When I sat down to play the newly-minted PC game, Skullgirls, I did so with a bit of trepidation. My friend, an avid fighting genre player, told me that I couldn’t just pick up the controller and expect to slam a few buttons and win—unlike fighting fan favorites, Street Fighter or Marvel vs. Capcom—but that I needed actual skill to win.
Turns out he was right, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
The premise of Skullgirls, like many fighters, is fairly simple. There are eight different fighters, all female, vying to obtain the “Skull Heart.” This “Heart,” as it were, possesses the ability to grant the wish of any pure-hearted girl; alternately, it will claim the life of any unpure girl, turning them into a being with unimaginable power. I’m not sure if there’s a downside to either.
Story Mode consists of six, one-round fights, culminating in a boss fight finale. The arcade mode is similar to other random ladder games, as matches vary in size, ranging from one-on-ones to three-on-threes. This means that players can play as three low-powered characters, two medium-powered characters or one high-powered character, and because characters statistics are reliant on the number of characters on a team, it allows a user to play to their own strengths as a fighter.
The choice in characters, back story wise, is highly inconsequential. And, unless you’re a huge fan of gratuitous cleavage, which I am, many of their stories and motivations are immensely uninspiring. This is pretty surprising given how much work was put into the absolutely gorgeous set and character design— large-breasted, voluptuous characters aside—and how well the 2-D art has been stylized. It’s the rich and vibrant colors that often allowed me to overlook the obnoxious pre-fight [confusing] dialogue sequences and the “I forgot to contextualize what this scene means” scenes.
Between a lack of character motivation and the “playground” dialogue, I found it best to just skip the cut scenes and get straight the action.
Because jumping straight into the story mode did not do me any favors, I quickly reverted back to the training mode. There I found one of the better features in the game. Offering 17 lessons, it was here that I learned basic movement and attacks, how to defend against combos and throws, and even how string together a few sweet moves. If I were an advanced fighter, which I’m clearly not, I could have even taken advantage of the free form training room, which offered hit box data and a block-stun meter—neither of which would have kept me from getting my face handed to me in a to-go box.
When it comes to actual fighting, I found that my only saving grace—albeit meager—was the implementation of the “anti-combo” mechanic. When an NPC or a PC began to chain big combos on me, I simply pressed a button and broke their chain. And while this saved me the humiliation of being 40-hit, they would simply begin a new chain and my suffering continued. My suggestion would be to not rely on this addition and to actually learn how to go on the offensive.
Overall, I felt that each character’s fighting style was considerably distinct from the rest. Close-combat characters all revealed varied, unique attacks, while even the “projectile-focused fighters,” Peacock and Parasol, seemed different enough to be enjoyable. That said, I didn’t feel as if their attacks or styles were immeasurably different from any number of other fighting games that I’ve tried.
In many ways, Lab Zero Games (Skullgirls is formerly a Reverge Labs title) brought together classic aspects of fighting—similar fighting styles, face-to-face action—with modern improvements—the “anti-combo” mechanic—but I don’t know if that’s enough for it to become a long-lasting game on the market. That’s because it not only punishes newcomers to the genre with incredibly difficult story mode AI, it lacks comparable content offered by competitors. Case in point; the online implementation offers only a few game modes to enjoy, and while connecting with other players is simple and fast, the matches are fairly uneven until you’ve played quite a few games to find your niche of players. Nothing disheartens a gamer more than to be beaten senseless over and over—trust me.
Make no mistake; Skullgirls has potential. Its precise controls and beautiful visuals carry it through even the worst of problems. If “Girls” can add even more characters—there is an opportunity for downloadables—to its shelves, add a bit to the story modes and dumb down entry level stuff for newbies like myself, they could become very sustainable. Skullgirls is a fighter for people who are skilled at fighting games, so if you’re planning to give this game a go, I recommend a good controller, a lot of practice and even more patience.
I believe that the folks at Lab Zero Games clearly have a penchant for this genre, but I’m not sure it will do enough to satisfy the growing niche of fighters in the world.
Skullgirls was originally developed by Reverge Labs, but the PC version has since been developed by Lab Zero Games and co-published by Autumn Games and Marvelous AQL. It is currently available on PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade and on Steam for PC.
A digital download of this game was provided to Save/Continue by the publisher for review purposes.