Skullgirls is a great fighting game with a deep fighting system. My Darkzero review.
What's special about this game is its lead gameplay designer and programmer, Mike Zaimont, is an experienced fighting game tournament player. Being part of the fighting game community has given Mike a chance to let pro fighting game players test his game out every week at events across America, allowing any problems and unbalances that people have picked up on to be sorted out, making it viable for tournament play. Due to this, Mike likes to call Skullgirls "a fighting game for the fighting game fans made by fighting game fans," so has this focus on making Skullgirls a tournament-worthy game helped him make a sexy lingerie model or an ugly Betty?
Fighting games don't often offer a welcoming hand to people who are inexperienced with the genre. I can only think of BlazBlue that did a good enough job in showing you what you need to do. Still, that game didn't explain the terminology and mechanics that all fighting games use nowadays. jargon like 'hitconfirm', 'mix-ups', and 'off-the-ground' can confuse people, and if you are one of these people who doesn't know these terms then Skullgirls has you covered with its knowledge-filling tutorial. Here you'll learn all about blocking cross-ups, tick-throws, the difference between a chain and a combo, and what to do when you stagger an opponent. Once you've done the complete set of tutorials you'll come out feeling well-versed in the concepts of fighting games. It's just a shame that it's a universal tutorial. Having character specific trials to help you understand how each character plays would have put the icing on the cake.
Single player consists of Story mode and Arcade mode. Story gives an insight to the characters by telling their story with still cutscenes. Arcade is just a randomly generated group of opponents to fight against. You can jump into the practice area to train with your character. There's some neat features in here that allow you to see the hitboxes of characters and the hitstun deterioration, but there's also some critical training assets missing such as being able to record a dummy, put a dummy in states like crouching or blocking and seeing your inputs on screen. I can't help but feel a sense of disappointment after touching the brilliant tutorial section.
Skullgirls plays similar to the recent Marvel vs. Capcom 3, although slower paced and not quite as eye popping with the full screen, crazy flashing, colourful hyper moves and combos of that game. Players have the option of picking how many characters should be in their team, something Capcom vs. SNK 2 did back in the day. The normal is three, but you can have two high-powered characters or one super-powerful character. This allows for a mix in fights as a person with one character can't call in assists or swap characters to recover red health. The trade-off is you get to play your best character with a lot more health and damage output than normal. I've noticed that most of the online players opted to go with having two characters, which I guess is down to that option being slap in the middle when advantages are concerned.
If you do pick a team then you can choose from two predetermined assists or you can make your own assist by inputting the special move or ground based command. Anything but air and super moves can be used as an assist. Having custom assists is a great feature that allows you to make the characters come in and do what you want them to do to help you carry on combos or to defend you when in need. I can see future games stealing this feature.
The button layout for Skullgirls is set out like the Street Fighter series. There's six buttons, light, medium, heavy punch and the same again for kicks. Throws are done by pressing both light buttons together. Since there's no spare buttons for assists/tags you have to tap either the two medium buttons or the two heavy buttons to swap characters. In Skullgirls, assists are done by either pressing light punch and medium kick together for the first assist or medium kick and heavy punch for your other character's assist – different from the same tag/assist button feature of Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Special moves are the standard hadouken, shoryuken and hurricane kick motions, with Parasoul, a woman who attacks with a living umbrella, having some charge moves to learn. There's also the game's version of ultras/hypers that are done by doing the same move input as a special, but with two of the same attack buttons pressed instead of one.
There's only a cast of eight characters in Skullgirls, and as the name suggests, they are all females. Some gamers will see this as not enough for a game that offers players a chance to pick up to three characters for a team, and I am somewhat behind that criticism as often you run into people that will play the same character as you. I'm not the biggest fan of mirror matches. My personal taste out of it, the eight characters available are so vastly different that you can forgive the game for only having a small cast.
Diversity ranges in the fighting styles and looks. Ms. Fortune is a feline human with the ability to detach her head from her body and use it to attack, all while still being able to hit you with the rest of her fully functioning body. Valentine (my favourite) is a ninja nurse who attacks you with medical tools, such as bone saws, throwing red crosses as shurikens and stat changing syringes that inflict poison, more hitstun or input lag on the opposition. She also likes to attack you with cadavers zipped up in body bags. Skullgirls is full of bizarre character designs with personality that will stick with you for years to come.
For some peculiar reason there's no move list in the game (coming in patch now) for any of the characters. It is fine if you have a computer nearby with internet access as you can download all the character guides from the official website. The problem lies within the times that you may play locally without access to the web. If you don't know all the characters yourself you cannot tell your friends the moves so you have to let them figure that out, which just turns into a button-mashing marathon for a few fights. It seems so weird to miss this feature after such a good tutorial. A patch is supposedly coming in the future that will add this in, but this depends on how well the title sells, according to Mike Z.
Online play uses the fan-favourite GGPO netcode and it's a lovely experience to play on. The game will let you know your exact ping so you have an idea on how laggy the match will be. When I was playing with someone in the green it seriously felt I was playing with someone next to me. When the connection is good, Skullgirls is a silky smooth online experience. In terms of online features, however, Skullgirls can be a bit of a bare bones experience. Quick match throws you into a ranked match and you can create an unranked lobby that is limited to one other person to join, meaning no spectator or self made tournaments. Boo!
Graphics is something that sticks out instantly when you grace the art deco aesthetics Skullgirls has. Everything is hand-drawn, with the characters stealing the show due to their amazingly detailed animations, rivaled only by Street Fighter III: Third Strike. The problem here is that the backgrounds, while decent, lack the animation that was poured into the characters. The whole game has a jazzy '40s theme from its visual presentation to the music. Soundtrack is enjoyable and the voice overs are decent enough that they don't get under your skin.
While promising to be the friendliest fighting game available with its in-depth tutorial, and aiming to be fairly balanced for tournament play, Skullgirls misses some important aspects in the training mode and lacks character trials that mess up what would otherwise be a near perfect introduction to fighting games and the game itself. There's a sense that Skullgirls was released unfinished to meet the deadline. Ignoring the limited character selection and no move lists, other features seem to be absent like replay mode and lobbies for more than two players. Even the main menu has an option for extras that says "art galleries and other various coming soon." I also ran into a glitch during my review time that would make hitboxes show for a second in a match.
That said, what's important is that Skullgirls is a great fighting game with a deep fighting system. Costing just 1200 Microsoft Points (about £10), the game offers players an exceptional online experience and a distinctive, wild cast of balanced characters that you won't find in any other fighting game. This is also one of the first fighting games I can heartily recommend to pick up if you're a "noob" to the genre. It easily offers the best mechanical explanation of the genre that will let you understand any fighting game to come after this. Anyone who has an itch for some 'girl-on-girl' action, fan or not of the genre, should give Skullgirls a shot, it's a bucket load of fun.