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Skullgirls 2nd Encore impressions: sterling second act

Lab Zero Games has brought its sleekly animated fighter to PlayStation 4 with a slew of new features. Does this director's cut of sorts still hold up against the original? Our impressions.


With the fighting game world having its staples in place, there's an entire world of unappreciated fighters that are vying for that community's time. One of the most interesting entries of the last five years was Skullgirls, from the folks at Lab Zero Games. With a unique cartoon art style, old-timey film aesthetic, and quirky roster of (mostly) female fighters, Skullgirls felt like a refreshing entry to the genre.

Since then, the game has grown in some new ways, enough for Lab Zero to offer something of an upgrade for PlayStation users. Titled Skullgirls 2nd Encore, this game feels like something of a director's cut, offering some missing items, new features, and an even fuller roster than before. Yet the fundamental gameplay offered by the original remains intact, which made this game feel like a familiar trip, albeit a welcome one.

The first thing to note is that Lab Zero has seen the ways in which Skullgirls has grown. The game has a devout following, which has mastered the moves of many of the game's best characters. Those players have grasped the nuances of the game's mechanics, mastering the blend of Ultra Street Fighter 4-style mix-ups and footsies, the insane juggles and combos of Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, and the Burst system of games like Persona 4 Arena. To say there's a learning curve would be something of an understatement, as it's easy to fall behind and get schooled by a hardcore online community.

To alleviate this, 2nd Encore introduces some keen new ideas to help newcomers. On top of an expanded Tutorial mode, the Trials mode teaches the fundamentals of the game with each of the game's characters. This challenges players to master some of the game's more common combos, enough to keep them competent in a match against humans, but also throws in combos commonly seen in more professional fighting circuits. In theory, the idea is fantastic, allowing novices to pull off some neat combinations. It does have some shortcomings, though, as many of the combos will involve pulling off a special move or a Blockbuster move. The inputs to these moves will not be displayed on the screen, requiring a quick glimpse at the move list from the pause menu. This can be information overload for newbies and can break some of that user-friendliness that Lab Zero is shooting for.

In terms of game modes, 2nd Encore proves surprisingly deep. The Story Mode still feels as throwaway as the standard fighting game narrative, but Lab Zero has upped the production values some with fully-voiced stories for all of the game's individiaul characters. This includes newer DLC additions like Big Band and Beowulf. Those that would rather focus elsewhere can try out the game's Challenge mode, which requires winning under certain conditions, as well as Survival Mode, which tasks players with taking on a parade of fighters until they lose. The intriguing element of the latter mode is that it issues greater recovery for better performances, making it geared more towards skilled players.

Not much else has changed about the core Skullgirls gameplay, which is perfectly fine, given that it already stands out as a fun fighter on its own. The ability to Cross-Play with PS3 and Vita users should also help give the game some extra life. 2nd Encore is a fine second act for Skullgirls, one that should hopefully be the star-making performance that Lab Zero is aiming for.

These impressions are based on a download code provided by the publisher. Skullgirls 2nd Encore is available now on PlayStation 4 as a downloadable title. It is also coming soon to PlayStation Vita. The game is rated T.

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?

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