Psuedo-Review: Skullgirls – Beyond the Overhype
*note: When I started this article it was mostly going to be first impressions and complaining about the fans. However as I progressed it basically became a review so heck with it. It’s a bit wordy and whiny and not quite on-topic but we may as well consider this some sort of review.
If there was one fighting game I would describe as overhyped, it would be Skullgirls. Over the past 3 years at least, people have been raving about the upcoming indie fighter. They, of course, had plenty of reason to. Created by a tournament player, the game boasted high-res hand drawn 2D artwork that animates as well as Street Fighter III and also claimed it would have one of the deepest and most balanced fighting engines around. Indeed, there was reason to be excited.
The problem, however, was how psychotically overzealous the fans became. Many declaring the game “The Best Fighter Ever” years before it’s release and bringing it up in any fighting game discussion. You want balance? Play Skullgirls. Hate infinites? Play Skullgirls. Wanna learn how to play fighting games competitively? Skullgirls will teach you. Great graphics? Skullgirls can’t be topped. Sexy characters? Nothing is sexier than Skullgirls. Good music? Michiru Yamane is composing the music for Skullgirls so clearly it will be better than anything else in the industry. Netcode? Did you hear? Skullgirls is gonna have GGPO so the online play is gonna be so flawless.
It gets worse once they start mocking other games because they’re not Skullgirls. Talking about old skool all-girl fighters like Asuka 120% or Advanced Variable Geo 2? Well Skullgirls is gonna be like those but so much better. Talking about new doujin fighters? Well Skullgirls is gonna be so much better. Talking about 3D fighters? Well I don’t play 3D fighters because Skullgirls will be so much better.
What makes all of this worse was that much of this sentiment was coming from people who had never played the game. At best they had played about 5 minutes of it at a special preview event.
With this much hype, of course, hype backlash is inevitable. As such there has been a cavalcade of jackoffs who take a sick sort of glee in bashing Skullgirls. Usually, however, their complaints are little more than “LOL GENERIC ANIMU! THIS GAME IS WEEABOO CENTRAL!”.
Sorry but no, while Skullgirls has definite anime inspiration, it is far from “generic”. I’d honestly say that it hits a pleasant middleground between anime and American cartoons. Not quite Matt Bozon-level, but close.
However, to the haters’ credit, that was all they could complain about because the game was not out yet!
It’s such a damn shame too because had I not had the game crammed down my throat for the past 3 years (has it really only been 3 years? It feels like 5!) I’d probably be a lot more positive towards it. I mean heck, it has freaking Bonus-kun in one background and has a stage full of cute fish girls! What part of this doesn’t absolutely scream GEL-bait?! But when it becomes completely impossible to hold a conversation about fighting games without someone bringing up how much better Skullgirls is gonna be, it’s hard to stay positive towards the game.
Not to mention there’s plenty of reason to be proud of the game too! It’s rare that a fan project like this actually makes it to completion. It’s rare to see an American made fighter that’s actually good (I mean shoot, Skullgirl’s closest competition was Clayfighter 63 1/3rd Sculptor’s Cut…and that’s not a joke either)! The visuals are incredible, the style is unique, and it has caught the eye of many major players in the videogame industry. This is a small fan project that has made serious waves.
So, with the game finally released, how is it? Does it live up to the hype? Is it the most amazing fighting game ever made?
No. Of course it isn’t. When you have people claiming it’s the most balanced and perfect fighting game ever made, that will unite every fighting gamer ever and bring newcomers into the fold while changing the face of the industry? Yeah ,it’s not going to live up to that kind of hype. It is, however, a very good fighting game.
If you picked up Skullgirls on PS3 blind, not knowing anything about it’s development history or the hype surrounding it, what you would find is a gorgeous looking, well presented, well made fighting game with good netcode, but a very small character roster, not a lot of modes, lengthy load times, and many strangely absent features.
Note that I said PS3, because if you picked this up on 360 you’d find a buggy unfinished mess. To be blunt, the PS3 is the native console and the 360 port was half-assed. The already lengthy load times are 3 times longer, matchmaking is a complete mess, and characters often break apart into clusters of green hitboxes. It’s honestly quite embarassing, especially after all that hype. Thankfully, these bugs are known and they intend to patch them soon.
Though, the fan reaction to the 360 port is “Well they’re playing it on 360 so you know something is wrong with them,” and “360 owners couldn’t appreciate Skullgirls anyway”. Because, you know, the 360 doesn’t have any exclusive anime-styled games that would appeal to Skullgirls fans.
In case you can’t tell, I’m just a little bit bitter towards the fans.
But getting back to the point, the game is very well presented. As such, you would not be able to guess that this was an indie game. The graphics even moreso. Visually the game is just astonishing. The character sprites are rendered at a higher resolution than any other game in the industry. We’re talking a higher resolution than KOF XIII and BlazBlue. What’s more, they animate incredibly well. Again, we’re looking at animation on-par with SF3. On top of that, the game features slightly 3D backdrops and 3D lighting effects on the 2D sprites. What this means is that lighting actually affects the sprites as they move around the stage. The result is a gorgeous looking game that manages to avoid the “flash game” look most high-res 2D games have.
The combat itself is rock solid as well. I’m very picky about my controls. I mean, I constantly complain about how awful SF4 and SFxT feel as well as any Tekken game released after Tekken Tag Tournament. If controls feel stiff, awkward, or “too Dimps-y”, I will complain. Skullgirls does not have this issue. The controls are tight and responsive with only one odd issue: air dashing.
You see, in Skullgirls, you can dash in two different ways: either pressing forward twice or by pressing weak and medium punch simultaneously. However, for some reason you cannot air dash with forward forward when you jump straight up; but you can air dash by pressing both punches. What’s more, you can also air dash with forward forward as long as you jump towards your opponent. The result, however, is that air dashing with forward forward (i.e. the way most people are used to air dashing) is awkward and doesn’t seem to work consistently.
Aside from this little hiccup though, the combat is great. It’s not blindingly fast-paced like BlazBlue or most doujin fighters, but it’s far from slow. It’s combo-centric but not overly so. Some folks describe the game as “basic” and that too is quite false. The game features ratio-based tag matches, meaning you can pit one, two, or even three fighters on a tag-team against any other team combination. What’s more, you can use nearly any attack as an assist (the exception being Miss Fortune’s headless-only moves), which is a fun new idea. There are tons of combo possibilities and some unique mechanics as well (like Miss Fortune’s detachable head that stays on-screen even when tagged out).
The big one, however, is probably the much lauded Infinite Prevention System. The fact of the matter is that every fighting game has infinites and/or 100% damage combos. There are no exceptions unless you actively go out of your way to prevent them. The best way is to have some kind of Combo Breaker move, but these are usually poorly implemented (like Guilty Gear XX’s Burst system) and annoy fighting gamers. The IPS is a heavily tweaked version of a burst, designed to prevent infinites but still allow big damage combos. The way it works is that it counts every time a move is repeated and looks for patterns. Once it sees one, the hit sparks and sound effects change and players can press any button to burst out of the combo. It’s a clever way of handling things as it still allows fighting gamers to get crazy with their combos but avoids the infinite issue.
The question then is if it prevents 100% damage combos as well. Characters do very little damage with every attack so actually dealing 100% damage would be difficult. However it may not be impossible and even if it is, I can definitely confirm 50% damage combos exist. You can decide for yourself if that’s an issue or not but if you ask me, it kinda is.
There’s actually more to the combat system as well, like Advancing Guard (i.e. a guard that pushes back the enemy if you press two buttons while blocking) and Delayed Hyper Combos, things seen in the Marvel vs Capcom series. Something people might know if the game bothered to tell them!
Yes, despite fans condemning every other fighter for not doing a good enough job of teaching new players how to play fighting games and insisting that Skullgirls would be the exception, the game’s tutorials are lacking. Not only does it not really tell you about some of the in-game systems, but it lacks an in-game movelist! Yes, that’s right, if you want a complete movelist you’re going to have to find one online. Even then, the official movelist from the website is incomplete and does not list all the special regular attacks (like forward+hard punch). While a minor hiccup in any other situation, it’s easy to see how aggravating this is when Skullgirls was hyped the way it was. Also, good job placing the character sprites in front of the text so you can’t read what you’re supposed to do.
This does bring us to the question of balance. Again, the game was hyped as being the most balanced fighter ever, but no fighter is truly balanced. The biggest question, of course, is Peacock. The character is built around keeping opponents at a distance and out ranging them with projectile spam. In a game that is otherwise almost devoid of projectiles, it’s kind of awkward fighting a character that is nothing but projectiles! Getting in close to her is a pain and it is far too easy for her to run away and make space between her and the player. Miss Fortune’s detachable head may also cause issues as it can be commanded to bite opponents, making for an easy combo opening. However, as the head itself can take damage, this might not be quite so bad. Cerebella being a grappler with chain throws also means she tends to have some of the biggest damage combos I have seen so far and may again be an issue. It is far too early to really make any sort of judgement calls and I will say the game feels decently balanced, but there are still questionable elements in there.
The Story mode is an interesting beast. It starts out very nicely presented, but when we get to just two portraits talking the presentation gets wonky, having to reload both portraits and the text box with each new line of text. I know it sounds minor but it really does hurt the presentation. What’s more, there’s not a lot to said story mode. There’s an intro, a middle, and an end sequence with some random unexplained fights in the middle. At first I wanted to complain about this as they should have thrown together some talking portraits for the middle fight. However, then I realized they’re trying to make it like BlazBlue’s Arcade Mode only they don’t have enough characters to properly pad it out. It’s a little awkward but not bad.
I do have to be honest though, the music is disappointing. It’s not bad by any means, just often too atmospheric. One stage, for example, is a happy suburb and it has happy suburb music. That’s great, it fits, but I can’t really fight to it very well. There are exceptions, like the lab stage and the boss stage, though. However, while their music is good, I don’t think any of it is that great either and it needs to be said that the atmospheric music greatly outnumbers the fighty music.
Credit where credit is due, though, the game does have a number of gorgeous looking and well detailed stages to fight in. Normally I don’t count stages that much, but after MvC3 and KOFXII, I’ve started to make note of when fighters have a decent number of stages. You can only fight in a hidden ninja village so many times before it starts to get a little bland. So, kudos to Skullgirls in that respect.
About the only other thing to comment on is the online play. The game uses GGPO and as such in most cases it works great. Mind you this game really strains the GGPO system (much like SF3 did) and as such connections aren’t guaranteed to be perfect. In a strange twist, Soul Calibur V has actually surpassed GGPO in terms of netcode quality. Still, 90% of the time you’ll have a wonderful lag-free match and that’s what really matters. The issue, aside from massive connectivity problems on 360, is that these are 2 person only lobbies, no spectating.
There’s also no replay saving, which is a real disappointment. Online Training Mode would have also been nice. Yes, only SFxT actually has this feature right now, but it is something fighting game fans have been clamoring for and so I kind of thought it might wind up in the game.
Of course it’s at this point that someone will point out that the game is going to be patched. We have been promised fixes for the 360 version’s bugs as well as in-game movelists and spectateable matches in an upcoming patch in the very near future. This is what brings us to what may be the best and most important part of Skullgirls: the game is made by actual members of the fighting game community. This means they are on the ground floor listening to fan complaints, knowing about the bugs and glitches as well as any broken tactics. As such they can actively work to fix these issues. Skullgirls is their only game and chances are they will be dedicated to making it the best tournament level fighting game on the market.
The problem is, it hasn’t been patched yet. We don’t know what kind of stupid red tape they’re going to slam face first into when it comes to patching these issues. We don’t know what exactly will be fixable. Not to mention, with how shoddy the release was and the general reaction from the fans, I’m not certain if the 360 release will get the same amount of support it’s PS3 counterpart will.
So, at the end of the day, is it a good game? Should you buy it? If you have a PS3, then yes. The visuals are amazing, the fighting is excellent, a lot of time, effort, and love went into this game and it is well worth a purchase. While $15 may seem a bit steep for a game with only 8 characters, I can also understand it. As for the 360 release? Well I’d only recommend that to desperate fans who want to play the game but don’t have a PS3. It’s far from unplayable but the lack of polish makes it difficult to justify the $15 price tag.
It’s at this point that I realize this has gone well beyonmd mere first impressions and fandom ranting. Heck, 2600 words in and every element of the game commented upon, I think I can officially call this a review. Make no mistake, this was not intended as a review initially but considering all I need to finish the job is a score, I may as well give it one.
At launch, Skullgirls on PS3 seems to get a…
4 out of 5
While the lack of characters is annoying and it is somewhat short on content, the low-ish pricepoint helps soften the blow (and it does have more content than Soul Calibur V). Meanwhile the excellent combat, good netcode, and buckets of polish make up for the minor irritating design oversights. Make no mistake, Skullgirls is a good game and does deserve a purchase. It just has a fanbase that deserves a punch in the mouth just as much.
However, I do need to mention that my assumptions on the PS3 release are based on the demo. I actually bought the game on 360 and no I am not buying it a second time. Because, really, who rewards a company for fucking up a port?! While the 360 release is still good, it really lacks the polish (at launch) that helps justify that $15 pricetag. So I give the 360 version a…
3.8 out of 5
Yes I know that’s actually a pretty drastic drop, but the matchmaking and loading really is that bad. Seriously, I’ll spend 10 minutes looking for a 1 minute match. But, once it gets patched, you can just give it the PS3’s 4 out of 5 rating.
As for why neither of them have a 5 out of 5? Well the roster is small and it’s short on features and modes. Maybe in two years, when the DLC characters are released, the issues are patched, and a disc-based version is on the way, it might elevate itself to such lofty heights. However, at the moment it is not the greatest fighting game ever.
The point is, Skullgirls is good. I’m just bitter.