When it comes to gaming competitions, the fighting genre provides the most popular type of digital arena out there. Such titles as Street Fighter, SoulCalibur, and Mortal Kombat have long been staples of many a tournament, as well as lengthy competitions at friends’ houses. A completely new contender has now entered the fray in the form of Reverge Labs‘ Skullgirls, a deliberately old-school one-on-one fighting game. Fighting veterans are going to find a lot to like in this one.
The game’s story is straightforward, as is the norm for most fighting games. A legendary artifact called the Skull Heart is known to have the ability to grant a wish for those who find it, but those who are not pure of heart will have their wish twisted in sadistic ways. The current owner of the Skull Heart, Bloody Marie, has been twisted into a monster by its evil powers. Each of the eight playable female fighters is connected to the Skull Heart in some way, and playing their individual paths in story mode will reveal their secrets. Stories are told through cutscenes comprised of stylized still images and text boxes, though there is no voice acting during these scenes. Hardly showpieces of writing, they provide some decent incentive to play through each girl’s campaign until its end, especially since there are several strewn throughout each story – a rarity in this type of release.
Skullgirls plays similarly to many classic Capcom fighters, most especially the Marvel vs. Capcom series. This is due to a nicely done tag-team character swapping mechanic. Before a fight, each player can choose to have a team of one, two, or three characters. While you are still able to switch between fighters on the fly or bring them in briefly for assist attacks when playing with more than one, the catch is that the more fighters you play with, the less health they have. In other words, you can have three fighters with decreased stamina, two well-rounded fighters, or one with a much meatier life bar. The first player to have all their fighters knocked out is the loser. It’s a good concept that’s pulled off well, allowing for a good amount of customization in how you play the game while keeping things well-balanced between players.
As is the standard with most fighting games, the real skill comes in learning the button combinations and proper points to use each character’s unique special moves and combos. No two characters play exactly the same way. For example, Cerebella may use the hulking arms jutting out of her hat to grapple and throw characters, while the retro-cartoon-styled Peacock has a heavy emphasis on using projectiles. One of the crazier character traits comes in the form of Ms. Fortune, who can detatch her head from her body and have both pieces of herself take on an opponent at the same time. Another modern fighter staple comes in the form of super moves. As characters inflict or suffer damage, a meter below their health bar will gradually build up, eventually enabling them to full off a super-devastating special attack if the right button inputs are pressed. The fighting is often frenzied, flashy and chaotic, but not to a level that makes it difficult to follow.
The only real downside to all of the game’s depth is one that is common for many fighting games: if you are not familiar with the genre already, prepare for a heavy learning curve. While mashing on the buttons might get you through the solo modes on the easiest difficulty, you’ll need to take the time to learn how to use each character and get the most out of their individual specialties if you truly want to get good at the game. Thankfully, the game has many tutorials detailing the basic mechanics of control and gameplay, but a major omission of sorts is the inability to see a list of each character’s special moves in the actual game. A guide can be downloaded from its website, but it seems like an odd choice that many will find inconvenient.
Besides the Story and Arcade modes that pit players against the computer, two-player fighting is available in both local and online modes. Online matches run smoothly and do not commonly suffer from stuttering lag, but the ranking system used to match similarly-skilled players against each other still feels like it could use some work. During my first bunch of matches, I went up against some very skilled players who were capable of pulling off 20-hit combos with ease. The learning curve principle is definitely applicable to the online mode, perhaps more-so than fighting the AI in single player.
In terms of presentation, Skullgirls is a real treat. Much like last year’s Rayman Origins, the decision was made to skip today’s traditional 3D polygonal characters and environments in favor of a completely hand-drawn 2D style. It’s always interesting to see old-school sprite techniques used in today’s high-defintion games, and the characters here are large, very animated and full of personality. The backgrounds also look great, with unique environments and non-playable characters crowded around to watch the fight. Each girl has a unique personality brought out through their animation and voices. The fighter’s interface and atmosphere outside of the main cast is also very slick, with a neat old-time Hollywood flavor to such things as the announcer and a peppy jazz soundtrack. Even if players might have trouble becoming truly skilled at the game, they will find it difficult to deny its visual and audible charm.
Skullgirls has clearly been made with fighting fanatics in mind, but it’s far from impossible for genre novices to have fun with it. With a lot of visual flair, and many options for players to have their own unique way of playing, this is a solid fighter that deserves a look for anyone at all interested in it.
This review is based on a copy of the game which we received for review purposes.
With a lot of visual flair, and many options for players to have their own unique way of playing, this is a solid fighter that deserves a look for anyone at all interested in it.