Skullgirls Review – That’s fighting talk
What happens when you take nine young girls who know how to take a punch, put them in costumes you’re likely to see at your local anime convention then place them in a game with comic book style visuals? You get Skullgirls, a 2D fighting game developed by Reverge Labs and published by both Konami and Autumn Games. It's available to download and play right now from both the Playstation Network and the Xbox Live Arcade, the question is - should you?.
Skullgirls is set in the world of Canopy Kindom, where the Skull Heart grants the wish of any young girl who finds it. However, those impure of heart are doomed to be corrupted by the Skull Heart and be transformed into the monstrous Skullgirl. There are nine playable characters, all young girls with different powers, ranging from the simple to the outright strange. Some of the characters who stand out are Painwheel, an experiment gone… right? The deformed and creepy, mask-wearing girl is working for an evil scientist who wants the Skull Heart for himself, and she will tear her way (literally tear, those claws are deadly) to victory. Cerebella is a circus performer who’s magical hat can grow arms which can cause massive damage to her opponents. Ms. Fortune (get it?) is a cat-human hybrid who can take off her own head and use it to attack enemies.
The story is simple but sets the scene nicely for why these characters are fighting each other, as ever with fighting games, each character has their own reasons for wanting to find the Skull Heart and the story mode will see you play as one of the girls and follow her as she searches for the Skullheart, fighting opponents along the way. There's also a classic arcade mode, which allows you to have up to three characters at a time in a three-way tag battle.
The game’s style comes mainly from its comic book look, with elements of Japanese anime being the inspiration for many of the girl’s costumes and general appearance. Skullgirls has really a unique style which really works in its favour. With many of the fights taking place in the smoky night time city of Canopy and the menu screens being displayed as film reels you get a real film noir feel. There's also a slight Broadway feel to it, with flashing stage lights saying “Showtime!” at the start of each fight. Hell I’ll say it, the game looks and feels like Reverge Labs took the musical Chicago and injected it with a good deal of mayhem and a nice big dollop of zany. The game might just be passed off by many as silly, but there is a lot of charm in Skullgirls.
The controls are a pretty big barrier to entry, though. If you're not a fighting game veteran you're going to struggle with your first few fights, the basics are easy enough to learn, but some of the trickier moves are harder to pull off successfully in combat, even on the easier difficulties. The AI players aren't just dummies like in many games either, they know what they’re doing and are bloody good at it too. This level of difficulty works both for and against Skullgirls, as it will inevitably scare off casual gamers who haven’t tried many fighters before, but on the flip side will be a damn good challenge for those willing to invest some time into the game.
One of the major criticisms that I have with Skullgirls is the juggling that can occur during a fight. Now, being able to combo is great, but often times you, or your opponent, can catch you in a combo that just won’t let up. This will cause massive damage to you without even giving you a chance to break out of it. Some people may think this adds more challenge to the game, I disagree. It's an unfair device which allows the person who happens to have the fastest thumbs win the game most of the time. It doesn’t really matter how many button combinations you learn, it’s all about how fast you are, and once you’ve got someone pinned down all you need to do is get button bashing for the win.
Skullgirls is a game which means very well. Its visuals, characters, story and soundtrack are all great, but the gameplay is frustratingly hard and will likely only be enjoyed by people who have been playing fighting games for a while. The unfair juggling system is a really big drawback for the game, but overall Reverge Labs have been able to make something that's fun and has a personality, but it's a game which will put off many due to its tough gameplay.
3 out of 5.