At a glance...

Reviewer Platform Publisher Developer Players
Andrew Rouse PlayStation 3 Konami Revenge Labs 1-2 (Share screen, online)
Requirements Also on...
None. Xbox 360

Skullgirls review

I've always liked fighting games since playing Tekken 3 on the original PlayStation quite a few years ago, but I've never been very good at them. They're opaque, giving little guidance on why I constantly get hit; the tutorial teaches me how to block but not how to determine when to block and when to attack. Finally though, Reverge Labs are taking a stab at teaching new players the important systems within fighting games which exist behind their dazzling exteriors.

The tutorials in Skullgirls are absolutely the best I've ever seen due to the way they break down the different systems at work within the game, explain their implications, teach you ways of taking advantage of them and then test your execution of the new technique. Here's an example from one of the early tutorials.

  • There are three types of attack in Skullgirls: high, middle and low
  • A standing block will block both middle and high attacks
  • A crouching block will block both low and middle attacks
  • High attacks either require the attacker to be jumping or are one of a few "overhead" attacks which are slow enough that the defender will have time to react.
  • Therefore you should always use a crouching block unless you see your opponent jump or start to use an overhead attack.
The lesson concludes with the player defending against increasingly difficult mixtures of high and low attacks from the computer opponent.

You can team up characters or play them solo

You can team up characters or play them solo

The 17 tutorials go on to introduce the player to the different ways the attacks can be chained together; mix-ups, throws, hit confirming and cancelling into special attacks or air dashes. Along with each lesson a practical test is given which usually ends by asking the player to complete a combo which uses both the new technique and a previously learned technique. Though these tutorials aren't going to be groundbreaking for a seasoned fighting game expert, they'll be invaluable to anyone who doesn't properly know the meanings of the terms at the start of this paragraph.

If the tutorials do a good job of introducing new players to a difficult game, then the AI does the complete opposite. Though it sometimes gives players good opportunities to attack, its punishment for mistakes is swift and vicious. The "Easy" AI will occasionally pull off 27-hit combos which remove half your health and regularly show off its super-human reflexes. To further undermine its earlier good work, the game lacks any kind of in-game command reference, instead directing users to the game's website where PDFs of the available moves can be printed. Furthermore, although the tutorials do a good job of teaching you how to cope with certain situations, the free practice mode doesn't allow you to set up similar situations to further practice your response or to attempt the same challenge with a different character. After so much work was put into the tutorials, these omissions are bewildering.

The animation looks great in motion

The animation looks great in motion

In a multi-player battle, each player can choose between using three weak characters, two stronger characters or one very strong character. If a player uses more than one character, they can tag between them during the match and call in off-screen characters to do an assist attack. When I could actually join a match, the online multiplayer worked well with the GGPO middleware allowing me to pull off combos online as easily as I did offline against the computer. Finding a game through the matchmaking system is often difficult. After I'd lost a few matches and the system tried to better match me against similarly skilled players, it took longer and longer to find a player to match me with. Now when selecting "Ranked Match" I sit alone with the message "searching for tier 3 opponent". Creating an unranked match is little better; there are still a few players, but several times when I have found an opponent, the game has crashed on the character select screen, likely a symptom of the known incompatibility between the US and EU PS3 versions. If you have friends to play with, either locally or online, then the multiplayer works well, but if you don't already have a willing opponent, don’t bank on the game being able to find one for you.

The story and character histories are revealed through the game's story mode. Each character fights their way through several opponents on their way to challenging the titular Skullgirl, holder of the Skull Heart which will grant any wish. However, it will also turn the impure of heart into a Skullgirl themselves, damning them to life of destruction until they in turn are defeated. Between each set of fights we're treated to a cutscene of sorts where more about the character’s motives and backstory are revealed through the medium of static character images, backgrounds and subtitles. While not spectacular, these interludes were interesting enough to keep me from skipping through them.

The character designs are mostly anime-inspired and, although the artists' tendencies towards short skirts and large bouncing breasts may be off-putting to some people, the result is an appropriately eclectic mix of fighters. From Filia, whose parasitic hair monster Samson helps her fight, to Ms. Fortune, the catgirl with a penchant for puns and detaching her limbs, to Peacock, a girl rebuilt into a biomechanical weapon with many projectile attacks. The game does a good job at making all of the characters feel unique and play differently. The small roster is also offset by a similarly low price point; Skullgirls is available on PSN and XBLA for only £11.99/1200 MSP.

Ratings

Overall While Skullgirls has an overly challenging AI, lack of in-game move lists, matchmaking issues and limited practise mode, it does have in-depth tutorials, entertaining characters and a low price-point which make for a game that's worth playing. 7/10

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