I had extremely high expectations for Skullgirls. New indie developer Reverge Labs promised an exciting tournament fighter with a training mode that would help even the newest players compete. It really sounded like the answer to all the problems that the genre is facing. The results aren’t perfect: there are some polish issues in the presentation and some features that have become standard in fighting games are missing. That being said, the tutorial is amazing, the online experience is perfect and the best I’ve ever seen in a fighting game, it looks amazing, the story mode is decent, and it plays fantastically . Despite a few minor issues, Revenge Labs has done more with a downloadable game than most full-retail fighting games offer. I highly recommend it to anyone.
Skullgirls is a six-button-2D fighter with fire ball and dragon punch inputs. That alone would almost be enough to disqualify it from being a good introductory game, but the tutorial and the ways that the moves are implemented make the system very easy to learn. All the characters have simple normal attack chains that are easy to turn into major combos. They do a fair amount of damage, look great, and really make you feel like you are doing something significant. These chains form the basis of the gameplay as you go combine them with special moves and supers to maximize the damage. The inputs for supers have also been simplified from other fighting games, making it far easier for new players to deal heavy damage. The fighting just feels awesome. Even though the inputs are fairly simple, skill is still required , so the feeling of accomplishment when you succeed is awesome. There are only eight characters in the game, but they all have unique characteristics that make them fun to play. In a way the small roster actually works to the games advantage as it is more realistic for players to learn the capabilities of all the characters.
The game has an infinite detection system, so if you become trapped in a loop, you can press any button to break out. Hopefully this will prevent future cheats. Another interesting feature of Skullgirls is its approach to team fighting. You can choose to have a team of one, two, or three members. If you have one character, you have more health but you can’t call in assists or swap characters in mid match; if you choose three characters, they are weaker, but you have more options and assists, and two characters fits in between the two. Players can use any move as an assist, even a light punch if they want to. All of the options seem balanced, but more advanced players will probably be using teams due to the greater flexibility. As a nice bonus you can configure your buttons from the character select screen which speeds up matches, at least on a tournament level.
The game comes with several modes: story, arcade, local versus, online versus, training, and tutorials. The story mode allows you to play as one character through their own tale. The story is told via motion comics in between fights. These are unfortunately not voiced, but they still look great and tell an interesting story. Arcade mode allows you to play with any number of characters as you make your way towards the boss, but there is no story. These modes are fairly short, due to the limited roster, but they do provide some nice additional content. The online is one of the most impressive parts of the game. There is almost never any lag, and I played numerous matches that performed perfectly. If there is lag, it is due to poor player connections and not faulty netcode. This performance frankly makes other fighting games look silly, especially in light of the recent debacle that was the Street Fighter X Tekken net code.
The tutorial mode teaches you the basics techniques you need to play a fighting game: mix ups, overheads, combos, supers, defense, and more. While there are no individual character challenges, the skills in the tutorial are universal and give you the tools you need to learn in training mode. The actual training mode itself is the weakest component as the game lacks a move list, though it is available online and the developers have promised to patch it in along with DLC characters if the game sells well, which it seems to be doing. You also cannot set the AI to perform actions. This is annoying especially if you are performing moves that can only hit a jumping enemy. Even with these omissions, the game is a remarkably complete and quality package for a downloadable fighting game.
The presentation is as impressive as the fighting. It is unique in its composition and themes. The characters are drawn in a style that is a mix of western cartoon and anime. The world is a sort of strange 1920’s with boxy robots, skyscrapers, and anthropomorphic animals. It just looks really cool. The art for the characters is wonderful, and each one has a ridiculous number of animation frames. Fair warning, the characters are very fan servicey (is that even a word?), but the game treats the subject with an appropriate amount of ridiculousness. Each has some strange characteristic like demon hair, a living weapon hat, or an immortal body that can come apart. The game moves beautifully as well, better even than 3D fighters, and the moves are awesome to watch. Backgrounds are equally impressive and fully realize the game’s cartoony-art-deco look. The soundtrack is composed by Michiru Yamane, who composed the music for many of the Castlevania games, and it is amazing. It consists of wonderful jazz beats, a style of music which rarely makes an appearance in video games. Again, there are some small issues, like not very polished menus, but it is mostly fantastic.
This game is truly fantastic. I love the feeling of the fighting, and I’m enjoying figuring out new characters and combos. I can finally enjoy playing a fighting game online as the skill level is actually balanced and the connections are perfect. The world is interesting, and I actually wanted to go through the story mode to find out more about the characters. It is by far the least frustrating, most friendly, and most technically polished fighting game I have ever played.
It is hard to believe that this game is produced by a small developer, only costs $15, and is downloadable. Not only does it contain most of the features of a full retail fighting game, but it does almost all of them better. Most critically, the online is perfect and the tutorial actually teaches you how to play fighting games. The whole package has some minor flaws, but it does so much right that they are easy to overlook. Really, you need to buy this game.