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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Skullgirls for Xbox 360 and PS3

What was I expecting with Skullgirls? For a $15 downloadable only title, my expectations were surprisingly high. Upon first glance, I instantly fell in love with the unique art style. For me, this stunning art set the bar high for the entire game – if the developers were willing to create something so visually pleasing then I wanted all aspects of the game to share this sort of pampering. Well I got it.

Skullgirls exceeded my expectations and delivered nearly everything I want out of a fighting game. The game feels like it is a 2D fighting game created by people who have been playing and have loved fighting games all their lives. Certain features cater to the entire 2D fighting genre and not just specific series. For instance, in vs. gameplay you can pick 1 to 3 characters. This doesn’t force you into the more modern team dynamic if you only want to roll with one character. With only one character though, the disadvantages include not having non fighting characters regenerating some heath and no assist type moves to use; you can even customize what the character’s assist move is. A single fighter still remains viable though since the game will make a single fighter stronger than the multiple fighters for balancing purposes.

For you ‘button masher’ types picking up the game for the first time, you may realize how easy it is to string certain combos but also find only limited success. For the more advanced fighters, you will quickly realize just how complex the combo string system is. The cliché ‘easy to pick up, hard to master’ definitely applies to Skullgirls. During combos you can throw in special moves and even ‘Blockbuster Moves’ to string the combos further and do maximum damage. The ‘Training’ option dives you right into the complexity of the game and shows off some of the difficulty in the system. The training aspect of the game is very detailed and I recommend starting there – especially if you are unfamiliar to this type of fighter (plus there is an achievement / trophy attached). I for one, like the vertical growth Skullgirls offers to players; the learning curve is huge. Oh, and a fun feature for button mashers, the pause button has to be held in order to pause the gameplay – so accidently hitting start in the middle of gameplay won’t interrupt the match, genius!

The characters in Skullgirls are all women / girls who have their own motives for either defeating the Skullgirl, collecting the skull heart to make a wish come true, or a combination of both. The catch is, the skull heart will warp your wish depending on how un-pure your intentions are. Each of the eight characters have their own specific story line with art slides and different enemy paths in story mode. What I specifically liked was how each girls' story lines intertwined. Only by beating the game with each character do you feel like you understand more of what is really going on and why the individual fighters are involved.

Each character also has 10 variations of their outfits and color palettes that are unlocked through excessive playing of the game. The characters themselves range immensely in diversity; each fighter having a unique special move set. You won’t find multiple characters who say – have the same exact fireball move or same uppercut move. The characters all have a different ‘feel’ to them and moves that complement that feel. On top of that, the characters have themes that work for them. Like Valentine is a nurse so her attacks and special moves involve nurse related items: syringes, bone saws, defibrillators, body bags, drip-bag stands, etc. The character Peacock has an old-time cartoon feel so she throws bombs, airplanes, shoots toy guns, drops anvil’s on your head, smokes a cigar, uses boards with nails in them, pies to the face, etc. The whole transition of the different attacks and items is so smooth and entertaining.

Before matches, the characters often say something unique to the other as a taunt or something amusing. This shows me that the game designers went that extra mile to add another layer of entertainment. Using the two characters I’ve already mentioned, before the match started Peacock said “Helllllllllo Nurse” to Valentine like in the Warner Brothers cartoon Animaniacs. Classic.

This is the part where I mention that the characters in Skullgirls are hyper-sexualized. While some characters are mere children, others are– ‘full grown.’ Excuse me if this sounds sexist, but in no way do these over sexualized characters hurt the game. The character design is very fitting for the art style of the game. Is the over sexualized art necessary? Of course not – but like I said, it is very fitting. The characters aren’t supposed to seem ‘real.’ The ‘over the top’ feel and art to the characters stands out as a staple to the game to me. I feel the potential haters just need to sit back and respect the artists of the game. On top of the art, the game is also sexually suggestive in certain situations.

Besides story mode there is also a more traditional arcade mode. In this mode you can create your 1 to 3 player team and take on random combinations of AI controlled opponents. The Skull Girl will still be your end opponent every time. This adds more variety to single player gameplay and gets team practice down before taking gameplay versus locally or online.

No fighting game is complete without a training mode and Skullgirls delivers. In this setting you can even pick your 1 to 3 player comp to practice assist moves with. The multiple settings allow you to construct the perfect scenario for you to practice in. The only feature training mode lacks is a move list window. There is nowhere in the game where a character’s move set is listed. However, the game does provide a website where all moves can be found, which is HERE. Why this didn’t make it in the actual game is beyond me, but at least the move list exists.

The music is composed by none other than Michiru Yamane. Perhaps she is best known for her work on Castlevania’s music – but she had worked with Konami for years. The jazzy music during the Skullgirls loading screens is pretty awesome with some rocking bass lines. It doesn’t stop there though. The background music of each stage works in conjunction with the art style.

My only gripes with the game are the lack of input commands in game and a lack of spectator / review mode. That’s it though. While for a $60 retail game I would subtract score for these aspects, for a $15 independent downloadable game it wasn’t enough for me to take the 10 away from game. Other people have complained there is a lack of characters. Sure the huge IP’s have years and multiple games to have a colossal repertoire of characters, but this is the first of the Skullgirls IP. Think of it this way, Skullgirls has one more character than the original Mortal Kombat. In addition, Skullgirls characters are extremely diverse compared to certain other games.

Lastly, and I’m basing this off of nothing, but I expect to see more from Skullgirls in the future. If you highlight the “Extras” menu, the game states that galleries will come at a later time. Could that be a hint for future content? Also, the character select screen is set up so multiple new characters could be patched in or added as DLC. Black Dahlia perhaps? I for one look forward to DLC and / or a Skullgirls 2 down the line. I’ve already seen the competition list so you know it’s going competitive. My hats off to you to Autumn Games and Reverge Labs

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