Also on: XBLA
Publisher: Autumn Games / Konami
Developer: Reverge Labs
Medium: Digital Download
Players: 1 – 2
The fighting game scene seems to have been fully rejuvenated after a rather long hiatus. I think we can credit Street Fighter IV for the resurgence, but regardless, there have been a number of successful fighting games since. The tournament scene is ripe with competitive games like Marvel vs Capcom, the new Mortal Kombat, Blazblue, and now Street Fighter X Tekken. Riding that wave, and ready for top tier competition, is Skullgirls.
Skullgirls is basically a game developed for the fighting game community by the fighting game community, or at least a former tournament player. The influence is immediately apparent. Skullgirls takes what works from other popular games and tries to overcome their deficiencies right out of the box. The biggest influence seems to come from the Marvel vs series, although with a healthy dose of Blazblue. Magic series chains, launchers, air combos, specials that cancel from normal moves, and supers that cancel from special moves all make up the base fighting engine. If you are familiar with any of the games I've mentioned, then the learning curve for Skullgirls should be fairly easy.
The speed of the game is a bit toned down, which actually makes it a rather great choice for beginning players to jump in. The tutorial is also one of the best I've seen. It not only walks you through the basic fighting game mechanics, but it also goes into some absolutely essential techniques that always seem to be overlooked if you aren't a regular at shoryuken.com. It teaches you, and has you execute, things like blocking high-low mixups, creating mixups of your own, poking, and hit confirmation. It's so great, that I wish there were more exercises for each area. I'm also totally spoiled by the mission modes (combo trials) in other recent games, and there are none here.
There's a story mode for each of the eight characters, an arcade mode, training, and of course versus, online and off. In an interesting twist, you can select between one, two , or three characters for your team, and their health and damage are scaled accordingly. This leads to interesting matchups, where one player may have three characters with full assists and the ability to tag, playing against a single opponent that has a huge life bar and does big damage. As far as assists, you can even customize the exact move that is performed during character selection. Online play uses GGPO, and every match I've played that had under 100ms ping was like playing with someone in the same room. If I tried to start a match with over 200 or 300 it didn't seem to make the connection at all.
As far as the gameplay, like I said, a lot of the systems are familiar and play much like other competitive games out there. I felt right at home with the dashing, double jumps, air dashes, and chain and air combos. You can continue the combo off the ground once per combo, but you can ground bounce your opponent as many times as you like. There are also wall bounces, snap outs, and the equivalent of DHCs. One new mechanic, well new to me, is the re-stand, where after juggling an opponent in an air combo, you can actually get them to stand back on the ground again but still be engaged in the combo. Combos can be quite long and very complex and stylish. The developers didn't specifically look for combos that could lead to infinites. Instead they implemented an infinite protection system. The game is constantly monitoring inputs, and if it notices the same loop three times in a single combo, the hit spark colors change and the opponent can press any button to burst out of it.
The artwork is fantastic, as is all the hand drawn animation. But even though it's running in HD resolution, it looks decidedly lower res. It really is just the art style, but it doesn't look near as sharp as Blazblue. There are only eight characters, but they have a lot of personality and each play very differently and are quite deep. The music has an old ragtime feels to it, and while it wouldn't be something I'd normally enjoy listening to, it does fit the game perfectly.
Considering Skullgirls is only $15 on PSN and XBLA, it's very easy to overlook some of the small deficiencies, such as no in game move lists or the small roster. Really, with as solid as the fighting engine is, I'd say it's an absolute steal at $15. I'm looking forward to seeing it on the fighting game tournament circuit this year.