We’re sick of Ryu. Sick to
death, in fact. No, it’s not like we’re saying that stock characters that
wander around picking a fight aren’t still fun, but it’s starting to get stale.
The fireballs, the uppercuts, the stoic main character; yes, we’re sick of the
archetype, and the reason for that is because 2D fighting games have gone back
to the well too often for its own good to make it fresh anymore. When we
finally sat down with indie fighter Skullgirls, it was actually the
first thing we looked for.
But behold, a Ryu was
nowhere in sight. Yes, there are characters that toss projectiles, and yes,
there are characters with Z-motion anti-air moves, but these are about as far
away from archetypical as we’ve seen in a fighter in a long time. That says
something of a cast of only 8 characters, and a lot for a new franchise trying
to muscle in on a fighting game Renaissance that’s turning into more of a glut.
Skullgirls is a fighter for fighting fans, and if you are a tournament-hopping
player that holds your custom stick as a trophy, it’s one that you should be
That being said, it’s
obvious from the start that Skullgirls is made with the hardcore in mind.
Essentially blending Capcom Vs. SNK 2’s Ratio System with a crossover tag
fighter like the Marvel Vs. Capcom games, it’s conceivable that Skullgirls was
made to be as tournament flexible as possible. Players on each side can choose
to have one high powered fighter, three relatively meek combatants, or a team
of two that splits the muscle down the middle. If both players decide they want
to duke it out one on one, the match proceeds as a best two out of three bout
akin to most other games. If one or both players want a tag team instead of a
solo, the fight auto-shortens to one round to keep things light and moving. Any
player that’s been to a recent King of Fighters XIII tournament will tell you
that this is more of blessing than you may realize.
With or without team
dynamics like tag assist attacks and snapback-type moves that force another
team member into the fray, combos fly fast and loose here. From normal throws
to special moves to supers (here called Blockbusters) nearly every move can be
followed up with something to keep the beating coming. Normal moves easily
string from light-to-medium-to-hard and can be easily used to follow up an
opponent bouncing off of the wall or floor, and launching opponents into the
air to keep combo strings and tag attacks coming is how the game is played.
This makes the barrier for
entry relatively high. Even though the game is in its infancy, online matches
are already teaming with players that are stringing together 10-20 hit combos
with consistency, and this might intimidate the newcomer. The package does
include a tutorial on how to use and defend against all of the high-level
shenanigans that the uninitiated should expect, but this just goes to show that
Skullgirls was made more for the practiced hand.
But if you’re willing to put
in the work, you’ll find it very rewarding. While what you get for the price of
admission is a little sparse with only 8 characters and nothing in the way of
individual training for them, they are each so unique and diverse in the way
that they play that both new and old fighting fans will have plenty to keep
them busy. Ms. Fortunate, the for example, can pop off her own head and use it
as either a projectile or as a separate attacker that can box you in similar to
Urien’s Aegis Reflector in Street Fighter III: Third Strike. But it can last
the whole round, making your spacing feel claustrophobic. That’s what we call
Speaking of Third Strike,
last year’s superb Online Edition has nothing on Skullgirls
online modes, even though they share GGPO net code. Fights are clearly
identified as to their stability before proceeding, and some minor adjustment
to the amount of frames that can be skipped are available to be tinkered with
before every match. Probably 80% of online fights that we took part in were
smooth and fluid with only a handful being rather unplayable. Again, though, there
wasn’t a lot to it; the basic ranked and unranked matches were there, but no
tournament or spectator modes in sight.
Curious-to-awkward use of anatomically
impossible women as a whole cast aside, the art and animation are really
something to see, too. The art deco design is only on the surface compared to
the Tex Avery-meets-Bubblegum Crisis subtlety that gives not only the playable
characters but also the backgrounds a lot of flair. The backdrops in particular
are very captivating with the watercolor look of the Foghorn Leghorn cartoons
But as good as it looks, the
art is just Skullgirls’ window dressing. While there aren’t a lot of characters
or other modes, it’s a very deep fighting game that will keep even old hands
pleased and occupied. If you don’t mind spending more than your share of time
in practice mode, Skullgirls could just become one of the better fighters
you’ve played in a while.