By Dave Haldane
GAME NAME: Skullgirls
DEVELOPER(S): Reverge Labs
PLATFORM(S): XBLA, PSN, PC
RELEASE DATE(S): 2 May 2012
Skullgirls is the debut title from Reverge labs, and boy have they hit the ground running. It’s a 2D fighter featuring a cast of 8 buxom ladies on a quest to find the Skull Heart, an artefact that grants wishes.
Styled as a 1940s slapstick anime, the voiceovers, actions and scenery feel like something pulled straight out of a Looney Tunes cartoon. It suits the game perfectly though, and combined with exceptionally smooth animation, fantastic lighting effects and a 1940s style score, makes for an extremely well presented title.
On the surface it may look like “just another fighter” with an over sexualised anime skin, however the game is extremely well balanced and should appeal to both veterans of the genre and those wanting to join the ranks.
One of the ways it appeals to new players is by offering a unique training mode where it teaches you how to play fighting games. Everything from blocking tactics to combo strings to mix-ups and hit boxes, all the essentials are there. This is a refreshing change for a fighting game as it makes no assumption that players know how to play. Unfortunately the training is only limited to the basics and there are no in game tutorials or move lists to help you learn the particulars for each character. In their place Reverge have offered a link to a downloadable PDF document showing the specials. It’s a shame they didn’t include it in the game but, let’s face it, anyone who’s serious about learning the character is going do so via wiki and practice anyway.
This brings us to the cast. Initially you can choose from six characters, however two more can be unlocked by completing single player stories. Whilst the cast is small the characters are very diverse and have very little skill crossover. This can also prove detrimental though as, if you want a particular character type, you’re somewhat limited. Do you like to play as a grappler? Cerebella’s your girl. Rushdown? Fillia’s the one for you. Veterans of the genre will no doubt notice that most of the moves in Skullgirls are heavily borrowed from other fighters. This works well as it means moves are familiar to those with experience and a good mix of “best of breed” for those learning the genre.
The single player story is told via a series of static images and, unfortunately, very short. After around 6 or 7 fights you’ll be at a frustrating end boss and then it’s game over. Each character has a unique story and, if you beat them all, you unlock a “real” ending however it’s not enough to make it feel like a fully fleshed out SP game. This makes sense in a way as fighters are predominantly built around multiplayer. It’s a shame though as the AI in Skullgirls is very good and a longer SP mode might have drawn in more interest from those not traditionally interested in fighters. What makes the AI good is that it isn’t as structured as other games and used a defence/counter approach more often than not. The way it seemed to adapt to my play style was interesting too as it forced me to mix up my moves in order to progress. No more finding a combo that works well and just spamming it until the round ends.
The last and most importing thing on offer from Skullgirls is the multiplayer mode. Obviously the lion’s share of R&D time went into the game style, character design and boob physics because the MP offering is very limited. You can choose from ranked or unranked matches and… well that’s it.
Multiplayer is a ton of fun though and has some unique features like the ability to customise your team. This is an exceptionally useful feature and allows players to choose whether to play solo or as a team of two or three. Also, if you choose a team consisting of multiple players, the game automatically scales power and health to ensure the match is more even. If you choose a team with more than one character you will be able to customise the assists they use when called. You can choose from a pre-set move list or enter custom commands. The ability to customise assists opens up a wealth of combo opportunities and brings us to another innovation; the infinite detection system. Skullgirls has a system in place where it detects if you’re repeating the same set of moves in an “infinite combo” and allows you to use a combo breaker. This works well in negating the age old frustration of being caught on the receiving end of an infinite combo or having to wait for a counter gauge to fill before being able to retaliate.
On the surface Skullgirls may look like “just another fighter,” however it cleverly combines the best parts of other fighters with new innovations and boatloads of style to create a very balanced fighter than should appeal to a great many people. The art style, basic training and easy achievements will attract new gamers whilst the depth of the characters and complexity of the game should keep the veterans happy and the tournaments full.