Skullgirls

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Skullgirls
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Skullgirls
Fighting
PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade
Reviews based on the Xbox 360 version
Publisher: Autumn Games
Developer: Reverge Labs
Release Date: April 11th, 2012
Skullgirls was a game that didn’t really find much hype in the media prior to it’s released, but within a very short amount of time it became one of the quickest selling titles, and having sold over fifty thousand copies up to this point. Given the quality of the title, and the feeling of it being a reimagined lost gem from the hayday of the style’s success in arcades and home consoles everywhere, it was almost guaranteed. But, is this really the digital media fighter that you simply need to own, or is it nothing more than sexy female anime characters for boys and men to stare at?

The music is easily one of the first things you will notice about this effort. There are plenty of good songs that end up having a kick to really work with the fighting portions. However, for the scenes of story progression, tutorials, menus, and other action-packed sections, gamers can quickly be given free-form Jazz, or even instrumentals that sound more like something you might expect from an old-time burlesque parlor. The latter of which really does seem to suit some of the characters and their design, as well as back story. The voice overs for the characters are not bad, but many of the one liners do grow old really fast, as some seem to really lack variety, greatly limited to a handful of quotes. other than that, much of the story for each character is hashed out through text similar to what one might expect from the early days of Street Fighter.

In fact, that’s what much of this title ends up feeling like. The visuals here are presented in an anime style with beautiful, rich, and vibrant colors that are notable even when the scenes come off as dark and grim, usually hitting towards the final two or three combatants. The backgrounds are somewhat animated as well thanks to other moving characters, as well as signs and other background visual noise. Of course, this doesn’t happen on every stage, largely the ones in town or inside public buildings. The tutorial section, however, is usually just the instructions on the side, your two fighters, and a big chested teacher next to a chalk board against a white background. A simple look for a simple means of practice. However, it’s the special moves that happen on screen that really look amazing. Random hordes of soldiers and tanks, a giant eyeball with spikes coming out of it, or an animated car with a mouth being driven by a robot with an anvil-like head and the Skullgirl atop of it piloting it while various colored magic eight ball bombs hang on for dear life as it runs you over can fill the screen at once during these assaults and cause real damage. These steal the spotlight thanks to the amount of detail presented, and just how large and/or chaotic they can end up being.

Much of this title is established as a traditional console Fighting game. You get the Story Mode, as well as an Arcade Mode, Multiplayer Mode for on-line and local combat, as well as a Tutorial Mode to learn the proper ways of fighting. There are a total of eight fighters to pick from, many of which are scantally clad, while others can become a grotesque nightmare or even alter themselves to one of the other seven characters. Each fighter usually has a unique reason to fight, whether for the love of another, a request from a mob family, or to bring friends and family back to life. All the fighters are geared towards defeating the current holder of the Skullheart, who ends up being a little girl corrupted thanks it’s power to transform anyone impure of heart into a monstrosity. Of course, each story mode plays out a different reaction from everyone, and not all succumb to wishing upon the heart, though many wind up having intertwining paths that expand the characters into a larger world with slightly altered stories when one wins over the other.

The controls are pretty tight, which is necessary for the heavy combo-driven gameplay offered. While much of this will remind gamers of classic two dimensional fighters from the nineties such as Street Fighter, the combo system here is clearly based off of Mortal Kombat style gameplay. None of the buttons ever wind up being queued up, but this title is definitely not friendly to button mashers at all. You need to pace yourself in order to pull off some of the required combos, so utilizing the Tutorial Mode and going through all the steps to get a feel for the flow of action really does become a must if you’re not the most dedicated of Fighting fans. Some of the moves can linked together through simple combinations of punches and kicks, but when the left analog stick comes into play, you’re still better off using an Arcade Stick if you have one. However, if you don’t, the recognition of input from any standard controller is actually rather impressive and still allows combo execution with plenty of ease.

Outside the controls, you do get plenty of options for replay value as outlined earlier. But, one of the perks is the fluid on-line play. Once you’ve mastered any of the eight fighters, which is really a suggested thing to do, why not go ahead on-line and choose whether to fight in ranked or unranked battles, by creating a room, or going through quick match? The latter of the two options ends up being rather fast to find an opponent, but the only real gripe here is that it doesn’t really seem to try to match you based on your overall experience or win/loss count. So, if you’re a newer player to the on-line aspect of this game, things can be a little haywire until you become adjusted to playing against a human opponent. Of all the matches I managed to play, I found the response time on-line to be smooth and as quick to respond to my inputs as they were in Story or Arcade Mode, which is a huge plus for this option. Of course, it won’t stop people causing lag intentionally somehow, or those with generally bad internet connections from slowing down the screen and what you command your character to do, but given my “economy” internet speed, it’s safe to say that almost all the matches you have will be fine.

Another thing that will keep gamers going a little longer are the unlockables. By completing characters in Story Mode, you’ll unlock alternate costumes, as well gain access to some of the other fighters. On top of that you have the traditional twelve achievements for this title that all are a bit cryptic, though some, such as “Threads of Fate,” are pretty simple to figure out. If you work hard at learning the moves of the characters, these should come as no problem. The only other issue with this title is that there is no actual moves list programmed into the Help & Options tab. Instead you’re directed to go on-line to view them, and when it comes to completing training, you’ll need to know some of these moves, such as Ms. Fortune’s Hairball attack. If you don’t have a way to access these codes, you’re stuck unless you discover them through trial and error. Of course it can help to be psychic as well for one or two of them. With Training module 2-4, it doesn’t give you all the necessary information to do the special attack, leaving out the motion of down, down-forward, forward prior to the kick command on the screen. If you don’t know that, this one will take a while, and have you mashing buttons to try and figure it out.

This can be increasingly frustrating when playing in Story or Arcade Mode towards the final matches. Some of the enemies at the very end can really become troublesome, and even on Sleepwalk mode, the easiest of them all, can still beat you down and make you want to throw your controller in rage over how cheap they can be, such as the final battle for the Skullheart or just the endurance round before it that pits two enemies against you at once. Things are a lot easier once you learn how to properly fight, learning the tells of a character to learn when to block high or low, and put the special attacks of each fighter to memory. If you don’t, some of the combatants can really give you a hard time in due to how slow they move, or how limited a striking range they have.

Overall, Skullgirls is definitely not a casual gaming experience. Patience and training will become your best friend with this title, especially if you’re someone who doesn’t care too much about learning the combo moves or special attacks of a fighter. But, if that’s the case, this title definitely isn’t for you. However, it becomes a unique experience all around, and not just for the easy-on-the-eyes character models you get to play as or fight against, though it’s admittedly a nice bonus. The only real complaint anyone can have about this title is the limited amount of characters, but given the set price tag, it does work out to a situation of “You get what you pay for,” especially when compared to big budget retail titles that cost sixty US dollars upon release boast upwards of just twenty four fighters. With tight controls, an interesting musical score, limited voice overs that can get a little out of hand, plenty of modes of play that up the replay factor, and all the nostalgic goodness of iconic early nineties titles, there’s really no reason to pass this title up.

Overall Score: 9/10