Skullgirls is an indie fighting game that I’ve been hearing people talk about for years and I decided that since January is #FightingGameMonth, it was finally time to give it a shot. (It also didn’t hurt that the game was on sale for $2.99 on Steam.) While I used to dabble in fighting games periodically, I never latched on to any particular game long enough to become truly competitive and it’s been many years since I’ve played a traditional 2D fighter. Here were my takeaways from the game and my return to the genre:
- The character art is the first thing that jumps out when you start the game. Each of the all-female cast of combatants has a unique look that blends an anime art style with a retro 1940s western cartoon aesthetic. Like many fighting games with primarily female characters, the character designs lean a little too heavily on the “fan service” for my taste but I otherwise appreciate how unique each character is: an undead catgirl who can remove her head and use it as a weapon, a tiny acrobat whose hat sprouts giant muscular arms, an amalgam of Olive Oil from Popeye and Inspector Gadget, etc. The animations for each of these characters are beautiful and do a lot to give each character her own personality.
- While the design and animation of each character are great, this quality comes at the cost of quantity; there are very few characters to choose from in the base game. At the start, there are only six playable characters with two more that can be unlocked. There are also a few extra characters that can be purchased separately.
- As somebody with very limited fighting game skills, I was glad to see that the game includes a pretty thorough tutorial that teaches the games various special moves and systems. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to play through all of them in order to gain a grasp of the game’s intricacies.
- Most of the special moves in the game are based on quarter-circle movements with the joystick combined with a button press (similar to Street Fighter). I've always been terrible at pulling these off consistently.
- The game features local and online multiplayer modes and well as two types of single-player mode: story and arcade. Story mode, the mode I spent the most time with, tries to provide some backstory for each character and justify why all these ladies are beating each other up… but I can’t say it made much sense to me. I’m guessing the intent of the story is for players play through each character’s path and piece things together, but it gets pretty repetitive, so I only played through with two of the six characters. I might return to it a later date though.
- From a gameplay standpoint, the story mode has you fight through each of the other girls on the roster with brief visual novel style cutscenes in between. Since my fighting game skills are extremely rusty, I played through on easy mode and won each of the bouts without too much trouble until I hit a substantial difficulty spike at the final boss. Each story mode path takes about 30 minutes to complete.
- The arcade mode is just a straightforward succession of fights. Unlike the story mode, arcade mode uses a tag team mechanic that allows you to switch between two characters mid-match. This makes for some interesting combinations and I found myself wishing that I could play this way in story mode as well.
The game features a jazzy soundtrack that goes well with the 1940s motif. The fight announcer is corny and over-the-top but that suits the game well.
Overall, Skullgirls is probably a great game for people who love completive fighters like Marvel vs Capcom. However, there might not be enough here for casual players like me unless they want to devote the time to gain mastery. I enjoyed my time with Skullgirls and appreciated it from a creative standpoint, but after a few hours, I was ready to move on.
Completion time: About 2 hours (Two story mode campaigns and experimenting with other modes)
Note: This review is based on the original version of the game. There is an enhanced “Second Encore” version that has more content but I haven’t had the chance to try it.