Skullgirls is a 2-D fighting game developed by Reverge Labs that saw its release on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in April of last year. Legal issues that their publisher had with an unrelated game prevented the studio from working on the game further, and ultimately saw the development team laid-off. Fortunately, the team formed their own studio, Lab Zero Games, and received the publishers blessing to continue work on the game. While a PC version was in the works, a highly successful Indiegogo project saw the team collect enough money (despite a setback caused by PayPal) to fund four additional characters as DLC. The completion of the first timed nicely with release of the game on Steam, and is the version of the game that will be reviewed here.
As with most fighting games, there is just enough story on offer to explain why each combatant is fighting through a series of battles. Ultimately, each character is trying to obtain the Skull Heart, an artifact that will grant a single wish to any woman who obtains it. The only drawback is that if the woman is not pure of heart, her wish will be corrupted and she will be turned into the Skullgirl. Each character has their own motivation as to why the want to reach the Skull Heart, which is revealed by playing through the story mode.
Story mode consists of six one-round fights culminating in a boss fight. While each fight is relatively easy, even on normal and using a keyboard, the boss can be quite tough due to the fact it cannot be staggered by the players attacks. This means that, even while the boss is taking blows from the player, she can still perform moves herself. This often leaves the player finding one or two moves that can be spammed to hit the boss while avoiding her attacks, resulting in a rather boring and repetitive fight. Thankfully, the short story that is presented to the player is well crafted and makes full use of the hand-drawn art.
Yes, all the art in Skullgirls is drawn by hand on paper, then scanned, cleaned up, colored and shaded. Each character has at least 1300 frames of animation and the results are gorgeous. These people really worked their fingers to the bone and it shows by how fluid the movements are. It also explain why each new character added to the game costs a quarter of a million dollars. It has created a diverse range of characters that each have their own unique designs and fighting style. For example, look at Valentine, a ninja nurse who can apply three different kinds of poison to her opponent. There is also Ms. Fortune, a cat girl who can detach her head and use it as a weapon. Though the roster is small, each character plays so differently that this is never a problem. The crowd funding also means that each new character is free to download for a limited time.
Skullgirls features a tutorial that will soon have novices picking up the basics of the genre. It also has enough depth to teach veterans how to play the game effectively. The tutorial goes as far as to show the player how each character functions, though outside of this there is no moves list for the player to consult. A dedicated website would need to be visited properly learn each move. Nor is there any way to set the condition of the dummy, as it can never block or jump, limiting the ability of an advanced player to test new combos. Online games can be ranked or unranked, and take advantage of a match-making system to find players of equal skill. This can take a few fights to find the right level of play, but will result in some good fights.
Outside of the story mode, the player can choose up to three fighters to use in combat. Choosing fewer combatants results in the each member have more health and dealing a greater amount of damage, though a solo fighter is unable to call upon the assistance of other team mates during a fight. The game plays much like Marvel vs Capcom, though is slightly less hectic. There is the potential to make an infinite combo by stringing the right moves together over and over again, but the game has a way of breaking out of these. When the game detects the same move used multiple times in a combo, the recipient simply needs to press a single button to break out of it. This not only prevents infinite combos from being used, it also encourages players to use a greater variety of moves in their combos.
The music of Skullgirls is quite jazzy and fits in well with the art style. For all the suffering that fighting the boss causes a player, it all seems worthwhile when the music rolls with the credits. Notably, the soundtrack was worked on by Michiru Yamane, known for her work on the more recent Castlevania games and marks the first time a Japanese composer has scored a Western-developed game.
Fighting game fans are encouraged to give this game a go, especially those who enjoy the tagging aspects of the genre. Purchasing soon will also allow players to pick up the first and all future DLC characters for free. It is recommended that people play this game with a controller, but it can equally be enjoyed without one.