I went in head first for Skullgirls. When I started playing it I decided to go as deep as I could, opting to buy a fighting pad, downloading a document with all the characters and movesets, training and writing down combos I discover as a kind of ‘cheat sheet’, I even went so far as to watch people play online to see if I could pick up a few things.
To be honest, I haven’t played a lot of fighting games as of late. But Skullgirls appealed to me, probably because the hyper comic stylized and sexy girls who’s styles straddled the line of gothic and horror lunacy reminded me a lot of the classic Darkstalkers Capcom video games of old. For those not in the know, Darkstalkers is where the iconic succubus Morrigan and cute little cat lady Felicia come from, two characters that have made a come back in the Marvel vs Capcom style fighting games.
To be honest, because of my unfamiliarity with a lot of the newer style fighting franchises, I was preparing myself to be punished mercilessly by this game and I wasn’t disappointed.
Skullgirls has to be one of the most beautiful, fluid and absolutely frustrating fighting games I’ve ever played. It’s visuals pop with an undeniable flourish on the screen and as gorgeous as it all looks, it’ll deliver you your ass, priority mail, Cash On Delivery.
The first thing people will probably notice when booting up the game the first time is the small roster, as compared to the legions of characters which seem to be on offer in other fighting games these days. Eight choose-able characters seems like a really small selection, for example Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 has a starting roster of 48 characters, last year’s Mortal Kombat had 27 characters and even the lesser known BlazBlue Continuum Shift Extended has about 24 characters. However, Reverge Labs says there will be downloadable characters coming about soon enough.
So at first glance the roster of Skullgirls is going to feel skimpy, however, it’s worth noting that every character has a very distinct style of play. Whereas in some other games characters can feel somewhat interchangeable, every Skullgirl feels like she was crafted for a very specific reason.
Cerebella with her huge biceped hat is a beat stick with more muscle than mobility, Peacock can spam the heck out of projectiles and keep an opponent at a distance. The game is working on an economy of characters that are built to the very rigid molds they were designed for, it means a lot more thought as to the kind of characters you will want to utilize and how.
The cool thing about this kind of specialization of characters is the game allows you to go for the tag moding of a lot of other games right now or to keep it to a single character. The developers balanced this out by making it so that at the three character cap you’ll be weaker and take more damage than usual but will have more tag attacking options. On the other end, if you choose a single character you’ll be very powerful and have a lot of endurance but have no tagging options, this allows players to spring for a singular specialty while learning the ins and outs of a character or to mix it up with two or three characters in any given match.
There’s a nice tutorial included in the game to allow players to become familiar with everything from hit confirmation, canceling to just learning to set up ground to air combos and push blocking. This was really helpful to me as a bit of a novice because it taught me the techniques I would have to learn in order to really play the game. There’s also a training mode, like the ones in other games except for it has a lot of advanced options for the skilled fighting game player like hit-box mode, which allows a player to see the hit boxes of himself and the opponent in play.
So after picking up my fighting pad, working all the way through the tutorials and spending time in the training room, I thought I was good to go. I boot up my first game on Normal and get beaten easily by the AI in my first match. I did this several times and failed to beat my first opponent, so I exited and started again this time on Easy, same result. Then again, this time in Sleepwalk (thank goodness five difficulty settings) and I finally got somewhere, I still struggled a bit but I was pulling myself up slowly.
This game is certainly not easy. It’s a steep climb for a newb like me and despite feeling like I’d learned a lot through the tutorial mode, finishing it was difficult. At first I was gripping the controller with the muscle tension I’d imagine a viking used to grip a battleaxe in the throes of war. This game is anti-button mash, it’s very much about the way you approach, your ability to block in a split second when needed and how to follow your hits with intricate combos. When I eventually loosened up and started picking up more combos and blocks, I started taking to the game a lot better. But the first few days were filled with game over screens that I can still see etched into the backs of my eyelids when I sleep.
The controller layout in Skullgirls has three strengths of kicks and punches with two buttons that you can assign multi-button presses to. It’s much more complex than UMvC3, which is streamlining fighting games with three attacking buttons, two tags and a ‘special’ button for launching.
With tag attack you can customize the kind of attack you want the tagged character to do when they get in. This allows you to perform a nearly limitless amount of tag attacks from special moves to simple forward + strong punches.
Also, to pause the game you have to hold down the Start button for a few seconds. This feature is meant for people who like to take their fighting skills on the tournament circuit because if you accidentally pause the game in a tournament you are automatically disqualified.
Games online feel lagless, largely due to the GGPO netcode. I let people pound the tar out of me for a couple of hours and only noticed any lag for about three seconds.
This is a game that has been designed for core fighting game enthusiasts. Everything about this game really feels like it requires you to dig down to it’s core to really understand what’s going on on screen beyond the flashy characters and bouncy visuals. I have fun playing this game until I start turning up the difficulty, at that point I feel like a kid left at the controls of a nuclear reactor, all these shiny buttons and levers but I am completely out of my depth and I know nothing good can come of this.
It’s a steep climb and I’m certainly up for the challenge but I don’t know how many other people would be in my shoes. If you can come to this game with a little bit of humility and meet it at the table on it’s terms, the depth of the gameplay and the precision design will keep you wrapped up in it for a very long time. But if you’re the kind of person who idles near the fighting games watching others play because you’re afraid of embarrassing yourself in front of them, this might be one to steer clear of.
- Gorgeous artwork and character design
- GGPO netcode makes online fights seem lagless
- A lot of design choices were made to make this game tournament fighter friendly
- Small roster may disappoint some
- Difficulty and depth of gameplay will be overwhelming for new players
- Doesn’t have the online community other fighting games have yet