While frightening to newcomers, this is a must have for fighting game fans

User Rating: 9 | Skullgirls X360
Having been out for only a day on XBLA I've yet to finish (not to mention start) the story mode so I shall not comment on that.

Skullgirls, as you've surely read in all the other reviews of the game, has the most gorgeous visuals of any 2D fighter to date. The high resolution sprites consist of several layers and the lighting effects are done pixel by pixel which really puts a large emphasis on the art style that's very similar to that of Bioshock. The soundtrack fits the art with jazz tunes composed by Michiru Yamane (who also composed Castlevania Symphony of the Night along with a large amount of joint work with other composers on other soundtracks) to compliment the overall feel of the game. The developers have really put emphasis on the fact that there are over 1000 frames of animation for each character -which even online is displayed seamlessly thanks to the GGPO net code specialised for fighters.

At this point other reviews have probably given you the impression that a large amount of this game's appeal comes from its visuals. This is not the point that the (good) reviewers will have been trying to get across, the visuals are simply the first thing to really jump out at you when you play the game. The fighting mechanics themselves are refined to give a great gameplay experience that challenges that of big titles from veteran developers such as Street Fighter and BlazBlue although the way the game flows is more resemblant to the flow of a game like Marvel vs Capcom because of the speed and team mechanics.

So, you might be wondering what makes the mechanics so good? Well firstly, there's a demo so play that. Secondly is the fact the that the way battles play out isn't so hectic that you can hardly tell what's going on on-screen and forcing you to focus solely on what buttons you're pressing and instead relies on your reflexes while allowing you to pay attention to the variables that you can see. Another mechanic is the aforementioned team system. You can have up to 3 team mates to switch around with and use assist attacks (which can be any of the selected character's moves, not just a small selection of them) but don't think that the bigger your team the better. There's a balancing system that compensates you for your handicap if you were to select a lower number of team mates by giving you more health and having you deal more damage. The assist moves open up even more combo pathways than already exist (of which there are many for each character) and the customisability of these make these possibilities far exceed those of MvC.

There are also a good few tutorials that bear resemblance to Blazblue's in that they cover fighters from the basics of movement to the nitty-gritty of combos, mix-ups and other strategies. While it has these the game is missing any sort of character move lists or character specific tutorials which I'm sure you've heard about everywhere you've looked. This was definitely a bad choice from the developer as it's bound to scare away newcomers from the already intimidating fighting genre. That's not to say, however, that this lack of move lists will phase anyone that's played at least one of the big names in the fighting genre as most of the moves are either obvious due to the character type or just sweeps and z-movements. For example, Cerebella is a heavy character so veterans will automatically know that she's a grabber and in addition has a charge move that doesn't seem to do anything but make her run so the assumption will be that there are follow-ups for the move. There is also a .pdf download on the official website for character move lists but it's 30mb large and no newcomer is going to feel the need to continue playing the game when they can't figure out what to do.

Another issue is that there are only 8 characters to choose from. These are all vastly different but are still balanced although when you compare the roster number to that of other games it just seems to pale in comparison. The character select screen has lots of empty spaces and there are likely to be at least 2 DLC characters for anyone that loves the game enough to purchase them (this I know because there is a NeoGeo version coming in early 2013 with 2 extra characters).

To close up, Skullgirls is a gorgeous fighter with well balanced fighting mechanics that still make way for many combos and strategies (courtesy of the team mechanic) but is not without it's problems that mainly affect those who are new to fighters. The soundtrack is excellent and fighter veterans will feel right at home and to top it off the game is at the bargain price of $15 (£10) and even has a demo for those unsure about the purchase. This is absolutely a must have for anyone that has even a glimmer of desire for fighting games.