Skullgirls is a 2D fighter game that’s available right now to download from the Xbox Live Marketplace or the Playstation Network for around ten pound.
Right from the start you can see what you have is a fairly traditional 2D brawler, but it also has some rather interesting features. The art style has a nice hand painted look; the characters are very crisp and are all very unique. Even when attacking at high speeds, there’s no motion blur. It’s very colourful and has a distinct style. The background however can be a little blurry where the art doesn’t quite match up to the work put into the characters. There are 11 different stages (most require you to progress in the story to unlock them) in which you can fight, each with a different style. The stages have a lot of imagination in them, from some alien looking NPC’s in the background, to a street full of people, to a magical looking arena full of flying rocks.
There are eight characters in the game at the moment (2 unlockable for story, but all playable in multiplayer from the start), and more are set to be released as DLC. As you can guess from the title they are all women. Girls battle each other for different reasons, each with their own story and motives. This is because the story line focuses on a mysterious, ancient artefact called the Skull heart which can grant a girl’s desired wish. However, if the wish is made with an impure heart, it comes at a price; you start to become the next Skullgirl. The Skullgirl is a twisted being of destruction, bent on destroying humanity. They are immensely powerful.
The story mode has a few battles against some of the other playable characters, followed by a fight with the Skullgirl. Each battle gets a little bit harder with the Skullgirl being insanely difficult. Even with a character that I grew comfortable with, it still took me over 10 attempts on the easiest difficulty. But then again I’ve never very good at brawlers. The story of each character makes you feel involved, even if you can complete each one in less than thirty minutes.
The arcade mode is very traditional, except you can choose to have either one EXTREMELY powerful character with a lot of health, two medium strength characters or three weak characters. There are so many different strategies this creates. If you are amazing with one character, you can power your way through, smashing each enemy to pieces, or you can eat away bit by bit with the three weaker characters.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m not the best at brawlers, but I did manage to pick up this game thanks to the brilliant tutorials. They are short lessons, maybe two minutes apiece that explain how to perform certain actions before instructed you to repeat back. For me, learning by doing worked very well, I even managed to complete some of the more advanced tutorials. There is also a training room to practice, and if you want to know a characters special attacks there is a list at http://skullgirls.com/characters. This feature is really useful if you are struggling completing a characters story line and need a little extra boost.
Though I did find it very difficult to pull off some of the attacks due to struggling to remember the long combos, you can assign your favourite to a specific button. However even with the shortcut buttons, I still found myself using the same couple of attacks through the whole game. The attacks vary from a fairly normal looking punch, to huge lasers, bombs, guns, swords, spirals of hair, shuriken looking tails, throwing your own head and many others. The animations are brilliant and are one of the highlights of the game. They are very cartoonish and bring a real sense of character to the game. If you do manage to get a combo started, you get rewarded with a word to describe it. However, in an amusing twist these words aren’t what you’d expect; cute, radical, poetic, sweet and provocative being just some examples.
The moves bring a very strategic fighting style. You’ll find you can’t button bash effectively, and you need to think about what you’re going to do rather than hope for the best. For example, if you see your opponent jump into the air, you can stand and block, then counter if they attack, or you can try and catch them in the air with an attack that aims skyward. You block in the usual manner by holding away from your opponent. If they attack from above, you have to be standing to block their attacks, if they are attacking from below, you need to be crouching and blocking. If they are just standing, either block suffices. The block doesn’t completely negate damage, so you can’t just hit your opponent once, then block endlessly until the time runs out.
The game has a very distinct music style, always very jazzy; sometimes it offers quite good compositions, but it does tend to get a little boring after a while. The game announcer however, is brilliant. He starts the match in a few different ways, almost like it’s a Broadway show. If you lose a match in story mode he has a thing or two to say. I’ve heard, “You can’t give up now” as well as “Is this the end?” and “You’ve got a lot to learn” amongst others. It really motivates you to keep playing.
The multiplayer offers pretty much the same as arcade which can be played locally, or online (I got decimated online). It’s a good system, I found a match in under a minute and it tells you your opponents ping rating. On the other hand, there was a serious amount of lag. It didn’t completely ruin the gameplay, but everything slowed down considerably, making it easier to anticipate your opponent’s moves.
Overall, this game is great value for money. Even when you have completed the single player, you still have the multiplayer to tackle as well. It has been announced that there will be free updates somewhere down the line one of which will hopefully be a patch for the laggy online play. For a download title, there is plenty of content that could rival most other 2D fighters on the market for its gameplay. I really enjoyed Skullgirls (even though I’m not very good at it) and overall it’s a well polished game, albeit with a couple of flaws.