Skullgirls Review

Platform | Release Date
360 | April 11, 2012
SEN | April 12, 2012
Developed by Autumn Games
Published by Konami

The Pitch:

Skullgirls is a fast-paced 2-D fighting game that puts you in control of fierce warriors in a Dark Deco world. All-new game systems test the skills of veteran fighting game fans while also making the genre enjoyable and accessible to newcomers. A modern take on classic arcade fighters with a hand-drawn high-definition twist, Skullgirls is a one-of-a-kind, action-packed competition complete with awesome combos and an intriguing backstory.

In the street-fighting world, hitting a series of high and low points is called a “mix-up.” It is difficult to defend against due to needing to alternate blocking both high and low. In the reviewing world, it is called a “compliment sandwich”.

Skullgirls is a technical two-dimensional street fighter that offers to teach a high level of play, and then immediately beats down players incapable of perfection.

The classic, 2D fighting gameplay revived by Street Fighter IV is present, but the first thing that will catch your eye is Skullgirls’ adherence to classic sprites. The hand drawn characters bob and weave somewhere between a high quality animation and a nicely done flash game. I dug the combination of HD presentation and style. While at first glance the game appears to be anime inspired, it is actually updating Tex Avery/Jessica Rabbit pin-up girls: like the ones a cartoon wolf would howl at and catcall. This is matched by a retro, jazzy menu system and musical score. However, most anime draws from, and updates, this same historical source material. The inclusion of a zombie cat girl and panty shots also hit some standard otaku notes. The presentation, speed of the game, and combo system feel very similar to Guilty Gear. Guilty Gear is also an anime inspired, 2D sprite fighter, and a personal favorite.

You should first check out the extensive and initially welcoming tutorial. Skullgirls provides the basics, but also includes and teaches the standard terminology you would find on Shoryuken.com or Eventhubs.com. Mix-ups, hitstun, and canceling are all referred in the same “plain English” that most fighting game enthusiasts speak. There are no wacky references to a “Roman Cancel” or deciphering the difference between a “Rage Meter for super moves!” and a “Super Bar for EX Attacks!”

It makes you feel like a Pro, right until it beats you down.

The tutorial has a steep difficulty curve and demands perfection. Complete 3/3 “Avoid a Throw” means complete the request 3 times in a row. Any failure resets your counter. Fail to deflect a throw? Back to 0, and it only becomes harder. It’s unfortunate that these tests couldn’t be separated into a trials mode that demanded the higher perfection, while leaving the tutorial more forgiving of failure. The training and main game are also suspiciously absent of a move list. Instead, a random loading screen tip requests you go to their website for a complete list of character specific attacks.

Skipping Training mode to immediately begin a campaign career would result in a rude awakening. Even on the easiest difficulty, your first opponent will throw out 6-hit combos or keep you on the far side of the screen with a near constant barrage of projectiles. I expected a tough time given the game’s marketing as a tournament level fighter, but the first opponent trouncing me was unpleasant.

The whole experience felt disengaged. Despite a unique premise, world, characters, and a catchy music, I was just working out the mechanics. I even had trouble picking a character I “liked” the most thematically. It’s almost like the game was grown in a lab to be the perfect street fighter, but it’s soul is hitting an uncanny valley. Most of the individual aspects of the fighting engine are strong and well thought-out, but together it never gelled into an emotional experience.

Once I found a character I wasn’t terrible with, I could march my way through the campaign (rarely losing) and didn’t notice any spikes in difficulty. It seemed like everyone just started out “hard” and stayed there throughout the campaign. Not bad for the pros who up the difficulty each time they clear Arcade, but very unwelcoming to beginners who want to bash on a couple warm-up opponents before shit gets real.

Still, the promise of systems that detect and defend against infinite combos and the ease of input for general combo progression is a fun one. While it is hard to say if Skullgirls is perfectly balanced, given the wide variety of tag-team options, they have several features in place specifically designed to alleviate frustrations found in other franchises.

Online play was relatively lag free, but feels a bit rushed in presentation. The tools provided are useful for challenging random opponents but lack community features. When creating a private room you have the option to invite your Xbox Party, however, only the first person to respond to the invite gets into your room. The private room is limited to a 1-on-1 affair and any other party members responding to the invite receive an error message.

There is no spectating or even a lobby. It looks like a partial implementation. Like they wanted to have lobbies and group sessions, but in the product available you can only match with one opponent. This is a huge letdown for anyone that wants to convince their friends to play with them in an inexpensive game, but can’t have more than one friend participate at a time.

Picking fighters is also not double-blind and if you want to get into a match quickly you give your opponent an advantage showing your team make-up. A lot of the rankings, titles, and other perks found in recent online focused fighting games are also missing. Perhaps they plan to expand on this with future updates but the current implementation is clumsy, especially for playing with multiple friends.

Despite its budget price of $15 dollars, I found the game far too difficult to recommend to most gamers and lacked the lobby features needed for friendly Friday Night matches with buddies over the internet. However, for a fighting game enthusiast with interest in dabbling in another well constructed system of combos and mix-ups, it has its merits.

About Aaron Phokal

Aaron is a staff writer for Splitkick.
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