: Revenge Labs
: Autumn Games/ Konami
: Xbox360 (XBLA), also on PS3
: Fighting Game
: April 11th, 2012
What happens when you get a developing team of tournament fighters to do their best to make a well balanced fighter, with a 2D fighting engine, and stunning visuals? You get a 4 year in the making fighting game called Skullgirls. With it's cast of 8 diverse characters, custom assist, character ratio battles, Infinite Burst, and many shoutouts to the fighting game community Skullgirls aims to be a fighting game like no other. Now on PSN and XBLA and players now able to get there hands on this game, does it live up to all the hype and keep true to it's word?
Skullgirls enters you into a dark neco art style world, where different female combatants fight to take possession of an artifact called the Skull Heart. The Skull Heart has the power to grant a woman's wish but of course there is a catch. If she has a impure heart her wish, even selfless ones, will become twisted for example if you wish for peace it will be done by brutality, if you wish for a loved back from the dead they will come back as a undead monster, and so on. You will also become the Skullgirl if you make a wish and though becoming the Skullgirl makes you a powerful being it also drains you of your life and makes you become more of a puppet for the power of the Skull Heart. Though this story does seem cliche and has been done before like such games as Twisted Metal, it is fun to see each characters journey in trying to attain this artifact. The story mode in the game itself isn't to lengthy it maybe takes about 25 minutes to do each characters story and one minor flaw with the story mode is that there is no voice acting during the story. The only thing you get is text and just some still frames with only the characters facial expressions and posses changing sort of similar to Blazblue but without the voices. Though this isn't a major set back to the game it just felt lacking in that category.
The cast of characters Skullgirls provided may seem minimal due to the number of characters in the game but each character has their own unique play style that the old saying quality over quantity comes into play strongly here. The game features a cast that ranges from a ninja nurse, to a robot girl that is a homage to 1920's classic cartoons, to a creepy giant blob monster that imitates other characters but in a unique way and disguises herself as a nun. The characters play-style and special moves have their own properties for example the ninja nurse has three different types of shots she throws one causes health to slowly drain for a short time, the other causes a delay in animation once hit to extend combos on a character, and the last causes a lag to the opponent's character where their button input becomes delayed and animation start to feel clunky for a short time as well. The other characters in the cast have just as many options to there play-style and will give the player many hours of experimenting with the characters of their liking and finding different ways to play as them. There is another small set back and that is the game does not come with an in game movelist. The only way to figure out moves is experimenting or looking online for the movelist, this is sort of a negative yet also may be a positive to some players since it gives sort of a hidden value to the game. Revenge Labs stated that they will put a movelist into the game as a patch as well as some new content if the game sells well.
Skullgirls visuals are incredible and eye bobbling, when you see it running on your television screen in it's full 60 frames per second, all you want to do is stare at the screen and see every single motion of animation the character has. Alex Ahad, the lead art designer, gave the game a cartoony and western anime look to the game also using the dark neco art style that give a more gritty aspect to the game. Alex also worked on the Scott Pilgrim visual novels and game and you can see some influences from it going to the art style of Skullgirls. Every frame of animation is hand draw by the animating team and ranges from 1200 to 1500 frames per character including their intros. The stages are also stunning ranging from such destinations as a cathedral to a town full of fish like people, to an area where bunch of stuff is flying across the screen and a creepy nun statue floating in the air.The stages are also fully hand drawn plus features background characters with their own animations some even interacting in movement when you slam your opponent to the ground or do a super.
Each character has alot of extra animation when it comes to their moves. What I mean by extra animation, I'm talking about how the moves consist of more then just an animation of a punch and a kick. There are alot of extras in the game during gameplay for example, Peacock has a move where she drops items from the sky in a classic cartoon anvil fashion that drops many different items like, a teacup, a bowling ball, a Japanese chibi head of Ms. Fortune, an elephant, and so much more. This makes the game a joy to see all the different animations for the characters move and find a bunch of visual easter eggs. Skullgirls gives each character 10 different color pallets and some even being references to other characters in the gaming, anime, movie, and pop culture media. Some cool once to mention are Ms. Fortune's Morrigan from Darkstalkers, Fillia's Rei Miyamoto from HOTC, Double's Slimer from Ghostbusters, and Parasoul's Kneesock from Panty and Stocking colors, there are so much more in the game and to much to list. Though the game visuals may be a inconvenience to some since of it's anime cartoon style or since it has "fan service" (ie panty shots, cleavage) this is still one of the greatest looking fighting games since Street Fighter 3: Third Strike for me.
Have you ever heard a hard hitting punch that makes you cringe by the sound of it? Well Skullgirls make you have that feeling over and over again. The sound effects are some of the most amusing noises to listen to in a fighting game giving the quirkiness of a 1970's Kung Fu flick and cartoony sound for a standard punch to hearing the sound of a clean slice from a sharp object. There are many specific sound to some character like Peacock all her sound effects are basically from a cartoon with the classic whistle sound when an object falls from a high distance or the sound of her running is in resemblance classic Scooby Doo runs or her spring noise when she tags in as a boxing glove the sound off the game varies for each character. The voice acting in the game is superb and all the voice actors give an excellent performance portraying each character. Famous anime and video game voice actor, Christina Valenzuela, was in charge of being the voice director for the voice actors in the game and for her first time directing she did an amazing job doing it. Just like the visuals of the game they're many awesome in game references and easter eggs familiar to people mostly in the fighting game community. Some examples are the announcer saying "The Gorilla Fate Is Yearning" poking fun at the Blazblue announcer, Cerebella saying "You Can Haz Cheeseburger" to Mr. Fortune who is a cat girl responding with "That's Racist!" this is a reference to the old internet meme. The voice acting and the sound of the game is such an earful you will be hearing new stuff every time you play.
I'm going to say flat out the OST in this game is probably the most fitting fighting game music I've heard yet defiantly for the type of setting and art style the game has. I haven't heard a character select screen that I loved as much since the Street Fighter 3 franchise. The music is done by non other than the legendary Michiru Yamane, she is most famous for her work on the Castlevania series and brings over the feel from the music from that game into Skullgirls. The stage themes fit so well with the stages them selves and bring alot of emotion to the setting of the game. Skullgirls consist of music from groovy Big Band jazz music to a heavenly melody featuring a vocal track to a dark heart racing yet majestic orchestral number with each song featuring amazing piano work through the song. The game's music brings a breath of fresh air to VGM on any other genre game. While the game may be very loud, this is somewhat a positive defiantly if there is a local tournament. You will be hearing the sound from this game overshadow the others in a nice way to attract random spectators viewing the game.
The main goal for the Revenge Labs team was to make a well balanced fighting game that would be mostly for the people of the fighting game community. They took in many suggestion and brought many new ideas for how the gameplay mechanic would come to place into making a great fighting game. With lead designer and programmer Mike Zaimont (also known as Mike Z) being a part of the fighting game community and winning many major fighting game tournaments in different games, he had experience with different game mechanics and knew what was needed into making a perfect fighter. Skullgirls's controls feature the 6 button fighting game layout similar to the Street Fighter series to which the game has a light, medium, heavy punch and kick. The game also has a super meter that can go up to a level 5 meter this is necessary for some characters that have level 5 supers. Each character has at least 3 supers (one character even has up to five different supers) most consist of two level 1 supers and one level 3 super being a more powerful super that costs more from you super bar. The actual gameplay of Skullgirls is in resemblance to other anime like fighters for example Guilty Gears and Blazblue where you can dash in the air and pull of a string of combos in air as well. You can also cause a juggle into a relaunch combo as long as the hit box still detects the move, what this means is you can combo a character into the air with a launch move then once the character is about to hit the ground you can relaunch if you have perfect timing. The hit box does shorten over time so it does get a bit harder to pull of constantly. Sort of similar to many other fighting game the game has OTG (off the ground) moves where you can get some extra hits once your opponent hits the ground, you can go as far as relaunching your character off of this depending on when you do it. The OTG and relaunch feels like something similar to the Marvel Vs. Capcom series (would say more of MVC1) but feels alot smoother when pulling this off. The game does have a training mode like no other that teaches you the mechanics of the game instead of asking you to pull of impractical combos
I know alot are saying that the whole constant relaunch feature seems sort of unbalance but the game has something to where you can ever hardly do that one touch of death combo to a character. A some what new feature to fighting games, called the Infinite Burst causes the character to break free from combos that are going on to long, this has been done in very few fighting games but done in a different way. You start know Infinite Burst is ready to activate when your characters starts to glow red and the sound bytes for the attacking noises start to sound a bit hallow, to pull it off all you have to do is press any button the push your opponent away. The Infinite Burst can be punishable but incredibly hard to do since it's more about predicting when the character is about to do it and when you should stop your combo to reset it. By reset I mean cause your opponent to fall for a set up by them doing something at the wrong time in order to restart a new combo. In addition to the Infinite Burst, Skullgirls also features another new feature to the game called Custom Assist. The Custom Assist allows you to add in any move you want from the character to be their assist move this includes special moves, normal moves, and even grabs. The game does feature preset assist but it is more useful to customize to find an assist to work with your team. This feature is nothing but positive to me since it gives the player more variety and control to their own team. Some might say what is the use of having a normal jabs and grabs but if you experiment enough you will find some useful thing with these types of assist. Here are some examples, you can use a regular move to push a character that is blocking back a bit to give you a more easier opportunity to grab your opponent defiantly with grapplers, the throws can be useful cause it can randomly catch a character that is pressuring you and you can hit off after the grab.
One last new feature and probably the most speculated feature is the different ratio aspect of the game, what I mean by ratio's is that you can have a 1on1, 1on2, 1on3, 2on2, 2on3, 3on3 battle. I was a bit worried on how this would pan out cause it seemed that it would be unbalanceable. Well the Revenge Labs team knew what they were supposed to do and found a perfect way to balance this, if you have a one character team the character is super powerful and takes a short but decent amount of damage with the handicap of not having any assist. If you have a 1on1 battle the game becomes a traditional fighter and has a two round fight. If you have a two character team your characters are still powerful but not as much as a one team character. The three character team are more normal and health goes down alot faster but you do have the benefit of two assist and the ability to tag out if your character has to much red health and needs to recover. With a feature like this it sort of feels like you are getting more than one game out of Skullgirls and just adds on how the player has more freedom in making their team.
Fighting games are meant to be more of multiplayer game, so does Skullgirls come out strongly in it's online mode? One major complain that fighting game fans have about fighters is the online lag that happens during matches, this has been a problem with many fighters in the past where people with not the greatest internet do not find pleasing matches. Revenge Labs knew about these complains, since some are a part of the community, they try their best to get a game that would work like a charm by using the GGPO netcode. What GGPO does is it causes the game to hardly ever lag and substitutes it with a rollback to where the game will do a short skip of animation and lets you continue fighting. This is a much more suitable alternative to many other netcodes since there is hardly any lag in the game a for the most part runs smoothly online. Lagged matches hardly ever accorded when I played matches on both the 360 and PS3 version of the games. I did experience a short amount of matches that the roll back came into play, it does feels much better than other fighter during lagged situations but one complain is some times the rollback take back a hit and doesn't count it. There was another time where the announcer said "Cut" to signify the match is over but the rollback took back the hit so the match wasn't over and this can sometime cause you to lose. Though I will be honest I tried to find these kind of matches on purpose by finding someone with a low ping to see how the GGPO comes into play. The great part about Skullgirls is it lets you see the opponents ping strength(the strength of their internet) and allows you to decline the match. All I could find was matches with green ping during my section, green being excellent, yellow being alright, and red being poor, this proved that the online match making is superior to many other fighting games.
Other than online mode there are not to many other modes to mess with then the Tutorial, Story, and Arcade mode. While there are a small amount of modes in the game the AI in the game is brutal and can even be hard on it's easiest settings. This may be a bad and good thing to some players depending on the players take. The game may be a nightmare for newcomers when they start off, I know that I got bodied the first time I played it on easy mode, but like I mentioned the tutorial mode does help alot in understanding the game more and take what you learned into play. Now I enjoy how difficult the computer AI is because it does prepare you for online mode or doing local matches. One other thing I would like to mention is the Achievement and Trophies in the game are like no other in fighting games. While most fighting games ask you to beat the game in the hardest difficulty or rank up to a certain level on online mode, the achievements/trophies system in Skullgirls are more secretive and fun to do. The game asks for character specific things in order to unlock the Achievement/Trophies and the best part is all you get is a hint from what the title of the Achievement/Trophy and doesn't explain how to get it, unless you cheat and look online. There are some standard Achievements/Trophies to get that are pretty easy like beat story mode with each character or complete the tutorial it is nice to see variety in how to unlock them. Skullgirls will be getting more content in the future such as bigger online lobbies, DLC characters, and more as patches or add ons.
Not only did Revenge Labs succeed into making Skullgirls how they promised, they put in so much content into the gameplay and mechanics of the game that it felt like the 1200pts ($15) price tag was a steal to me and a must have downloadable game. This game surpasses many other fighters that had the price tag of $60 when it comes the quality of the game. Even though the game lacks a bit when it comes story, modes, and difficult AI those are minor inconveniences the game itself. Skullgirls features many new stuff to the table that gives so much variety and freedom to the player that it feels like a breath of fresh air and a strong step into where the fighting game genre should be heading. While Skullgirls may not be as popular as many other fighters out there, it is defiantly one of the best fighting games I have played in a long time and will have you playing for hours. There will be more content coming soon that will give you more of a reason to continue playing Skullgirls. I hope to see many more fighters and developing teams like Skullgirls and Revenge Labs in the future and hope Skullgirls gets alot more exposure to the fighting game scene.