Despite the wealth of 2D fighters currently crowding the market, Skullgirls immediately stands out as being something of an original. Beyond the budget price point (£9.99) making Skullgirls the only ‘serious’ fighter available online at such a low price, the fact that this is a hardcore 2D fighter made outside of Japan should make Skullgirls, at the very least, a curio for long standing fans of the genre.
While the core mechanics take liberally, although admittedly wisely, from the best that the genre has to offer, it’s the 1940’s Americana, movie-inspired visuals that will most likely grab the attention of fighting fans used to a more anime inspired aethetic. Both distinctive and extremely impressive from an artistic standpoint, Skullgirls is nothing if not a looker. As great as it may look though, be warned, Skullgirls unique aesthetic won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. While I thought it an artistic triumph in many respects, the use of rather gratuitous sexualisation in the creation of the eight characters that make up the all-female cast does feel a tad OTT, and despite the hand drawn backdrops initially wowing, I did find that the characters got occasionally lost amidst the hussle and bussle of the nonetheless impressively animated backdrops.
I appreciate that the videogame industry is hardly famed for its subtlety when depicting female characters (especially in beat-em-ups), but Skullgirls overtly sexual character design does clash with the visual themes running through the rest of the game’s design. Sure, a bit of skin is nothing short of a given in an all-female fighter, but the bouncing boobs on display here put even the gravity defying world of Dead or Alive to shame.
Still, despite these issues, each character is expertly animated and, perhaps most importantly, is extremely unique. Even with such an initially limited roster (further characters have been promised via DLC), the sheer diversity in move sets and tactical depth provided by each character means that learning just the basics of a single character is a challenge unto itself. Although the tag system does mean that you inevitably see the same mach-ups time and time again, in terms of providing a technical challenge to newcomers and hardcore alike, Skullgirls doesn’t disappoint.
With no sign of a traditional Ryu-esque character and move-sets that vary wildly from one character to the next, Skullgirls is a fighter that demands a commitment from the gamer rarely seen in many of today’s eager to please fighters. Make no mistake, Skullgirls is as hardcore as they come. While the unforgiving nature of the gameplay, combined with the inevitably polarising art style will put many gamers off at the trial level, I implore those with even a flicker of interest to commit to the full game, as despite Skullgirls’ initial trials and tribulations, there is no doubting the quality of the final product.
Created and expertly balanced by a team of first rate fight fans over at Reverge Labs, what Skullgirls lacks in accessibility, it more than makes up for in depth and unquestionable pedigree. Using the team-base mechanics made famous by Capcom Vs. SNK, Skullgirls allows you to pick one extremely strong fighter or a collection of two or three weaker characters with whom to do battle. Once up and running, Skullgirls delivers an extremely technical fighter that clearly puts the needs of the hardcore ahead of any temptation to impress potential newcomers to the genre. Smart design choices see that the playing field is at least level, but with its combo heavy gameplay favouring experimentation and dedication over flashy special moves, the learning curve will most likely prove a little too steep for many casual fighting fans. While this commitment to the converted may well affect sales, it certainly makes Skullgirls a potential tournament fighter of the future and should enamour itself to the crowd of hit box obsessed purists.
Whatever your views on the visual style or the games’ dedication to the hardcore is though, if you are in any way interested in improving your 2D fighting skills, Skullgirls is made all but essential by its truly wonderful tutorial. Delivering a collection of lessons that will prove just as useful to the newcomer as they will to the well versed veteran, Skullgirls’ training tool provides insight into both the deep mechanics of Skullgirls along with an array of useful tips that can be implemented throughout the entire genre. It’s a shame then that the actual training rooms themselves are so inexplicably limited. AI dummies deliver no option for crouching or jumping, and even more bizarrely, Skullgirls has absolutely no move list to speak of. For such a tactical, demanding fighter, the lack of a move list and proper training options is nothing short of bewildering, but even these omissions can’t undermine the fact that Skullgirls is a very serious fighter with very serious aspirations.
Skullgirls occasionally feels like a half finished game, but there is no doubting that the foundations are here for a genuine competitor to the 2D fighting crown. The visual style is likely to be loved and loathed in equal measures, but for those that commit to its unforgiving but extremely rewarding core mechanics, Skullgirls will deliver an experience comparable to the very best full retail fighters out there. At such a reasonable price point, it’s easy to forgive Skullgirls few baffling omissions and somewhat limited roster and with so much care and attention clearly lavished upon its underlying design, it would be a shame to see this potential fighting franchise disappear behind the shadow of its more illustrious competitors.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 3 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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