Skullgirls is a 2D indie fighting game that was released on PSN and Xbox Live last year. The game has just come out on PC. So how does it hold up?
Amazingly, as long as you have a controller or a fight stick.
I had no problems with lag or dropped connections, and the art is just as stunning and unique. I think this is a solid port of the game. On the other hand, the immaturity of the character design and the lack of polish on some of the gameplay aspects leave me wanting more.
Skullgirls is really a fighting game for people who love fighting games. It’s very meta and constantly references other fighting games and even pop culture. Peacock, in particular, is an inspired character. And no, I’m not just saying that because she references Popeye.
“Legend tells of a mysterious artifact known as the “Skull Heart” that has the power to grant a young woman’s wishes. Of course, there’s a catch. If she has an impure heart, even a selfless wish will be twisted in the most vile of ways: peace brought through brutality, eternal life through perpetual childhood, or a lost love returned as an undead monster.
Hundreds have sought the Skull Heart, but so far none have been deemed worthy and spared its cruel power. Those judged impure are transformed into the fearful instrument of their twisted wish…a pale and lovely tempest, a beautiful nightmare – the Skullgirl!”
As with most fighters, the plot is pretty threadbare, and in story mode you will often find yourself in fights with no context, which I really disliked, especially since some of the fights DID have context. It just seemed sloppy.
On the other hand, what little plot there is is very deep and dark, with themes such as assault, mutilation, sexual assault, and the torture of young girls. This game’s story mode has a definite trigger warning, but you can play the game and enjoy it without ever playing this mode, so don’t let that deter you.
It’s very strange though. This world is supposed to be one in which there is a goddess, it is certainly one in which women can be leaders and fighters, and the last ruler was a queen. On the other hand, the men encountered in story mode have the same chauvinistic attitudes of a patriarchal society in 1940s America, which is…odd.
Another disconnect is between how very unique and interesting these fighters are with their female bodies but often masculine symbiotes. I can appreciate the attempt to be different, but I also think it was very clumsy, and many of the stories left me a little angry. For example, Filia is being sexually assaulted. Her (male) symbiote beats the bricks off the guy touching up on her. Immediately afterwards, Filia chides the symbiote for making a scene…uhh…hello, rape culture, anyone?
Anyway, I think most people won’t get too hung up on the issues, as the emergence of a fighting game that attempts to make women more interesting than “boobs” is still cause for praise. Even if five of the seven playable characters have ridiculous boob physics. They are also batshit insane and kind of gross. So, like I said, points for trying.
Skullgirls is gorgeous, with art hand-drawn by Alex Ahad. It also has the most animation frames per character to ever be displayed in a fighting game, the result of which is an almost Disney-like vibrancy.
I cannot gush enough about the art, so just trust me: it’s distractingly good.
However, if you have a problem with the anime style of woman – over the top boobs, revealing outfits, or the fetishizing of everything (sexy nun, sexy school girl, sexy nurse, cat lady) – all are present…even if they are ultimately gross instead of sexy, you might not appreciate the character design.
Oooh, that sweet jazz music will just make you feel like a boss. The music team included Vincent Diamante from Flower as well as Michiru Yamane, who did the Castlevania games released after Symphony of the Night. Yamane’s involvement marks the first time a Japanese composer has scored a Western-developed game.
The voices are also pretty cool for each character, as they quip, pun, and smack talk their way through the fights. If you know me, you know I love puns, so I quite enjoyed the scant dialogue.
My only complaint is actually just a wish for even more voices! I know, however, that Skullgirls is an indie game, so I’m not mad at them, but the snippets I can hear sound so intriguing.
Each character has a completely unique fighting style, making up for the lack of characters. Some are quick, some are powerful, some use tech, some are best for airborne attacks, the list goes on. I truly appreciate how much effort went in to creating such different characters.
Additionally, there is perhaps the greatest tutorial I have ever run across in a fighting game. As in, I’m now better at all fighting games because it taught me how to actually use the tools provided in fighters. In the tutorial mode, you’ll learn about mix-ups, OTG attacks, and cancelling. Although I missed the opportunity to gain muscle memory for combos, I was able to fill that need in the training room, and this information was much more helpful than memorizing a long combo chain I never get to use because I get my butt handed to me.
In Skullgirls, you can fight with one, two, or three fighters on your team, trading versatility for raw strength and health. You can also stop infinite combos, which is a relief to a rage quitter like myself (only that one time in MvC3, but still…). You can also customize your assists, which is a nice touch and kind of makes you wonder why more games don’t allow you to do that.
Other than that, the gameplay really resembles any 2D fighter, in particular Marvel v Capcom 2. As a novice fighter, I found the controls very similar to Street Fighter.
As for the matchmaking, if you aren’t familiar with fighting games the choices might look confusing, but basically you can either play local (someone in your house) or play online. If you play online, you can either get in a lobby or do a quick match. As a beginner, you will probably get your butt handed to you the majority of the time, so getting in a lobby can be a good way to practice against the same fighting style for a while to improve and learn.
Something I kind of hated was the lack of spectator mode. When in a lobby but not fighting, I couldn’t figure out a way to watch the fight that was taking place.
While this is, without a doubt, a gorgeous and refreshingly different fighting game, it doesn’t quite have the polish of a grade-A game. But is it fun? Hell yes.
As a woman, this game is a little more problematic. On the one hand, we have an awesome, diverse, and unique cast of female fighters, which is a nice break from the silly boobs and bikini type we see so often. On the other hand, the story of these women is chilling, and their boobs ARE still given special treatment, just in a different way.
Is this really progress? Girls who already like fighters will probably enjoy this. For girls who don’t, unless they like anime, this won’t be the one to get them in to fighting games.