Ever since XBLA increased the file size limit for its arcade titles we have been presented with a wealth of high quality games, mainly classics from days gone, but now the trend is moving towards newer titles, some that may of never been released before, or at least given limited shelf space in a game shop, where now on XBLA it can stand shoulder to shoulder with some classics. The classics I mean in this instance are your Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat games, 2D fighting behemoths that have stood the tests of time and still manage to be fresh and exciting. Over the years they have topped many a clone, with BlazBlue being the recent contender to the throne. So how does Skullgirls compete against these fighting heavyweights?
Though only sporting eight anime styled characters, they are all very different from one another with a mixture of buxom battle nurses to shape-shifting chimera, with the games hook being that all have a connection, The Skull Heart, a mysterious object that will grant one wish. The characters all have strange powers, mostly involving symbiotic parasites attached to them; some stay hidden in the recesses of the character, bursting out from the shadows on certain special moves like with the amnesiac schoolgirl Filia and Samson who hides in her hair or some are out in full view, granting an overbearing presence like with the petite Cerebella and her symbiote Vice-Versa who sits on her head and has the appearance of two huge and muscular arms or Parasoul, Princess of the Canopy Kingdom who’s symbiote Krieg is an umbrella.
Each of the characters have very original fighting moves and whilst they have the usual familiar move sets that you associate with this sort of game, the actual moves performed will take a long time to figure out the advantages on the field with Parasoul summoning her Black Egret storm-troopers on motorbikes or to take a bullet for their Princess to Ms.Fortune pulling of her head and throwing it at the enemy, allowing you to still use your body to attack as the head will just lay on the floor, doing additional damage if they walk over it.
The character design is very refreshing, with well animated characters darting all over the screen in very “Dark Deco” styled environments, having a similar look to the visuals of the Suckerpunch movie with a dark and smoky 50?s jazz room feel to it. From buxom killer nurses to scary shape-shifters, my favourite is Peacock and her small assistant Avery, paying obvious homage to the classic Tex Avery style of animation, this psychotic cartoon fanatic lab created fighter has two symbiote’s, using cartoon style props to win fights like throwing pies, sticking an enemy in a sack and giving it a kicking and throwing comedy bombs, all the while sounding like Olive Oyl from the old Popeye cartoons.
The Story mode will allow you to play as each character in their own original storyline, mainly involving them trying to locate The Skull Heart, which grants pure of heart one wish, the problem being if their hearts are impure, they will be cursed, turning them into a Skullgirl, which is exactly what is happening now, with a powerful Skullgirl called Bloody Marie walking the streets of the Canopy Kingdom. Now at this point I really should be quite honest, this game was a very humbling experience and though 2D fighters are not my forte I can handle myself well enough in other 2D classics like the Street Fighter titles, but not so here as even on the easiest of settings I really struggle to get a win, and when I do, its short-lived as a full on combo juggle sequence will wipe me out in seconds on the second fight. So…… it’s awkward but I have no real position to comment on the single player story mode, I am just rubbish at it.
It’s not all gloom though as the Skullgirls had a very handy assist in the way of a very in depth training mode, showing important fighting techniques that not only Skullgirls but many other fighting games expect from you to at compete. I am not going to pretend to know what all of the terminology means like cancelling air dashes and Mix-ups, but if you are looking to polish up your gaming skills this is a must have, with it explaining all of the different tactics available, through which even I managed to get through at least the first few characters in story mode. Though very in depth, what only could be an oversight is that the game never explains the many special moves on offer, leaving you to check out the info online in PDF form to seek out all of the Blockbuster attacks.
The Arcade Mode is thankfully a bit more flexible and forgiving in that you can choose to play as one, two or three characters, allowing you to tag in a stronger character when the need arises. This mode is also available online, granting battle of 1vs2, 3vs1 or any other combination. To keep the fight fair, there is a general rule that the lower the number of fighters you use, the stronger they will be, making it not so easy for a team of three to steam-roll you if you decide to go solo. This adds loads to the available moves with additional crossover special attacks for each of your tag partners to even forcing an enemy to tag in.
Online is pretty much bare bones but what it does it manages really well, with a quick an easy game selection for ranked and unranked games plus a handy addition that allows you to manually adjust your game if going against a slower connection, with slight adjustments essentially removing any lag from differing internet speeds by removing certain animation frames form your characters, making a game played across the world a lot more even and fair.
With the training mode a blessing for modern 2D fighting wannabes looking to get the hottest tips on how to compete not only in Skullgirls but in most other games, this is worth the reasonable price point for its worthy and challenging (for me anyway) fighting system. A refreshing change from the usual top tier fighting games.
(Version tested: XBLA)