This weekend at Anime Matsuri, an EVO qualifying fighting game tournament was held. Amongst a crowd of the best players in the community, I took to the first of the regional Skullgirls tournaments to find out what it was that had garnered so much interest from fighting game enthusiasts. What I found was something that harkened me back to the days of Street Fighter III.
It’s a game that is a bit short on roster, but is arguably one of the deepest and prettiest fighters out there.
To look at Skullgirls and judge it based on an exterior view would be to simply say it plays like Marvel vs Capcom 2. Characters can be in a party of up to 3 and helpers can assist when beckoned. Standard stuff Marvel vs Capcom 2 did a decade ago that nobody has tried to replicate. Skullgirls does Marvel vs Capcom 2 better by simply allowing an adjustment to the formula. It has a six button layout with the ability to call assistance and swap characters on a whim. Most supers can be summoned in many of the same ways you do through a Capcom fighter.
Instead of playing a straight 3 vs 3 matchup, players can choose any number of fighters from 1 to 3 characters. This means if you aren’t fully comfortable with playing with the complexities of managing 3 players, you can battle with only one fighter on your team. This works out because the damage scales to make you stronger as you sacrifice assist characters.
This is a fairly novel twist on the game and it works. A player adjusted to the frantic high offense style of Marvel vs Capcom should stick with a team of 3, meanwhile somebody stronger with a focused fighting style like Street Fighter should try going solo. What I found worked best for me was a team of 2 with a strong defense to withstand the frantic pace of the attacks while still maintaining an emergency reserve when I just seemed to let my guard down.
It’s really brilliant in a way. You can essentially make the game what you want it to be.
The reason why this system is so smart is because of the care put in to it. A character like Ms. Fortune has an ability that tosses her head on to the ground for her to use as a passive attack. If the player doesn’t put the head back on her when swapping out, it remains on the field of play. This head can not only be used for attacks, it can also receive damage. It’s an ingenious play mechanic that both works in the favor of the one who utilizes it best.
To put an emphasis on customization of play, the support structure has a series of three different move sets when called upon. Two are predetermined attacks while the third is customizable. Meaning, you can have your support character jump on screen at any time doing any move in the game. What this means for combo chains is the greater question. Being able to set up and link any combo you want with one of your assist types is, for lack of a better word, brilliant.
That’s essentially what it comes down to with the gameplay. Skullgirls can’t kill Marvel vs Capcom or any other fighter on the market with a simple roster of 9. What it instead does is create such an interesting experience through the customization that you won’t need the wide range of somewhat diverse characters. The characters involved are all so uniquely crafted that it calls in to question what can happen when downloadable characters are added to the mix?
One of the things that I’ve talked with the Skullgirls team about is the fact that the game is going to have post release patches. While nothing is really confirmed on what will take place, I still had to ask about a King of Fighters mode. Simply because they had created a structure of absolute customization for character selection that I was curious to see if they would still branch out further with it. They said they had plans to add it in to a patch. Due to the method of distribution, this could be one of the first big fighters that could morph itself in to something entirely new as the years go on.
I need to explain this in the simplest way I can. The animation in Skullgirls is the best I’ve seen in a video game. Period.
There is nothing simple about what is going on in any given match. I dare you to pick any two characters in the game and compare their animation stills to find a similar pattern of attack in her animation. The only character that you could call upon is Double, since she is the Dural of Skullgirls, and that character alone shows how unique each of the 7 other fighters truly are. Even Double’s basic moves before adopting the other fighters appearance is something to be seen as the character is truly monstrous in appearance.
A personal favorite of mine is Peacock, the 1930s era cartoon character. While the character plays like an evened out Cable from Marvel vs Capcom 2, her attacks are so outlandish and expertly animated that every time I used her I found something new to look at. Whether it’s the bounce as a floorboard springs forward to pop an enemy up in the air or simply the way the eyes that are grafted to her arm move in response to her actions, I found myself staring at something new on screen for each match I had. Now picture the same attention to each of the 7 other characters.
The game’s presentation is so different towards its attack that I had to readjust to the way I viewed a characters hit box. Fortunately training mode was set up with a feature that visualizes hit boxes for those of us wanting to get adjusted and get better with the game.
I do have to talk about palette swaps for a second. A standard palette swap changes the colors of the players clothes. As was in the case of King of Fighters, it changed the color of skin tone as well. With a game full of such outlandish attacks as a piano crashing down from the ceiling, something as simple as a color swap isn’t so simple. Everything in the players arsenal has a unique colored attack pattern. From what I played their were 8 readily available with more than 3 extra unlockable palette colors. For some characters like Parasoul, they’ve even changed the appearance of the character by adding extra accessories to a color palette. You can see how different the appearance is from the image above of Parasoul. This isn’t your Mortal Kombat style swap.
They almost look completely different. Throw some longer boots, glasses, an arm band and she’s a different character. That level of detail carries out in to every frame of the characters animation and is a sight to see. To add to this, the lighting of the different arena’s play in to how the characters are lit. It’s absolutely incredible what attention there is as the characters change with their surroundings.
Skullgirls looks as good as it plays. Due to the tournament structure, I wasn’t able to get my hands on the story mode, nor was I able to really mess around with the girls as much as I would have liked. This game however has the ability to change the landscape for the genre with what it’s doing. I’m amazed that it’s coming down the pipeline as a downloadable title, as there are many features that I could argue are done better than some of the big boys.
Skullgirls will come out on PSN April 10th and XBLA April 11th for $15.