012 last weekend, and I got a chance to play it myself. Did the game expose me as a fraud? Stay tuned.