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Skullgirls Review: A Fighting Game For People Who Like Fighting Games

Often described as a full on renaissance, much has been made about the resurgence of fighting games over the last several years. While big name franchises like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat have found mainstream success, Skullgirls is attempting something different. By releasing a downloadable game, Reverge Labs has lowered the barrier to entry just enough to target a very specific audience. While 99% of the population of Earth may not be interested in playing a highly technical 2D fighting game featuring over sexed monster girls and high-res anime, it's perfect for the few people that are.

At its core, Skullgirls is a no frills fighting game created almost exclusively for fans of the genre. While there’s actually a fair amount of innovation going on beneath the hood, it doesn’t necessarily jump out at you. Each character has six standard attacks (three punches, three kicks) that are used to perform various combos, air combos, special moves, and blockbuster attacks. If you’ve played any of Capcom’s versus games, this should feel instantly familiar. Players can choose teams up to three characters deep, but the larger the team, the weaker the individual characters. While tagging works as expected, the assist attacks are completely customizable, allowing each player to adapt the game to their own unique play style. It’s this sort of attention to minor details that shows the tournament level pedigree of the Skullgirls dev team.

Other such innovations include simplified specials, and an infinite detection system that prevents looping combos. There’s even a hold on the pause button that eliminates any accidental pausing. Although this is appreciated, these changes are still fairly minor and could easily go unnoticed by your average joe street-fighter.

While Skullgirls may not be able to match its retail counterparts in terms of features, the essential versus and arcade modes are all accounted for, and if you’ve got someone to play against, there should be enough to keep you busy. The story mode consists of comic book style cutscenes depicting short stories for each character, but ultimately it’s nothing special. Although the eight playable Skullgirls may seem a bit meager when compared to the thirty-nine characters in a game like Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, they prove diverse enough to be more than adequate. Lets face it: regardless of how many characters are available in a fighting game, everyone picks the same three guys anyway.

While the game's load times themselves are not unbearable, it loads frequently enough that you start taking notice. It’s annoying when you want to get back into the action, but are instead stuck staring at blank load screen. This is especially upsetting since since significant load times seem to have disappeared from the majority of modern fighting games.

The online component is a little bare bones, featuring only ranked and unranked matches, as well as a leader-board. A few extra modes would have been nice, however their omission is understandable considering that the game is downloadable. It’s also worth mentioning that the online games run GGPO netcode, which will be familiar to those of you who’ve played Street Fighter III Third Strike: Online Edition. Depending on the time of day finding an opponent can be difficult, but once you do get a game started it’ll typically run smoothly.

The one mode that does stand out as being unique, is the tutorials mode. This is both good and bad. While the tutorials do a great job at teaching you when and why you should be using various attacks on your opponent, the game never actually teaches you how to do the attacks themselves. For whatever reason, Reverge Labs decided to ship the game completely devoid of any character-specific move lists. While the lists are all downloadable from the game’s website, not including that sort of basic information in the game itself is completely inexcusable.

Aside from the move list fiasco, far and away the most divisive aspect of the game seems to be its character design. While no one’s going to argue that the artwork and animation is anything less than gorgeous, which it is, the design decisions are a little hit or miss. An all female cast of scantily clad cat ladies and school girls, just seems a little played out. I’m not offended so much as I’m apathetic. With so much emphasis being placed on the game’s hand-drawn art style, I just wish they could have made it look a little more original.

While Skullgirls clearly isn’t for everyone, it’s combination of gorgeous animation, fine tuned fighting mechanics, and smooth online play makes it worth a try for fans of the genre. Reverge Labs certainly isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, but they’ve done a good job with the little innovations. Even though the majority of the planet might not be interested in a highly technical 2D fighting game populated completely by sexy monster anime girls, If you think you might be, I recommend giving this one a shot.

Players: 1-2

Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3

Developer: Reverge Labs

Publisher: Autumn Games, Konami

ESRB: Teen