Skullgirls is a quirky, fun, and deep 2D fighter with a particularly distinct aesthetic style. With its roots in respected fighters, like Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 and BlazBlue, Skullgirls offers a deliberately paced fighting that rewards high-level combo execution and adaptability. The content offered is a little sparse, and the game is a bit unfriendly to new players, but as far as sprite-based 2D fighters go, Skullgirls is a knockout.
+ All-female cast may seem scarce, but each fighter is unique and fully realized
+ Visual style is daring and evocative
+ Combat system developed and refined by tournament player Mike Z, resulting in some great balance
- Lacking in content. Most notable omission is a move list for each fighter, a genre standard
- AI is brutal, even on lower settings
- Steep learning curve for new players, even compared to other modern fighters
Creating a fighting game isn’t easy. All it takes is one balance issue or design flaw to turn an entire community against your best efforts. This goes double for indie fighters, which generally lack the tuning and quality control necessary to be accepted by one of the most rabid and hard-to-please fan bases in the industry.
That’s why Skullgirls, the long-awaited brainchild of tournament player Mike Z and artist Alex Ahad, is such a treat. Though it’s a bit lacking in modes and content, Reverge Labs’ Skullgirls bucks the trend set by its predecessors and delivers balanced, deep 2D fighting with only a few issues keeping it from becoming an instant classic.
Skullgirls lets players assemble teams of one to three fighters from a roster of eight, with solo teams getting a power boost to make up for a lack assist options. The combat plays out like a more deliberately paced Marvel Vs. Capcom 2, with lots of aerial combos, character switches, and juggle opportunities harkening back to that seminal classic. The game places a definite emphasis on pressuring and locking down opponents with attack strings, mixing up the flow to try and score that one hit that’ll lead to massive damage. It keeps the fighting moving at a brisk pace and discourages the “turtling” behavior that a lot of fighting games end up unknowingly catering to.
The character selection itself, while limited, is as unique as they come. Each member of Skullgirls’ all-female cast looks and plays drastically differently from the next, almost as if they belong in separate games of their own. Peacock, a Tex Avery-themed psychopath, channels classic cartoon tropes to do her damage, while resident grappler Cerebella breaks the mold with dash attacks, limited flight, and some long range hits. Though the roster seems a bit scant at times, each fighter is full realized, loaded with potential, and balanced carefully for competitive play.
The chances to use those characters, however, are a bit scarce. For single player content, players are limited to story and arcade mode. Story Mode takes a single fighter on a short pre-set series of single-match fights, interspersed with cutscenes and culminating in a fight with Marie, the game’s ridiculously annoying titular antagonist. Arcade mode mixes things up with random teams, but ultimately ends just as quickly.
As with most fighters, the real meat of the gameplay lies in Versus mode, which functions serviceably in local mode and only experiences minor hiccups online due to the use of GGPO netcode. Matchmaking can be a bit problematic, with only two players able to join a lobby at a time, but once the match starts, it’s easy to forget that your opponent isn’t on the couch with you.
As deep and fulfilling as the action is, it’s hard to recommend Skullgirls to casual fighting game players. Even on Sleepwalk difficulty, fighters without solid fundamental skills can expect to be juggled for days with little chance of figuring out how to turn the tide. Online play can be similarly frustrating depending on who you get matched up against, as one mistake can cost you a massive chunk of life and momentum.
As always, training mode is the key for practicing and dissecting individual issues. However, Skullgirls is missing a lot of standard dummy AI settings, as well as an in game move list and the ability to turn on input display. Without these genre-standard features, unskilled players will have a hard time diagnosing execution problems, setting up specific training drills, and even knowing how to perform special moves without consulting an online wiki.
Casual fighters can still become competitive players, but the learning curve in Skullgirls is a lot steeper than some other modern fighters. Despite its in-depth tutorial system that walks new players through most of the concepts needed to be successful, Skullgirls is merciless to the uninitiated. A series of character specific trials and tutorials ala BlazBlue: Continuum Shift, as well as the addition of those missing basic training tools, would have gone a long way in bringing new players up to speed.
With its hardcore focus and emphasis on long combos, Skullgirls is bound to turn off more than a few curious fans. It’s unfortunate, because buried beneath that layer of initial confusion and frustration is a tight, enjoyable fighter that has every chance of becoming a tournament favorite if the community takes to it. Newbies will only be rewarded if they put in some solid training time, but for hardcore fighting fans who click with its distinct visual design, Skullgirls is one of the best fighting games to come out in the last few years.
A review copy of this game was provided by the publisher.