The 2D fighter has been a part of the staple diet of gaming since those days when arcades were still a relevant and integral part of the school dinner hour for hordes of young gamers.
Personally I was never a particularly big fan. Sure, on occasion you could find me popping ten pence pieces into a fighter but by and large it’s been a genre I’ve been happy to dip a toe into without ever truly taking the plunge.
Having said that, fear not good readers, as armed with an open mind and a ridiculously short skirt I’m ready to tackle Skullgirls, the new eye candy beat-em-up from the minds of the Reverge Labs team, to see if it has a punch to stagger the heavyweights or it’s still trying to get the top off the ketchup.
Seconds out, round 1.
Let’s talk about something that’s going to grab you long before your opponent manages to, and that’s Skullgirls visual style.
It’s rare, in fact this may be a first, that I begin a review by talking graphics but, in this case I have to make an exception. A world of hand-painted wonderfullness dances before you from the very off. The meticulous attention to detail is phenomenal, each character seems to have been showered with a heartful of love and care before being breathed full of the sort of life that other similar games can only dream of reaching. When viewing the finished fighters in all their glory it’s easy to imagine the initial drawings and development that led to them becoming fully fledged members of the Skullgirls team. Add to the pristine lead characters an excellent array of backdrops and Skullgirls steps away from being mere graphics and enters the realm of something that should probably adorn the wall of some fancy art shop. Playing is akin to engaging in an interactive painting.
Anyway, I think you get the gist, it’s quite pretty, if of course by ‘quite‘ I mean lipsmackingly blooming gorgeous!
Ding Ding, round 2.
So Reverge labs have got the looks right but as we all know only too well it’s worthless unless there’s some seriously tasty gameplay to back it up. Thankfully it looks like someone at Reverge had the ‘gameplay is important after all’ chapter in the ‘what gamers really want’ manual bookmarked as Skullgirls is more than just a pretty face.
The game’s story mode revolves around the legendary Skull Heart. Shrouded in mystery this strange atrifact is said to harbour the power to grant a single wish to the woman who holds it. There is of course a catch. The woman must be pure of heart, if not, she will become a Skullgirl, a twisted creature on a path of rage and destruction. It’s actually a storyline that it’d be nice to delve much deeper into, but, with this being a beat-em-up the story plays second, or perhaps even third fiddle to the action.
We see each characters reason for seeking the Skull Heart in brief snippets and comic book shots but it seems to be there because, well, it has to be, this is story mode after all. Gripe number one for myself is that at times following the opening cut scene and as we lurch headlong into fight number one there seems to be no explanation as to why we’re facing this particular opponent. This happened in my first playthrough and I was left guessing as to what had brought these warriors together.
Still this was soon forgotten as the slick, silky smooth fighting action got under way. Now I said I’ve never really been a huge fan of this genre but every now and then a game comes along that could be the one to convert me.
I’ve often made the mistake when it comes to this genre of diving straight in blind and button bashing my way to a quick defeat, maybe this holds the key to me never quite getting on with fighting games. This time was no different as weary and bruised I dragged my pride off to the tutorial.
The Skullgirls tutorial is superb and by the end you’ll feel like Skywalker Jr leaving master Yoda fully equipped to take on the bad guys, erm, girls. Set across 17 lessons you get to learn the basics such as simple kicks and throws through to the more advanced and skilful techniques with which to dispatch your enemy. The whole learning process is rich with detail and with no stone left unturned you’ll leave a much richer and knowledgable fighter.
The fighting itself is a beautifully fluid affair. Character animation marries perfectly with the knock-out looks to deliver an outstanding experience and armed with your new found knowledge from the tutorial the button bashing is kept to a minimum. The difficulty ramps up significantly as you progress through story-mode and to be honest the final boss battle does become a very frustrating experience even on the easier settings, but it’s not enough to tarnish an otherwise highly polished affair.
The pace of the fight allows for tactical brawling and this is something I really enjoyed. Being used to playing in a panicked blur of mashed buttons it was nice to be able to see attacks coming at you and having the chance to counteract them. Having said that the pace is such that the game never actually labours it keeps you on your toes at all times but avoids going manic.
Arcade mode does exactly what you’d expect. Choosing upto three characters with which to duke it out and going toe to toe with a selection of foes, great for a quick fix. Multiplayer also follows the arcade route and if you can find a lag free match, which thanks to being able to set your own delay dependant upon the opponents ping is pretty often, it’s a real blast, granted I consistently received my arse on a plate but, it was fun while it lasted.
The roster of fighters is a small one with only eight to choose from but thankfully each is distinctive enough that no two ever feel too similar. The girls themselves are a wild and diverse bunch, all loaded with quirks and their own unique brand of brutal brilliance. Ms.Fortune, Painwheel, Cerebella and co are some of the most fantastic creations I’ve ever witnessed in a fighting game and huge credit again goes to the artwork that has brought them so stunningly to life.
To wrap up then Skullgirls is a real gem in the fighting genre. At 1200 MS points it’s a well priced arcade brawler with enough brawn to go head on with the bigger, and more expensive, retail titles. The tutorial is a godsend to newcomers and the less adept fighters out there, the multiplayer runs incredibly well and the story mode tells some interesting tales from the Skullgirl universe. But of course it’s all about the action and Skullgirls puts on a stellar performance. It absolutely won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, it is a fighter after all and the boss battles do get annoying it’s true, but overall in a world where I’ve always been the weakling wiping sand from his face, Skullgirls has made me feel like a giant.