Skullgirls hands-on preview

An indie fighting game filled with style, cool characters and innovative ideas

Reverge Labs recently swung by the office to show off their upcoming DLC fighting game Skullgirls. A 2-D fighter with a totally unique cartoony style, the game is aiming to combine the best elements of other fighters, specifically the Versus games, while putting their own spin on it all.

Any good fighting game needs interesting characters, and Skullgirls has them in spades. While the full roster hasn’t been revealed yet, the ones we have seen look great. Filia is a Morrigan-like character with a parasite attached to her head a la that Treehouse of Horror Simpsons episode. Cerebella is your traditional high-damage grappler character, though she’s still capable of some big combos.

Peacock is one of our favorites, a creepy, cybernetic, cartoon obsessed character with lots of weird attacks. Most notable is her item attack, a move that can be charged and drops one of 30 items on the opponent. Skullgirls has lots of visual flair, and nowhere was it more apparent than with Peacock. Some of the items she dropped included: An Easter Island head from Gradius, a barrel and turkey from Final Fight, and something that looks awfully like Hsien-Ko’s spikey ball super. Her old time-y sepia toned color scheme makes her look a lot like Steamboat Willy too.

Parasoul is a charge character that controls space with projectiles that can linger around the screen. She also has defensive attacks that summon WWI looking soldiers to come block hits and cancel moves for her. We didn’t get enough hands-on time with her to give a good impression, but she seems quite capable of controlling space.

To call Ms. Fortune an unorthodox character design is an understatement. As gaming’s first zombie-esque catgirl she’s already unique, but her playstyle is equally as singular. While her regular moves are straightforward enough, she can completely change her moves by switching her stance. And by switching her stance, I mean she rips her head off and throws it at the opponent, then the head just sits on the floor. From that point on the body and the head are separate and using hard punch attacks and special attacks allows you to control the head as you attack with the body.

Attacking someone from two sides as once has obvious advantages, meaning your opponent will have to block both ways. The head can also create new combos not possible when attached to the body. The catch is that when the head is detached, it can be hit by the opponent. The damage done to the head is reduced, but it’s a good way of keeping Ms. Fortune balanced.  

From what we saw, Skullgirls is doing it’s best to offer options for players of all stripes, catering to the hardcore while including a lengthy trial/mission mode that covers everything from the most basic movement, to intermediate blocking, to more advanced combos. We’re glad to see a game reaching out to new players instead of just throwing them into advanced combo sessions and calling it a day.

While a lot of the game’s features will go completely over the head of some of the more casual players, a lot of them are practical. For example Cerebellum, the command grab heavy character, needs to do 360 motions a lot. 360 motions can be difficult for new and even seasoned players to perform consistently because while inputting the motion you’ll sometimes jump during the up motion of the joystick. Skullgirls uses a neat trick that reads your input to see if you’re doing a 360 and prevents Cerebellum from jumping. It’s a character specific tweak that benefits both new and old players alike.

Skullgirls picks and chooses its favorite bits from lots of other classic fighting games like Marvel vs. Capcom 2 and Capcom vs. SNK, incorporating both character assists and character ratios. This means you can play with a two or three man team or a more powerful individual character. The game's unique assist system definitely makes a team more appealing though, as the game lets you manually record almost any move and use it as an assist. It's a wild idea that allows for a lot of creativity between characters.

While the game is still a ways off from being complete, the graphics and backgrounds look markedly better since the last time we saw the game in July. The stylized animation is super smooth and we definitely got a kick out of all the game’s little visual touches and easter eggs. There’s no concrete date yet, but the game is tentatively scheduled for a January 2012 release on PSN and XBL. Skullgirls may not have a Capcom budget, but the expertise, experience and dedication of the crew working on it shines through. If you’re a fighting game fan, keep a close eye on Skullgirls.

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