I remember when I first heard about Skullgirls. I had received a PR email asking if I would be interested in an interview with Mike "Mike Z." Zaimont who was developing a fighting game. The name sounded familiar and I figured that it might be interesting to check out the game, so at E3, I spent a little time with the game and after interviewing Mike Z., I realized that there was a lot going on. The gameplay consisted of several elements from different games, which is seemingly a daunting task, but the crew at Reverge Labs were up for the challenge. And they succeeded.
PECK ON THE CHEEK
Fight as a Team or Fight Alone - Skullgirls reprises a unique fighting game element of having players select how many characters they can select. Back when it was originally done in Capcom vs. SNK 2, certain characters were considered so powerful that you could only pick one of them for your team, and other characters were slightly weaker, so you were allowed to pick 2 of them, and then for the weakest characters, you could select three. Skullgirls lets you decide how many characters you want with a slightly different approach. If you go with a single character, she will have the max amount of life. If you go with 2 characters the amount of life they start off with is reduced. Deciding to go with three characters will give you far more variety, but incredibly weak characters. The characters on a 3 person team are so quick to die that one good combo from a single character will do it.
A Little Help from Her Friends - Like Marvel vs. Capcom, your teammates can come in with an assist to help you but what's different is that you can make customer assists. Every character has two default assists, but a third one can also be set with whatever you like. For example, Cerebella has a command throw that does big damage, but it's not one of her default assists. You can select a custom assist, enter the input for the move, and now every time she comes in for an assist, she'll use that move. The beauty of the custom assist is that players now have a wider selection of quality teams since a character with crappy default assists can now make use of a better move in order to make the character more desirable.
Small but Varied Cast - With only 8 characters, Skullgirls is a little light in comparison to other fighting games, but the characters are way different from one another with the exception of Double who takes some moves from everyone. What's also great is how unique the moves are to each character. For example, Peacock is a take on early black and white cartoons (think Steamboat Mickey) with moves that shoot out cannonballs, giant metal weights, and a car full of other characters. Due to her projectile attacks, she is a major zoning character. Valentine is a total rushdown character that has plenty of mix-ups and can do some major damage while maintaining her evil, sexy nurse motif throughout.
A Tutorial That Really Tutors You - One big gripe that non-fighting game players have with the genre is not being able to learn all of the intricacies within the game. Yes, noobs can button mash or learn a few special moves, but there are elements within most fighting games that are never properly taught in-game such as defending against mix-ups, extending combos, and move cancelling. Most recent tutorials offer a quick run through of special moves, super moves, certain combos and that's it. Reverge Labs, in particular, the aforementioned lead combat designer Mike Z., wanted to teach players how to play fighting games properly, and he has succeeded. Going through the tutorial, you will learn everything, from the very basics to some high level tactics in a clear, concise manner. It's arguably the best tutorial for a fighting game, and can teach some valuable tactics to both novice and experienced players.
SLAP ON THE FACE
Where's My Moves At? - Despite all of the gushing you've just read, there is one small problem. Due to time constraints, the move list was not included in the game. Instead, players have to visit the Skullgirls official webpage to see all the character's moves. Lack of an easy access to the move list is unacceptable because if you decide to experiment with characters, you'll need to have the webpage nearby for reference instead of being able to access it in-game. This became a particular problem during the tutorial when you're instructed to perform a move, but even in the tutorial it doesn't give you the move inputs. It's an added inconvenience for players that could have been easily resolved.
I am simply in awe of Skullgirls, even with all of the other great things happening as part of the current resurgence of the fighting game genre. This was a game made by fighting game fans, that borrowed elements from the most popular fighting games, and did a great job of bringing them all together, which is a feat that even the most experienced developers would have had trouble with. The high quality of Skullgirls goes to show the painstaking amount of effort put forth by Reverge Labs. With its unique team/assist system, varied characters, and great tutorial mode, Skullgirls is a great addition to the genre. While Skullgirls may be easy to overlook next to the more 'popular girls' like Soul Calibur V and Street Fighter X Tekken, she's got the moves and she's got spirit, so give her a chance.
*This review was based on the Xbox 360 version of the game with a review code provided by the publisher.*