Review; Skullgirls

Skullgirls was released some weeks back all around world, but Europeans had to wait ’til the 2nd for a PSN release for reasons unknown. I blame the French, German and all other countries that refuse to learn any other language other than their own. Eager to play this game on a proper pad (meaning anything else than your stock 360 one) I had to wait for this piece of entertainment to hit the local marketplace. While I admit it’s a bit redundant to make a new review of Skullgirls when the whole Internet seems to be full of them, I feel that I am a little obligated to throw my word into the fray, mostly because this game has interested me since Day 1. While I haven’t been in the fighting game scene for a long time, I still feel obligated to try out new entries to the genre as they pop out. While I have no intentions of ever getting into the fray again due to the distasteful attitudes and behaviour vast majority of the people in the scene have, I’m willing to throw myself into the fray in spirit of good sportsmanship if you’re interested. Just give me a hoot and I’ll see what we can fix up.

Keep in mind that I’m mainly using the HORI Fighting Commander 3 Pro while playing this game, but I will do a comparison how the game plays between the two. We all know that this game was built arcade sticks in mind, so I can say it from the get go that you might want to invest into a proper arcade stick that has a six button layout the least.

Listen to those jazzy tunes

Let’s start with the first impressions. Skullgirls’ film noir style both in visual and audio department is a nice change after loads and loads of Street Fighter clones and the likes of Guilty Gear. There’s a personal preference working here with me, as I am partial for film noir in general, so the whole deal just tastes sweeter than it might actually be.

After the initial screens with nice dieselpunk-ish strokes you might actually start paying attention to the music, unless you were like me and jumped straight into the fray. Michiru Yamane worked on Skullgirls’ music, and the guy is known working on such small games series like Castlevania and Suikoden. Brenton Kossak and Blaine McGurty were also working on the tracks, and the music is well balanced to suit its intended purpose. New Meridian stands in my mind for some reason, thou I do recommend listening to the music and noting all the little things the fighting will bury underneath. I’d recommend putting a good sound system on while playing this game, or pair of good headphones to catch all that base.
However, the music is a double-edged sword. While I may enjoy this jazz club music even on my leisure time, there are loads of people who will think these tracks as nothing more than elevator music. They aren’t as striking as Guilty Gear’s or have the nostalgic value of Street Fighter II’s, but even at their worst they do their job. It really just depends whether or not you actually like this kind of music or not. There’s also this that there might be just a little too much synth in there. I’m all for good synth any time anywhere, but somehow few of these tracks could’ve used real instruments there. For example, New Meridian up there sounds good, but I believe it could sound even better.

I have to give high credit to the voice actors. They do their jobs very well, and you can hear them enjoying and putting themselves into the role. If fighting games have an English language, it usually sounds awful, like a third grade dubjob. Here, the voices are just right and nothing less. I can’t say about the Japanese voices, and I don’t care if they ever get those. I know that the ending song has both English and Japanese version, and Japanese version just sounds wrong.

One thing that bugged the hell out of me in Street Fighter X Tekken was how mudded the soundworld was. The hits didn’t sound right, the music was way too loud and over the top even for a crossover game. Somehow CAPCOM dropped the ball with this one, thou most of their fighting games have had a solid soundwork behind them. Skullgirls excels here very well, every hit giving a satisfying result. None of the sounds are too over the other, discounting the Blockbuster moves’ soundeffect. There’s just something that clicks in the right place. The developers did their homework, and the soundworld is as it should be; invisible unless paid attention, but still pleasant and giving feedback.

So, let’s jump to the meat of the game at this point; the fighting. Damn, I forgot that this was a fighting game for a second. Was I thinking of some action game…?

The launch trailer actually showcases pretty well what the game is like

A lot of comparison has been drawn between CAPCOM’s VS series and Skullgirls in general. I would draw more attention towards the Darkstalkers series both in gameplay and spirit, but with a small dose of 3rd Strike Street Fighter III. The speed of gameplay is not reall fast, but it’s not slow either. It’s a balanced so that speedy character do feel more speedy with complete control. It’s a delicate balance, that quite few fighting games manage to do any more, as they either speed up the gameplay per character, or just speed up the animations and/or halve the priority windows.

As the game is your standard 6-button fighter, you have your Weak to Medium to Hard attacks. Any four face button controller really sucks with this, and the game does allocate both Hard attack to R1 and R2 automatically. I’d like to give this game a spin with a Saturn controller. HORI’s FC3P controller does a good job with this game, even if is rather tricky to press Light Kick and Medium Punch at the same. With an AC stick you have no problems with this. I really recommend an AC stick for this, or at least any six face button controller. On 360 the D-Pad just kills any joy might have, but then again I’m not used to using shitty D-pads in general… like Sony’s.

The characters control very well. There’s no notable lag between the inputs, and the timing needed to pull of the special moves are intuitive and easy to pull off. Not much to say here other than the controls are tight, responsive and well executed. A big plus just for this. Funny trivia; because of my Guilty Gear background I often start to push the buttons in hope for a BURST, just to be remindend that Skullgirls is more traditional and back to the basics. Most of the cast have four moves and three Blockbusters ie. Super moves, which combined with the six normal attacks actually open a nice selection of attacks to string together. Most of the combos are pre-determined chain combos alá Darkstalkers or gatling combos from Guilty Gear, but there are some surprises to be had. Not all moves are apparent at first, as the game does not include a movelist. I’m actually hoping that the wouldn’t have announced that they’d be adding one in the upcoming update, because this way it forces the player to experiment a lot more. That, or go to the Internet and look up the best combos and all that, but nobody would do it, right?

There’s nice lack of projectiles in Skullgirls. Most of the ranged attacks are either closing in rushes, or fixed to certain points. This makes the players to fight more in close range, and allows grapplers to have more leeway in their options. This combined with double jumps, superjumps and airdashes adds more depth to the game. It should be noted that not all characters have same properties, thus making all characters a little bit more extra special. Comparison could be drawn to Morrigan’s forward dash in Darkstalkers, where she is propelled diagonally upwards, and the only other characters sharing this trait is Jedah.

I noted how traditional Skullgirls feel, and this is perhaps it’s low point in regards of gameplay; It offers no new tricks. It doesn’t separate itself from the best of 90’s fighting games, but this is also a very good thing. See, Skullgirls manages to keep high quality up there. It has nice balance between all the eight playable characters, and at the moment none of the characters feel like another. I’m expecting solid tier lists somewhere end of this month, but at the moment there seems to be some confusion in the scene who belong to top tier or not. To a person who isn’t into competitive scene this shouldn’t matter. Hell, I was in the scene and I didn’t care about tiers and did pretty well for some time.

As mentioned, the roster in Skullgirls is balanced. It’s a limited roster of eight, and it has been already announced that there will be DLC characters in the future. Because of this sole reason I personally regard this game incomplete. You’ve got all the archetypes that your basic fighting game has. Props for making Double one of the grosses döppelganger characters in some time. She’s the fetishtic fighting game devs’ endboss, as she uses the other characters’ attacks as her own. There’s nothing else much to say about the cast without going in-depth with each of them. They’re imaginative, well designed and executed characters that are fun to play.

And oh boy, let’s talk about the design world in this game.

The one thing that attracts me personally in Skullgirls is the world design. Much like every good game out there, it starts with the world where the content is. In Skullgirls the content isn’t just the way the characters fight, but also where and when.
The film noir theme going on has been spiced up with a cartoony overtones that have anime influence over them. This cartoon approach translated very well to the character designs with overstylized proportions, simple strokes, bubbly and expressive curves. I have to say that a man’s pleasure to see this much fanservice, but it all goes as the part of the design. It’s part of the design world thou, and is downplayed quite a much. It doesn’t feel forced, like in Dead or Alive. Every character feels unique, even if their personalities isn’t in the vast ocean of fighters. Very few games actually managed to get right ‘the bizarre.’ Darkstalkers almost did it, and so did JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, thou the latter was based on an awesome comic series which was insanely bizarre to begin with.

The bizarre is only enforced, and elevated, by the animation which I’d be ready to call to be nearly on the same level as SF Third Strike. I’m hesitant to call it such because… well screw it, this game has such a high resolution and seamless sprites that I love it. I’ve been expecting SNK to bring me this kind if sprites for a long time now, but it took an indie developer to bring me high resolution sprites that are animated to great detail. Both SNK’s recent fighters and BlazBLue suffer from jagged edges, which I couldn’t notice in Skullgirls on my 42″ Bravia. Honestly, it looks like a well animated Saturday morning cartoon with a skulldaggery theme and I love it.

To quote “Sometimes you just need a good pair of tits

However, the amount of animation comes at a price, and the animation is what holds the basic gameplay speed back, much like in 3rd Strike. I do not see this as a bad thing thou, but it has to be noted. It’s not blazingly fast as Guilty Gear, but the it feels like. Because of the animation the gameplay is actually rather methodical and technical rather than frantic button mashing of MvC2. I’d use Soul Calibur series as an example, but that’s a slow button masher.

You can see that a lot of love and work has gone into the world and these characters. Filia is clearly created with a heavy heart in mind, Cerebella isn’t your typical grappler and does act that way, Peacock’s Steamboat Willy-esque design captures imagination right away, Parasoul is your classy lady with an agenda, Ms.Fortune is a catgirl in pieces, Painwheel and Double have born from the more sinister mind of human psyche while I can imagine rabid teenagers jacking off to a hot ninja nurse that is Valentine. This is a great cast. Whether or not it would’ve underminded the game’s design and feel if there was more characters is an open question, as more characters would’ve have added more value to the game if the balance had been maintained the same.

Speaking of the world, check the backgrounds that are going on in the game. There’s a lot of small easter eggs like Ryu in the alleyway of New Meridian. There’s also lot of characters with unique animations and designs that I’d love to see as complete and playable characters in the future. There’s too much potential in these characters to lose, but most likely we’ll get completely new characters, for better or worse. I can’t really tell if all stages are in 3D because, but some of them are and it hits like your eye pretty quick. They’ve mixed the stage’s overall so that the 3D isn’t that clear, but anyone can see it. At least it looks good, unlike some out-of-place 3D stages in Capcom VS SNK2 or the like. It would’ve been too much work to create handmade backgrounds for the stages, but it would’ve helped a lot, as some of them are rather lacking in imagination.
However, there’s a nice effect depending on the time in the stages. Stages that are set after the dusk throw a darkening colourscheme upon the characters, which gives a great contrast to the well lit stages. I can’t really recall another 2D fighter doing this, so big props for this detail. It looks great, and while adds nothing to the gameplay pleases the eye.

So, is Skullgirls worth your 15€?

I’d say that yes, yes it is. It’s not the largest fighting game on the market, but whatever it lacks in size is met with high amount of quality. It does it’s own thing and isn’t afraid of being different from others. We used to have loads of different fighting games side by side, and Skullgirls is a very welcome addition to the crowd. Sure, it doesn’t certainly appeal to everybody, and people who can’t stand anything that has it’s roots in the 90’s should try the trial and the scoff it off, but even these people have to accept that the game has that ‘something.’ At the very heart, Skullgirls is a blast from the past with well polished and simple back to the basics approach, which I appreciate greatly. Even the King of Fighters XIII felt a little too convoluted for its own good, but Skullgirls managed to keep things simple and clean without making things overly complicated.

I have to emphasize; Skullgirls has certain good quality to it that is not for everyone’s taste. This is why I strongly recommend testing out the trial version first.

What’s in the future for Skullgirls? Lots of DLC I’d presume, hopefully not too expensive. A two character packs around 4€ would be ideal in my mind, but analysts seem to disagree. Whatever mechanic updates they will make will most likely make the game more convoluted, a thing I do hope they will avoid as much as possible. I don’t want to face another disaster like SFxT. I have careful hopes for Skullgirls, and if the developers manage to keep the string tight and tidy from now on, Skullgirls just might rise above the middle it stands proudly on. It’s a good fighting game by all means, but if you don’t have much friends to play with (or want to play online,) Skullgirls offers few hours of entertainment only to be picked again when the first DLC and/or update comes.
If you’re like who just likes to spend in the Training mode for few hours and then blast through the Story and Arcade modes with newfound skill, you most likely want to get into this game. Just don’t become too good so that nobody wants to play against you any more

I love that when you get 18-hit combo, the counter announces BARELY LEGAL!

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