An authentic, fresh, innovative art-style is becoming less of a rarity in the industry with games like Journey, Rayman Origins and Limbo breaking the mould in terms in terms of what we as gamers describe as ‘graphics’. Nowadays it isn’t always enough to create a realistic environment that mimics the real world, but to really be imaginative and take on a specific artistic direction to accompany the gameplay elements present in your game.
Skullgirls embraces its cartoon-like theme brilliantly, enforcing it in everything from the menus to the animations of its characters. As a 2D fighter it is immediately impactful due to its sheer, undeniable beauty; and for that fact alone Reverge Lab’s gaming debut is a title deserving of real commemoration. That being said, after completing a few fights it becomes apparent that Skullgirls relies a little too heavily on its enticing looks.
The game controls like you’d expect a 2D fighter to, with the left-stick allowing you to move and jump and the buttons on the right being used for attacks. This traditional control set-up, used in many fighting-game franchises like Street Fighter, makes playing Skullgirls easy and somewhat familiar. Unfortunately, the merciless AI that serve as your opponents makes Skullgirls far from accessible. I’m by no means a pro at fighting games but I’ve played enough Street Fighter over the years to expect to win fairly consistently on normal difficulty. Don’t be fooled by the childlike cartoon-visuals, Skullgirls isn’t a game your going to be able to win at without a challenge.
Whilst we’re on the subject of visuals, it’s important to note now that Skullgirls is one of the most beautiful, visually astounding games I’ve had the pleasure of playing. Everything from the characters, to the backgrounds and the menus look magnificent, with the cartoonist theme carrying across the entire game. In fact, the game’s strong presentation will go quite a way to making it easier to overlook some of the its shortcomings.
It’s not fair to say Skullgirl’s graphical superiority is its saving grace, but gameplay-wise there are some issues that hold the game back from being up with the best of the fighting genre. This is a downloadable game, and that of course has to be taken into account, but combat is evidently less smooth than other fighting games, and could have done with a bit of polish to be up there with the very best. Skullgirls biggest failure though comes in its narrative. This is of course an element that is hardly required in a fighting game, but Skullgirls does make an attempt to have some kind of story. Each of the game’s eight heavily sexualised characters has their own story-mode, but each of their stories, told through cut-scenes bridging the gaps between fights, are generally uninteresting with their purpose seemingly to be distractions from the games frustratingly lengthy load times.
Each character has a variety of unique attacks, which include pulling out saws, sending in infantry to shoot your opponent or even throwing your own head in an attempt to deplete your foes health. The stories behind each character may be pretty dull but the way they fight certainly isn’t, making Skullgirls a truly unique fighting game that will no-doubt interest fans of the genre.
The game does a pretty good job of teaching you the basics with some strong, enjoyable tutorial levels. However, Skullgirls makes the unforgivable faux-pas of not providing in-game instructions. As with all the best fighting-games each fighter has original special combo-attacks that require frantic button mashing, but instructions to pull off these moves aren’t provided in-game. You can check them out on the game’s official website, but it’s an unnecessary hassle.
With all that being said, Skullgirls does feature some interesting ideas. You can pick out teams of multiple fighters and call them in at any time do pull off custom ‘assist’ attacks, which adds extra depth to an already impressive amount of moves each fighter can pull off. Each fighter has their own strengths and weaknesses and whilst there are only eight to choose from not one of them is alike, meaning there’s plenty of testing that can be done to pick the best fighter that fits your playing style.
It’s a shame then that Skullgirls does feel a little light on content. The single-player component is far from expansive, and the arcade mode isn’t much more than fight after fight with very little sense of progression. There is an online-mode, which runs competently enough, but doesn’t have anything that will keep you coming back for more.
Skullgirls is a visually astounding art-concept thrown on top of a competent, if unremarkable, 2D-fighting gameplay mechanic. The variety each character offers alongside and fun multiplayer and a unique presentation keep the game from being a one-trick pony, but an overall lack of content and weak narrative hold Skullgirls back from fulfilling its evident potential.
Fans of the genre will no doubt have fun with Skullgirls and those that like a strong art-style in their games may want to pick it up due to the reasonably low price-tag. However, those that do choose to enter the obscure world Reverge Lab’s have created should prepare for a certain level of disappointment, as it’s clear with a bit more polish and content Skullgirls could have been something very special indeed.