- Reverge Labs
Made2Game SkullGirls Review Score: 8/10
Formats: Xbox 360 XBLA, PS3 PSN
Format Reviewed: Xbox 360 XBLA
Developer: Reverge Labs
Publisher: Autumn Games/Konami
Reviewer: James Bowden
The fighting genre has been 'back' for a while now. Street Fighter IV first reintroduced the joy of pummelling virtual face mano-a-mano back in 2008. Since then we've had pummelling virtual face three-mano-a-three mano in Marvel vs. Capcom 3, pummelling face in totally unique mano-a-mano ways in BlazBlue, and ripping off virtual face and squeezing a lemon in the screaming meat bag that half resembles what was, until three seconds ago, a-mano. A-mano. That would be Mortal Kombat.
What this lovely HD rejuvenation has been been lacking is fresh faces. For a genre focused on brutal competition it seems to have gotten by just fine existing within its own bubble. Even sort-of-new face face BlazBlue was just as much a pseudo sequel to GuiltyGear. Thankfully, the wait is over. Here comes a new challenger. Here comes SkullGirls.
So I’m gonna fight, gonna give it my all
Designed and developed by Reverge Labs, SkullGirls is a love letter to the fighting genre and gaming in general featuring an all female cast. The plot revolves around the Skull Heart, an evil wish granting piece of cartilage, that attracts the attention of New Meridian's strongest boob-blessed brawlers. The game's story, unique for each fighter, ends up a limp solo diversion as the writing feels largely limp, relying more on comedy to support its tales over strong characterised dialogue. That said its tales are surprisingly heartfelt for what is ultimately a fighting game, and perhaps with a little more care in future titles the trials and titillations of the SkullGirls could be something to remember.
But with this being a fighter the only story most people are interested in is of the 'punch, kick, launcher, air combo, super' variety. And in this department, SkullGirls is a New York Times best seller. The game is constructed on unquestionably sound foundations and while it doesn't do anything outwardly flashy, in the vein of Street Fighter IV's Ultra attacks, its improvements are in the minutiae of the scraps. Pop the hood and SkullGirls is rocking one of the sweetest engines since the genre came back to town.
It is impossible to take a bad screenshot of SkullGirls. Impossible.
Reverge have never been quiet about their star talent, a certain Mr. Mike Zaimont. Mike Z, as he's also known, is a fighting tournament regular for games such as BlazBlue and his eye for detail shines through in SkullGirl's systems. Systems that are explained in some of the best fighting tutorials you'll ever experience. They're so good at conveying SkullGirls, and the genre's, troupes that they almost warrant the price tag alone. That's impressive Mike Z. element number one.
Impressive Mike Z. element number two – the game lets you play with a team of three fighters, Marvel vs. Capcom style, but only if you want. Play with a trio (or a duo) and you can call partners to assist, chain super attacks, swap in and out, it plays rather similarly to Marvel vs. Capcom 2. You can even set custom assist attacks, prompting experimentation and promoting pure player happiness. But if you'd rather you can play with one super powered fighter. Hit harder, take less damage, play like this and you're a regular Street Fighter.
"Skull Girls is a love letter to video games practically printed on a scrap of Ryu's Gi."
Impressive Mike Z. element number three – the game includes an 'anti-infinate' system that means the game can detect when a player has found an abusable chain, and lets the suffering player break free instantly.
Oh, look at me getting all ahead of myself, the real beauty of SkullGirls is just how dang playable it is. Switch the game on, hop into a fight and it falls (mostly) right under the fingers and thumbs. Jumps, movement, specials, that classic Street Fighter six button set-up, it all works and flows and just feels great. While you may need to search for a few attack links, check the movelist online and spend a little time in training mode there's a real Street Fighter II-ness about SkullGirls. After a minuscule acclimatising period everything makes sense, the current of a fight is fluid, the brawl is always easy to read and adapt to and it's simple enough to learn SkullGirls while just fighting. There's a purity here that even Capcom have lost a grip on.
Gonna make you fall, gonna sock it to you
That's not the only Stree Fighter II-ism mind, the game's also comparatively light in the character department. Eight scrappers make up SkullGirls current roster. But don't view this as any sort of negative; Eight SkullGirls in the hand are worth twenty untouched shoto clones.
Taking a page from the book of BlazBlue, each SkullGal is unique; Painwheel is a flying rushdown machine; Peacock is a chain smoking zoning machine from the 1920's; Ms. Fortune is a feline female who can detach her head to use as a remote form of offence and Double is an unpredictable nun-turned-monster who meshes every other character into some weird volcano of gunk. They're an eclectic bunch befitting most fighting play styles. While you'll see the same faces crop up again and again in competitive play it's brilliant to see a minimal, balanced roster instead of a bloated and unfocused one.
The NHS' latest 'Give Blood' push was notably more aggressive than normal.
I've come a long way without talking about SkullGirls gorgeous style... Well, SkullGirls has got a gorgeous style. The boldly outlined, brightly shaded ladies of SkullGirls sing a wonderful argument for hand drawn sprite art, evoking a Betty Boop sass about their exaggerated movements. Layer this over Michiru 'Castlevania' Yumane's jazzy score and you've got something a mile away from the competition.
However visuals and audio are only half SkullGirls presentational success, the other half comes from its infectious love of all things game-y and fight-y. The game constantly pays homage to the genre it calls home, videogames in general and even modern Internet life - Ms. Fortune the cat lady is frequently offered a cheezburger, to which she replies, 'That's racist'. From characters moves being the spitting image of fighters past, to the announcers almost-sorta match cries, to flat out in your face references such as the River King hotel, Skull Girls is a love letter to video games practically printed on a scrap of Ryu's Gi.
Yet it's the fact SkullGirls wears its inspirations on both sleeves, its hat and keeps pictures of them in its wallet that makes it all the more impressive. That SkullGirls feels unafraid to prod your mind toward thoughts of Street Fighter, Marvel, BlazBlue, Guilty Gear, King of Fighters and even Darkstalkers on a regular basis is a testament to its quality. You'll remember those games and think, 'but I'd rather be playing SkullGirls'. This speaks volumes for the quality of Reverge's scrappery.
So sure, the game may be lacking in single player diversions, but there's a retro-minded, competition fuelled purity to SkullGirls that helps it far exceed the trappings of its mode list, 'small' roster and that reference to Altered Beast. What we have here is fighting at its most raw and compelling. Punch-ups almost devoid of infuriatingly long combo strings and balance breaking comeback mechanics. It's not perfect, no, but it's hugely, hugely playable and an uncompromisingly brave foundation for what is set to become a classic fighting series. It may take inspiration from, and pay constant homage to, fighters past, but SkullGirls is the freshest the genre has been since 2008.
Words by James Bowden (Twitter: @Dalagonash)
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