Developer: Reverge Labs
Publisher: Autumn Games
Available on: Sony Entertainment Network and Xbox LIVE Arcade (Reviewed on Sony Entertainment Network)
It’s amazing how well the fighting game genre is doing at the moment. Instead of having to search darkened corners for the latest game, they are once again big business, with multiple games released this year already, the likes of Street Fighter X Tekken and Soul Calibur V ripping it up on home consoles, even the PlayStation Vita is getting in on the action, with the stellar releases of Blazblue and Ultimate Marvel Vs Capcom 3.
However, let us not forget, whilst those big titles were something we could only dream of, the downloadable marketplace was still offering up HD remakes, fighting the good fight and keeping the genre alive as best it could. Skullgirls is a wholly unique fighter, a brand new one that is also being released via digital download, but can it find its voice in this – ironically – crowded market?
First things first, the story of Skullgirls is wonderfully eccentric, clinically insane stuff. A Skullgirl is basically a monster than has been created because someone with an impure heart used the Skull Heart, a mystical item that allows people’s wishes to be granted. Of course, granting a wish will almost always cost something to the person involved, which is the catch with the Skull Heart. Each playable fighter wants the Skull for their own reasons, and each has a unique story path to play out.
Skullgirls is a fighter, so dwelling on the crazy antics that play out between bouts would be a little fruitless. Reverge have absolutely gone to town on the combat, with every single character feeling incredibly distinct, requiring the player to learn them one-by-one. Part of the reason the characters all feel so different is because of the incredible art style on show. Ms. Fortune is animated so differently from, for example, Peacock, that at first, it all seems a little overwhelming.
Ms. Fortune’s head will frequently detach (she’s a playful Kitty after all) allowing for moves that aren’t possible with other characters. Her head cannot block, but it can cancel special attacks and it can be launched around the area causing additional damage. Valentine can grab some brief air time just by backwards dashing, allowing for yet more exclusive moves. You should be getting the picture by now, unique is a word you are going to see used a lot when hearing about Skullgirls; especially when it comes to the art style.
There’s no point beating about the bush, the visuals of Skullgirls are clearly defined. It’s hard to ignore the obvious sex appeal of a fair few of the characters, though it’d be slightly unfair to lambaste it for that reason too, since the characters are all strong, empowered women who don’t actually use their sexuality during combat. Save for a few one-liners, it’s no worse than anything else out there. The stunning visuals are matched with a superb soundtrack from Castlevania composer Michiru Yamane; Skullgirls really is the complete package.
The standard story mode is present and leads the chosen fighter through their story, with beautifully drawn imagery accompanying it. Of course there is plenty more to do though, with other modes allowing the tagging in of other characters, a total of 3 fighters are usable in this mode. You can also do handicap matches, so 1 Vs. 3, 3 Vs. 2. If you choose to play this way, ratios come into play. Fewer fighters means a higher ratio, making them stronger to take on the team with more fighters.
It really is clear that Reverge Labs know what they are doing, they’ve even taken steps to ensure that infinite combos are a thing of the past, but more than that, Skullgirls just feels so clever. At first, it may feel like you can’t do anything, you’ll even get bested by the AI on the easy difficulty setting, but that’s because you are trying to play it like any other fighter. Give it a little more time and suddenly you are pulling off impressive looking combos that seemed impossible beforehand.
A fairly heavy tutorial, one that starts off simply, then takes you into combos, is also present, as are training matches, so you can hone your skills to your heart’s content, practising double jumping, dashing, cancelling and the like. A good job too, because the combat in Skullgirls is so deep, inventive and exciting that people are going to get very good at the game, so you’ll need to be on top of your game to compete online.
Speaking of multiplayer, Reverge Labs deserve some real credit for the way they’ve gone about executing Skullgirls’ online play. Most people will be pleased to hear that it runs on GGPO techology, allowing for the best possible experience. Ultimately, the player decides how the game runs when taking it to the online arena, showing you a ping rating to help you decide whether to add frames of input lag to compensate for poor ping, or lower the settings to get the most responsive outcome. Of course this may cause stuttering if you have a poor connection, but options are always good, especially when it comes to online play.
As you’d expect, quick match is the way to go up in the rankings, where you can choose to find someone in a region nearby if you so fancy, while unranked matches are just that, only you can customise the experience a little more. Reverge have stated that they want to support Skullgirls with future content and there are apparently plans to expand the amount of players allowed in an unranked match room, so potential party play may be on the cards.
VERDICT: Skullgirls is a refreshingly unique, superb fighting game with an exquisite soundtrack and genuinely stunning visuals. Fans of the genre would be foolish to overlook such a well polished and creative fighting game, especially with future support already promised. Newcomers will see Skullgirls in action and instantly understand the love for the genre.
It’s a golden age for 2D fighters right now, and Skullgirls should be the poster girl for the downloadable-only market, offering so much for so little.