For a number of reasons, Skullgirls is a blast of fresh air in the fighting game genre. Not bound by the design or gameplay standards of a renown publisher or developer, the team at Autumn Games laid the ideas on thick. However, unique thinking doesn’t always lead to a fun game. Does Skullgirls manage to pull it all together to provide an experience on the same level as the giants in the genre?
The world of Skullgirls is one that I don’t think I’ve ever seen the likes of in video games. Taking heavy cues from the early days of animation, Skullgirls’ art style is gorgeous and wildly creative. In particular, the character designs look and move in ways that I’m not used to seeing. Skullgirls is a treat to look at, as the art and animation are top-notch. I can’t stress enough that any screenshots or video you’ve seen online don’t do the game justice. It’s super pretty on a screen when you’re playing it.
Besides being a stunning game to look at, the crazy character designs and overall art direction open up a number of gameplay possibilities, which ultimately feel like an amalgamation of a hardcore fighting game player’s favourite gameplay mechanics mashed into one. The end result is a game that sort of feels like Blazblue meets a Capcom Vs. game. I can see this being overwhelming to a newbie fighting game player (even with the help of the game’s above average tutorial mode), but I think that any serious fighting game player who gives this game a shot is going to find a lot to love here. After a few hours of play, I was able to come to grips with some of the gameplay mechanics to the point where I could string together some nice combos and formulate the basis of a strategy and some tactics. I know that if I were to invest the time, there’s a lot of depth to explore.
Exploring that depth though, is more difficult than it should be. The biggest crime that Skullgirls commits is that it doesn’t have an in-game moves list or any sort of challenge mode. Without a moves list, you better print one out or have a laptop handy, which is an archaic solution to a problem that shouldn’t exist in any modern fighting game. Without a challenge mode, you’re going to have to figure out combos on your own or have a guide handy. I can deal with the lack of a challenge mode, but the exclusion of an in-game moves list is inexcusable.
In Skullgirls, you can choose to play as one of the 8 selectable characters either as an individual, or as a two or three character team. If you choose to play as a team, you have access to assist moves for off-screen characters. While this seems to be the obvious way to go, there game is balanced in a way to make every fight fair. While I appreciate the play style variety between the 8 characters, that’s too small of a roster; especially if you’re going to let players form a three-character team. If you’re not willing to deep dive into the nuances of each character, that roster size may turn you off immediately, which is a shame.
If you’re looking to take on the world, the online Skullgirls experience is pretty good. The game is powered by GGPO net code, which is renown as the best for 2D fighting games. On top of that, the game even shows you ping ratings to help you choose opponents that won’t lag. Most of the time, the game plays butter smooth and is definitely a step up from the net code in recent games such as Street Fighter X Tekken. When things fall apart however, it’s really bad. Most annoying is when the game continues to lag after the match is over. The online menus also seem to lag more than they should, which can be annoying.
As a fighting game, Skullgirls has a lot to offer, particularly for diehard fighting game fans who love exploring deep gameplay mechanics. I think it’s a really fun game to play. It also doesn’t hurt that Skullgirls is one of the prettiest fighting games out there. However, I can’t overlook the small roster, lack of an in-game moves list, a lack of modes, some online hiccups and an AI that can make the single player experience a difficult one, even on the easiest difficulty setting. The overall experience is worth the $15 to me, but due to the game’s hardcore slant and flaws in the package, it’s probably not worth it to you unless you’re a serious fighting game fan that’s willing to give Skullgirls a chance.