Skullgirls review

We get into a fight with the Skullgirls and come out a bit battered and bloody. But we enjoyed it.

Skullgirls in many ways pays homage to classic 2D fighters. Its art style and overall presentation show reverence for the heyday when numerous titles competed for the fighting game crown. Likewise, its fighting mechanics often borrow from the heroes of the genre. Once the final take is complete, however, Reverge Labs firmly establishes its new fighter as more than merely an ardent admirer of the craft. Skullgirls stakes its claim as a new star in the making. Like many arcade fighters, the story behind Skullgirls is secondary. There's a rare artifact out there called the Skull Heart and it will grant any young woman her wish. That is, unless she has an impure heart, at which point the Skull Heart slowly corrupts her until she becomes an unstoppable force of evil known as the Skull Girl. It's the typical over-the-top narrative these sorts of games are known for. An outlandish story needs some equally outlandish characters and Skullgirls has that covered. It includes eight playable characters, with more coming via DLC. Each character and stage is drawn with a cel-shaded anime style that's crisp and pleasing to the eye. I will admit that the proportions on fighters like the schoolgirl Filla or the scantily-clad nurse Valentine are ludicrously curvaceous. However, it's completely in keeping with the style and something I feel anime fans will appreciate. Balancing things out, there are enough bruisers on the roster, like the sentient hat-wielding Cerebella, that players may quickly forget about the curves some characters may have. The fighting mechanics stood out to me as both fresh and familiar. The basics follow a standard six button arcade fighter system (three punches, three kicks), alongside special moves inspired by classic fighters. I breezed through the basic Arcade Mode by hitting basic special moves and tossing in some ground attacks to juggle opponents. Pulling off combos using this method was surprisingly simple and served me well against both CPU and human adversaries. I enjoyed the simplicity of the combo system and the time window allowed for follow-up moves. Chaining together large combos, along with well-timed dashes, often led to faster-paced fights. As for the structure of each individual fight, it felt like Skullgirls couldn't decide if it wanted to be a one-on-one fighter or a team-based game. So it decided to be both. I was presented with the choice of picking a single fighter or up to three different characters. The game automatically set a handicap for uneven matches, with solo fighters receiving less damage than two or three-person teams. I noticed throughout my time with the game that strategies could change significantly depending on how many characters I was using. I could either pick one character and try an all-out assault or pick a team and employ well-timed switches and customized assist moves to keep opponents on their toes. It's a kind of flexibility that I haven't seen in fighters before and I was impressed with the idea and its execution.

Kicking butt in a nurse's outfit

I also had plenty of opportunity to exercise different strategies against real opponents because Skullgirls' online ran without any issues. The Good Game, Peace Out (GGPO) netcode fully delivers on its promise of a lag-free fighting experience. Granted, there aren’t many online features to choose from--the game only offers ranked and unranked lobbies; however, given how many arcade fighters are plagued with online glitches, Skullgirls earns praise for getting the most important part right. Reverge Labs released Skullgirls with the hope that it could succeed as a tournament fighter. From what I experienced, I can absolutely see the potential. The game only features eight characters (normal for a fighter's debut), but the fighting mechanics are well-refined. The characters are well-balanced and simple to use. Most importantly to me, the game also fully acknowledges the existence of infinite combos. This is normally an unwelcome Easter egg that I run into in other fighting games. However, not only are infinite combos integrated into this game, but players are given easy-to-execute infinite combo breakers to counter them. These aspects of the game encourage me to get better, while also assuring me that the overall experience can remain balanced. At no point did I enter an online match with the feeling that I was about to get creamed. While the fighting genre is filled with established franchises, I'm happy to see a new challenger enter the ring. Skullgirls is a pleasant surprise and this downloadable title holds its own against many of its larger retail brethren. In the words of the game’s announcer, "It's Showtime!" for this colorful cast of female furies. [This Skullgirls review is based on a PlayStation 3 copy of the game provided by the publisher.]
Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

From The Chatty
  • reply
    April 20, 2012 6:52 AM

    Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Skullgirls review.

    We get into a fight with the Skullgirls and come out a bit battered and bloody. But we enjoyed it.

    • reply
      April 20, 2012 7:47 AM

      Skullgirls is pretty great IMO and has a lot of humor and in-jokes in it. The system for balancing teams is pretty much KOF 2k1, which is fine by me.

      The one thing the review skips, which I think is very important, is the tutorial. The problem with fighting games in general (and I say this as someone who cut their teeth on the original Street Fighter II in the arcades) is the barrier of entry. Simply put, fighting games seem to assume you know how to play fighting games. Training/tutorials tend to be and introduction to movement, maybe an explanation of how your meter(s) fill, and 'Here are some combos, do them'. That just isn't helpful to new players.

      Skullgirls does more. It starts off with the basics as you'd expect, but then goes on to explain things that other fighters take for granted, such as what a poke is and why you'd want to use it, how cancels work, what mix-ups are and more importantly how to defend against them.

      Each section of the tutorial usually ends with you needing to do a small combo incorporating what you've just learned. By the end of the tutorial you're combining all those smaller combos into one big combo, and that has got to feel satisfying to the player who started off not knowing what they were doing.

      The only thing that baffles me is the lack of an in-game move list. You're instead directed to download one from

      Overall, I'm extremely satisfied with the game, and it will be the one I direct new players to if they're curious about the genre. I really hope other franchises learn from, or outright rip off, the tutorial.

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        April 20, 2012 12:11 PM

        Yeah, I admit I overlooked the tutorial, which is a mistake on my part. Very user-friendly and helps prep you for both this game and most fighting games, period.

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        April 20, 2012 2:26 PM

        The move list is out because it requires UI work (if they have to adjust combos or change buttons, etc). They're a small team, so it is a good idea not to incur that extra UI cost (and testing) and just keep a simple website up to date.

        That's my conspiracy theory for why. I don't know the actual reason.

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          April 20, 2012 6:23 PM

          This is actually accurate, it was determined that it was not worth it for the payoff and they prioritized things that have more longterm value like implementing the hitbox viewer, etc.

          There has been talk of some of these things being added with time in patches if they are able to financially support it (read: successful enough)

          The team is tiny, as has been said.

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      April 20, 2012 7:56 AM

      That game is gooood.

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      April 20, 2012 12:29 PM

      I love the art style and the idea of the tutorial. That said, I feel like it could do a lot more to get more people (i.e. women) interested in the genre if it were less fanservice-y.

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        April 20, 2012 12:31 PM

        That is, I'm not about to bring this game to most women I know and say "Have you played fighting games? This is a great one, you might like it!" because the art would be a huge turnoff.

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          April 20, 2012 12:49 PM

          I was a little weirded out by the fact that every character has their bust size as a stat on the downloadable moves list sheet. Especially since half the characters are like 13.

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            April 20, 2012 2:23 PM

            Oh God, I hadn't seen that. Creepy++.

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            April 20, 2012 6:23 PM

            This is supposedly requested by cosplayers. Don't ask me, no idea if that's true or just a weird random excuse.

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      April 20, 2012 1:44 PM

      The story it has sounds like it was ripped off from an homage to Master of Martial Hearts.

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