Consoles have been treated to a revival of the fighting genre ever since Street Fighter IV’s release in 2009, but no notable new entries have made their way to the downloadable arena. Reverge Labs is finally delivering this with Skullgirls, a game that feels more like a full-on fighting experience than a diluted downloadable wannabe.
Creating a fighter that appeals to both casual and hardcore fans of the genre is no easy feat. To pull this off, a game has to be accessible enough to be immediately fun while deep enough to reward gamers who sink dozens of hours into learning minute elements of the battle system. By combining familiar inputs with an extensive training system, Skullgirls successfully courts both audiences.
Most attacks are performed via Street Fighter-like dragon punch and fireball motions, which should feel familiar. Some attacks have unique characteristics, such as the nurse Valentine’s syringe. Her fireball motion typically throws a shuriken, but you can opt to fill a syringe with a poison that causes unsavory effects like input lag or damage over time. Little touches like these give the player more variety when putting together their offensive strategy. Skullgirls also features a super meter that gives the player access to flashier and more deadly attacks, and it’s a basic (and frequently-used) damage-based mechanic that anyone can easily understand.
While casual fighting fans shouldn’t have a problem jumping in and discovering some great special moves, Skullgirls features many mechanics the tournament crowd will appreciate. An extensive tutorial system teaches more advanced tactics, such as mix-ups, canceling, chain attacks, and off-the-ground combos. If you’re looking to dive even deeper, training mode allows you to study elements as specific as hitboxes. I’ve always been a fan of fighting games, but I’m admittedly not a tournament-level player. Despite this, it was impressive to see the obvious love and knowledge of the genre that Reverge showcases via these tutorials.
Despite the impressive amount of information in these tutorials, Skullgirls features no in-game command list. This would be baffling no matter what fighting game it was, but it’s especially confusing considering how much learning material they did include. I can turn on advanced hit boxes, but I can’t see how to perform a specific move? Not having this information available via a pause (or any other) menu makes learning a character more of a hassle than it needs to be. Reverge’s solution is to send players to the Skullgirls website for each character’s command list, so players should be prepared to be near a computer if they want to have access to this basic information.
Players can choose whether they want to go into battle with three standard characters, two powerful characters, or one overpowered character. It adds a nice layer of strategy, as multiple characters allow for assists and tagging, but masters of one particular character may relish the opportunity to control a super-powerful version of her.
Eight fighters are included, and their character design is certainly unique. Ms. Fortune is a cat-like fighter that can toss her own head at opponents and extend her limbs. Peacock is a 13 year-old girl that resembles a Steamboat Willie-era cartoon, complete with rail-thin arms and oversized hands. Each combatant features over-the-top attacks that are as useful as they are fun to watch.
These characters are beautifully animated, but I noticed a Tecmo-like obsession with breasts and oversexualized characters. This may not be a new phenomenon in the genre, but many fighters in the all-female Skullgirls roster make Cammy look like a nun by comparison. Some animations are juvenile and unnecessary, such as the nurse that sticks a thermometer (that later explodes) between her breasts. For a game that seems intent on attracting serious fans of the fighting genre, it’s disappointing to see that so much of the art style seems focused on anatomy and fetishistic outfits.
Online mode is a given in any modern fighter, and Skullgirls is no different. You can participate in ranked or unranked matches, although it doesn’t include additional modes like Super Street Fighter IV’s endless battles. Since online play allows players to choose the size of their team, you may find your super-powerful Valentine going up against a team of three lesser-powered foes. It’s great in terms of variety, and certainly affects strategy as you head into a fight. While most of our pre-release online matches featured minimal lag, it did rear its head occasionally.
As a downloadable title featuring the bells and whistles that many retail fighters are lacking, Skullgirls is an impressive feat. Hardcore fans of the genre should find a lot to love, but more casual fighting fans may not have the same appreciation for the game’s intricate mechanics. The barrier for entry isn’t high enough to significantly hurt the game’s entertainment value. Regardless of your level of experience, Skullgirls is a solid fighter that’s more than welcome on XBLA and PSN.