Skullgirls Review

Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Release Dates: April 10, 2012 (PS3); April 11, 2012 (Xbox 360); TBA (PC)

The fighting game genre is filled with popular titles that have struck the masses, but most of them are established franchises rooted in our nostalgia. This isn’t by any means a negative idea, but it wouldn’t hurt to throw some fresh blood into the arena, even if it is just to see something new. Skullgirls is one of those new titles, apparent by the lack of a numeral, that hit downloadable services for only $15. Skullgirls pays tribute to other fighting juggernauts by heavily lifting from them, but it has a one-of-a-kind style and deep fighting mechanic to keep you coming back often.

Mortal Kombat may have changed the way fighting game stories are presented, but that message didn’t get conveyed to Skullgirls. Each character has a short narrative path involving the Skull Heart, but all of them contain static, boring dialogue sequences with no real sense of linearity. Heads bob and argue then a fight happens, but it mostly happens without any context. It is a sequence of fights with slow moving dialogue to bog everything down to a crawl. Stories aren’t vital for this genre, but that doesn’t excuse it for being uninteresting.

Skullgirls should really be on your radar for its brawling mechanics, something it does rather well. Punches and kicks come in the form of light, medium, and heavy, so most fighting game aficionados should feel right at home in this new IP. Quarter circles, throws, advanced blocks, super meter management, and more is all here, giving the game a full checklist of the genre’s staples. Although it may seem bad to call it a checklist, it does all of these things well which is all that matters.

Nom nom nom.

Combat is responsive, never falling victim to slowdown, and is all heavily rooted in excessive, fast-paced juggle combos. Most moves can link together to create chains that can leave the opponent helpless, all of which are extremely satisfying to figure out and pull off. Each character has enough moves to make many different combos, rather than two or three that look similar. Watching the opposition or videos on YouTube can open a whole other dimension of the fighting that you never thought possible and can ensure the game can keep on giving.

Looking to the Internet might be the only way to do such advanced techniques because of the absence of an in-game move list. Hitting the pause button (which requires to be held down) only lets you resume, look at the options, and quit the game. In what seems like a bone head move, the only way (besides tinkering with different inputs yourself) to know the moves is by looking to the game’s website. A PDF file is available for download, but this method isn’t exactly convenient. Some moves are still missing from said list and it is such a roundabout way to do something that should be deceptively simple.

Ms. Fortune is for players who want to overwhelm the opposition with fast, combo-based attacks.

The training mode can help you iron out the kinks, as it is perfect way to practice your combos and regular attacks. Although helpful, the tutorial mode is the standout helping mode. If there was one aspect of the fighting genre that needed changing, it would easily be the tutorial. Fighting games are inherently so advanced and deep that it can easily scare off more casual players. Skullgirls aims to fix that with a layered mode that shows players the ins and outs not just Skullgirls, but the fighting genre as a whole. After a brief explanation, you are tasked with executing commands and combos a few times until you prove you know what is going on. It even speaks in fighting game lingo that all the cool kids use. My only beef is that the training mode focuses on a couple of the game’s fighters. Filia and Cerebella are the go-to characters for this mode and can result in more knowledge in these two characters at the cost of learning less about the other six. It would have been great to have a tutorial for each character, but that may be asking a bit too much. Still, this mode is a great addition and can ready most players for combat.

Since it is a fraction of the price of other retail fighting games, it doesn’t make sense to have as expansive of a lineup. Skullgirls‘ roster tops out at eight, but each feels drastically different. These buxom females fit the standard fighting game bill from having the heavy grappler, the transformer, the trap-based character, the ranged character, and a few more. No one feels half-assed and there are no palette swaps, so every player will have at least a few they can gel with.

You can dress your fighter with up to ten different skins.

Having a few different characters that you are comfortable with will benefit each player due to the game’s interesting tag mechanics. Tagging isn’t new in the genre, but Skullgirls adds a neat twist. Tag attacks are present, but the game gives you a choice to pick one, two, or three different fighters. Each choice is scaled and balanced appropriately, as any combination of fighters always feels fair. Whether it is one versus one or one versus three, it never feels unbalanced. It gives the game a new method of play, something I quite appreciated in Mortal Kombat.

So much tagging!

It may feel like it is unbalanced until you come to the quick realization that the game’s AI is brutally difficult most times. Even on the difficulty below Easy, the game can (and will) pummel you senseless if given the slightest of an opening. Some matches made me go back and check on the difficulty just to make sure I didn’t have it on Nightmare, but alas, the AI is just that strong. Worthy opponents aren’t a bad thing, but when the game doesn’t give me a good enough difficulty to slowly acclimate to, the game can feel a bit frustrating.

Frustration, however, doesn’t even begin to describe the final boss. In typical fighting game fashion, the last fight is an abhorrent waste of pixels. Similar to Galactus in Marvel Vs. Capcom 3, the Skullgirl just stands mostly still and attacks in an unorthodox fashion. Shrugging off your attacks and irregularly dishing out her own cheap moves can lead to many, many bouts of rage-filled swearing. She breaks the rules of the game and, more importantly, just isn’t fun in any way, shape, or form. This is one trope that needs to be killed off.

I never want to fight this thing again. Ever.

Well, at least it looks pretty. Backgrounds can be a little lacking, but the animation of the combatants is gorgeous and imaginative. Each fighter’s personality is exhibited by their expressive animation and, beside their moveset, can set each of the ladies apart. It’s all so over-the-top and strikingly colorful, making this game a true pleasure to watch. All of this and it runs at a steady framerate, making this game a true technical marvel.

The art style is worth complimenting, but the actual style of the game is something all its own. Graphics aside, the whole presentation is unique and endearing. From the way the game’s excited commentator announces your selections to the film-styled menus, it has a fashion that I wouldn’t have expected. The music is also a standout in the presentation. There are only a few tunes, but each is infectiously catchy and upbeat. Count Skullgirls up as the first fighting game with music that I can remember and even whistle.

I’ll always love how the announcer says Cerebella’s name.

It lacks Ryu, Jin, or Scorpion but it makes up for this absence of testosterone with a healthy dose of deep, female-laden fighting that is sure to capture any player that enjoys the genre. A crappy mess of a story mode does disappoint, but, mechanically speaking, the combat is something to come back to over and over again. Finding combos and using them against merciless AI or your real life friends and enjoying the style of the game will be the things to remember Skullgirls for. Skullgirls is deep and top-heavy, just how I like it.

+Colorful 2D visuals with fluid animation, a flashy presentation, and catchy tunes
+Deep, responsive fighting mechanics with plenty of potential for lengthy combos
+Tag and singular fighting is a thoughtful addition
+Helpful tutorial
-No in-game move list
-Horrendous final boss
-Relentless AI even on Sleepwalk difficulty
-Story mode is bare bones

Final Score: 8/10

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