What do you get when you cross a cat lady with a removable head, a girl with parasitic hair, and another that wields a napalm-crying umbrella? You get Skull Girls, a game that pays homage to all the great fighting games of the past. While Skull Girls doesn’t have a lot of modes or variety to the game play, everything that is in the game is created to near perfection. Reverge Labs was definitely going for quality over quantity, but there still could have been more put into the game before its release.
The story of Skull Girls isn’t going to wow anyone, but fighting game stories have a stigma to always be bad. There is an object in the world called the “Skull Heart,” and by gaining control of this object any girl can make a wish. If the wish itself or the person making the wish isn’t pure of heart, the individual will turn into a powerful and destructive being called the “Skull Girl”. The only way to get the Skull Heart is to defeat the Skull Girl. The story mode is forgettable and should be blazed through just to get the extra colors for the characters.
Skull Girls plays like a mix of a lot of different fighters. The combat can be described as a mix between Marvel vs. Capcom and Guilty Gear, but there is a team size component that harks back to Capcom vs. SNK 2. The player can choose at the beginning to pick a team size of between one to three fighters. The less number of fighters selected, the stronger the characters are; but if you only have one character you don’t have access to assists from other characters. There is also a feature to customize the assists which actually balance the difference between team sizes very well by making sure each one has its own advantages and disadvantages..
The control layout will be very familiar to anyone who played the original Mavel vs Capcom because there are three punch buttons, three kick buttons, and two assist buttons. The controls feel amazing and the combat is smooth and reliable. The game’s control scheme feels great and with all the possible attacks, combo possibilities are robust. I am also extremely happy to mention that infinite combos are impossible in this game.
The guys over at Reverge Labs had Mike Z, a respectable fighting game tournament player, help work the mechanics of the game out. There is a mechanic in the game that detects if a loop is occuring. A loop is a string of moves that can be repeated over and over again, and these loops tend to lead to infinite combos. If the game reads a loop is being done, the hit graphics and sound will change signifying the opponent can burst out of the combo like they do in guilty gear. This is the only time a person can burst. So unlike games with a burst feature, it’s not a resource that can run out or be abused.
They also managed to take out another annoyance in some fighting games: unblockables. Unblockables are a situation where a high and low attack are happening at the same time and you can’t block both. Skull Girls sets the blocking so that these types of moves can be blocked and cannot be abused. Unblockables can be really frustrating to work around, and it’s good to see that there are ways to prevent such things from occurring.
What Skull Girls does lack is in the content section. There is an arcade, story, training, and versus mode. There are also only eight characters in the game as well. This is a rather low number for a character roster given the selection in other fighting games nowadays, but the narrow variety allows the game to be very well balanced. Every match up feels even and there is no one dominant character.
The arcade and story mode do their job, and the difficulty in these modes can get rather ridiculous. New players beware: the difficulty of the final boss is crazy. I played it on Normal difficulty and had a hard time beating the final boss. I recommend before even going into story or arcade mode to go into training mode. The tutorial and training modes are the real stars of the show.
The training mode comes with an amazing tutorial that teaches tactics like blocking mix ups and air dash canceling. Other fighting games need to take a look at what Skull Girls does with their training mode and try and take it further. Skull Girls allows you to turn on the ability to see hit boxes on characters and the hit stun bar to see what is going on under the hood of the game when performing a combo. This is a great tool and makes me wonder why it hasn’t been done before. The only thing negative I can say is that there needs to be a move list in the game; people shouldn’t have to download a pdf from the website to get a move list for characters.
Versus mode can be done offline with one other person or the fight can be taken online. Online has its ups and its downs. Skull Girls GGPO for its net code and it performs well, and there aren’t any roll back problems like I’ve had with Street Fighter 3: Third Strike Online Edition.
I have yet to play a match that has had a lot of lag as everything felt smooth. I would say that the online functionality is beneath that of Soul Calibur V, but still beats out a lot of other fighting games like Street Fighter X Tekken.
The only major criticism I have about the online mode is that when it gets the connection to begin the match it tells you what it recommends the delay to be. I figure the game should automatically set that based on the connection it shows between me and my opponent. There is also the problem that there are only two people allowed in a room at a time. I hope they fix this room size soon because it would be nice to have more people in a room to get together.
Skull Girls has an amazing art design and sound design that go well with the tone and feel of the game. These are the best hand-drawn sprites I have ever seen in a fighter to date. The sprites even change their color design based off the lighting of the arena. They have spent a lot of time in making sure each character looks amazing down to every last move they do. All the animations run flawlessly and look cool.
The sound design is awesome, and I love the old school movie theme they are shooting for. The announcer sounds cool, too, and really stands out from the generic. The voice of each character has its own line of cheesy puns that are funny at first but people will probably get tired of them. They did an amazing job with the music and voice acting.
Skull Girls is a very promising new IP in the fighting game genre. They have a unique style and have a lot of mechanics that evolve the genre from some of its problems. The only problem with the game is that it is lacking content. There aren’t that many characters or modes, and they could have improved the online mode to be a bit more robust. Other than that, the game plays amazingly and has a very rich and rewarding combat system. Skull Girls is a new fighter that deserves the fighting game community’s attention and deserves at least a try before being dismissed.