In today’s world of 3D rendered, $60 retail fighting games, it always surprises me to see studios putting out games that a) are 2D and have hand drawn animation, and b) are download only. Seeing a game that comes along and does both is mind boggling, in the best way. Skullgirls has quite the odd tale, originally starting as two separate projects, one side being the game engine and mechanics developed by Mike Z (a tournament level player) and the other side being Reverge Labs, who was making art, story, and the world for a fighting game. How does the combining of two separate projects hold up; is it a match made in heaven, or just two pieces duct taped together?
First thing I noticed was the attention to detail… in everything. Character animation is smooth as butter, design that is not only interesting to look at, but functional down to every frame. Each character in this all-female cast has a feel and play style that is all their own. Don’t think that Reverge Labs has only paid attention to art direction, as audio and sound effects don’t skip a beat either. The announcer is what initially caught me off guard, his golden pipes ring from something you’d hear at the beginning of television, a bygone era. If you fancy some smooth jazz, specifically the sax, your ears will be in heaven playing Skullgirls. The smooth tones bellow out from speakers and directly into the section of your brain that gets you excited about playing.
The actual fighting itself is a strange mix between different games. You can choose up to three characters to fight with, or you can go with just one, though the more characters you pick the less powerful they will be. Making up for that fact, you can call in assist attacks that will help you keep intricate combos going long after they would end if you only had one character. The overall fighting systems in Skullgirls kind of feels like a sandbox, while playing if it looks like you could continue a combo with another hit, there is a good chance you can. Perhaps the best thing Mike Z and Reverge labs put in the game is an anti-infinite system. Here, if any character keeps doing the same inputs over and over, after a short while your hits will count for zero damage, and you’ll be forced to back off and try something else.
Story modes in fighting games have always been a bit of, well, a toss away. While Skullgirls’ cast isn’t going to change any hearts in that regard, the premise of the tale is interesting. Each lady has something they want, as luck would have it, the mysterious Skull Heart which will grant one lady her wish.
With online play being the thing that brought back fighting games from the brink of destruction, it’s only fitting that Skullgirls has some serious online chops. Using the latest and greatest net code available to the genre, GGPO makes an appearance, bringing what, for the most part, is very minimal lag. While that sounds normal for most games, few online problems for a fighting game is something that we should hold Skullgirls above the crowd for. Lag free online is something not seen in many games of this type, so you shouldn’t take it for granted.
With Reverge Labs and Mike Z putting so much attention in the minutiae of Skullgirls, it seems like a massive oversight to be missing two huge components of fighting games. There is no move list within the game, and there are no multiplayer lobbies. A moves list has been promised to be patched in at a later date, contingent on if enough copies are sold, but it just seems like the game was being pushed out the door before things were completely finished.
Admittedly I love to champion great 2D art, and Skullgirls has that in spades. It’s not a bad thing either that the mechanics hold up to – and in some ways surpass – full retail fighting game releases. Skullgirls is a game that had me excited from get-go. After all, a studio producing fantastic art, and a pro player designing the mechanics behind it, what wasn’t to get excited about? Even with a good amount of hype I had behind it, the game still managed to surprise me when I played it — a feat that doesn’t happen often.