An original 2D-fighter with beautiful hand drawn visuals sounds like a fresh idea to most. However, many people might be a bit timid to try an all-new IP when there are other well established franchises in the genre that they already know and love. Does Skullgirls
have enough style and substance to match or surpass the familiar favorites?
You have to commend Reverge Labs for being an independent studio making an original IP fighting game as their freshman effort. The development team contains many people familiar with tournament style fighters, looking to make a tournament style game. An original fighter at the higher end of the XBLA pricing scale would have to do a lot to prove it’s a worthy opponent.
For starters, a scantily clad all-girl cast is a good way of getting [some] people’s attention. The characters don’t leave much to the imagination with short skirts, obnoxiously large bouncing chests and plenty of skin. Various moves and specials seem like a way of sneaking in a panty shot. This is probably what you’d expect from a fighting game, but the over-the-top sexuality in this game can come off as juvenile. Even fans and observers of the SoulCalibur
series started to take notice to Ivy’s growing and more revealing bust line, and how it has become tacky. The same applies to a large majority of the Skullgirls
cast. Ultimately though, this aspect of the character design will likely pay off in terms of sales and recognition. To me though, it came off as typical and predictable.
With that said, the characters and their design aren’t all bad. The entire game benefits from an appealing Dark Deco style, and crisp hand drawn visuals allow the fighters and stages to burst out with a unique personality. While similarities can be drawn to other 2D fighters, Skullgirls
really has a style of its own. Each stage offers something different, but they all feel like they belong together. The same can be said of the characters too. They are all quite different from each other, but at the same time they all seem to fit under the canopy of the Skullgirls
universe. The downside is that there are only eight characters to choose from, so your opponents become familiar all too quickly. This is something I’m sure will be remedied by downloadable content, but a starting lineup of only eight leaves more to be desired, especially when the potential is there.
Nobody ever expects a fighting game to have an enthralling story, especially one with roots of old-school arcade games. Skullgirls
doesn’t break that trend with the cast of girls all motivated to seek the Skull Heart. If a girl obtains the Skull Heart, it will grant them a wish if their heart is pure. If they are not, the Skull Heart possesses them and they become cursed as the corrupted Skullgirl. You’re presented with six different story lines, with two more to unlock once you complete them. In-between the five to six battles, you're presented with a bit of text dialogue while the characters stand there and occasionally change facial expressions. The stories are somewhat interesting, but nothing special. I found myself skipping dialogue for some and reading others depending on how they started out. Occasionally there was some amusing or humorous text that made me smile a bit, but nothing that stands out. Each story could last you about 10-20 minutes depending on how skilled you are, and you could easily zip through all of them in one sitting. Of course, you could amp up the difficulty to increase your playthrough time, but there are no achievements motivating you to do so.
The gameplay itself shines for the most part. You’re not restricted to just one-on-one fights; you and your opponent have the choice of two or three person teams as well -- whatever fits your style. If you’re comfortable with swapping characters and using assists, you can do so, otherwise you can do battle with a single character that you’re comfortable with. The HP is balanced out so three-person teams are just as powerful as a two-person team or even a single fighter. There are two preset assists to choose from for your team, or you can even make a custom assist before each battle. These team and assist combinations brings a good deal of strategy to each battle.
There’s your basic set of moves: three levels of punches and kicks, and a throw move. If you know what you’re doing you can combo them together, and throw in some specials and blockbuster moves for a devastating effect. Button-mashers will not survive here, complex combos and moves will guarantee you the greatest success. The AI will punish you with large combos on just about every difficulty level as well, so don’t expect a break there either. The hardcore fighting fan will appreciate the level of competitiveness and difficulty against both human and AI opponents.
Newcomers will likely become frustrated when they are being juggled in the air as the hit combo climbs higher and higher. The detailed Tutorial mode and Training looks to solve some of that, but I don’t know if it’s enough to call this an accessible fighting game to all. You actually learn something from these modes, but don’t expect it to be a master training course in fighting games.
Besides Story and Arcade modes, you’re left with some limited multiplayer options. The online portion consists of ranked and player matches and that’s it for the most part. There’s no ranking or XP system and, besides the global leaderboards, there's really nothing to strive for. The leaderboards only display your spot and nothing more, not even a win-loss record. How ridiculously good is the top ranked player? You won’t know unless you get matched up with them. Some personalization or customization would have been a nice touch but, again, there’s nothing. Absent are any profiles, title cards or anything of the like. Replay sharing features promised when the game was announced
have apparently gone by the wayside. The bright spot is that the netcode is solid and relatively lag-free.
I’ve also come across some other gripes, a few of which I’d like to highlight:
• In online matches, I found it odd that you are tasked at manually setting your frame delay every single time. This is a nice feature to be able to manually set it, but an automatic option should be expected. Although it gives you a recommendation as to what to set it to, if you’re not familiar with it or overlook it you could be in store for unnecessary lag.
• A glaring omission is the absence of a move list present in the game anywhere
. You can’t find it in the pause menu or even in Training. The move list is made available online in the form of a PDF, but I find it odd and inexcusable that there was no move list in the game itself. This is something the developers said they would possibly include later via an update, but there’s no guarantee to it.
• The Tutorial is an excellent way to teach you some universal fighting tips and strategies. This is definitely a welcome addition that every fighting game should have, but a few things put a slight damper on it. Some of the first few lessons could have been forged together to avoid several loading screens, like moving, jumping, and hitting any button
. Later, some of the lessons actually become quite difficult, asking you to perform precise combos that would be very
difficult to actually pull off in the heat of battle.
• Then there’s Training, which again offers great features such as hit boxes and damage meters, but loses points with no button entry display to see if you’re doing things right. Additionally, as mentioned, no move list.
• As alluded to in other parts of the review, the game lacks in the department of unlockables. Besides some new character color palettes and the two unlockable stories, the rewards and motivation (besides the knowledge that you did it
) are few and far between.
Speaking of the achievements, the list is varied and creative and you can tell the developers put a great deal of thought into them. The list is far from the predictable story progression achievements that you might expect. The descriptions give hints for you to decipher rather than just spelling it out for you. Achievement hunters had to come together to figure out the clues as to how to unlock them. Of course, it wasn’t anything too difficult, as most of the solutions have pin-pointed the unlocking criteria now. For better or worse, most of the achievements can be grinded in local two-player matches, and the one for completing the story with all the characters can be done on the lowest difficulty. Some of them are
a small grind though, so beware; because of this I wouldn’t necessarily call this an “easy” list, but it’s manageable for just about any skill level if you have the patience.
With rich visuals and a solid fighting system, Skullgirls
had the foundation of being a great XBLA fighter. The list of shortcomings and omissions adds up though, and leaves the title feeling like it isn’t a complete package. Despite this, if you’re a big fan of the genre, it’s something you’ll want to try out.
The reviewer, litepink
completed the story mode with all eight fighters, completed the tutorial, and delved time into the online multiplayer en route to completing all the achievements as well