There was once a time when female appearances in interactive fighting experiences were frowned upon. So much so in fact, that Capcom had to suggest that Final Fight’s Poison was a pre-op transsexual just to be granted a North American release. Times have changed in the 30 years since of course, with beating of transgenders likely to be frowned upon just as much as ciswomen. However, Skullgirls proved once-and-for-all that gamers are not just OK with beating-up virtual females, but they are happy to actively engage in it for hours at a time.
Skullgirls wasn’t the first all-girl fighting videogame. And it certainly wasn’t the last. However, it’s arguably the most prominent presentation. For all of Arcana Heart 3’s worth as an innovative beat-‘em-up, it was never going to appeal to a wide audience. Something which Skullgirls clearly hopes to achieve.
Before beginning playing the core videogame, either in single-player or online, it is recommended that you check out the tutorial. A step-by-step program is available here, teaching you everything from the basics to 20-hit combos. And you will need this information. Even on its easiest difficulty setting Skullgirls is no walk in the park. And despite the lengthy tutorial things are only made marginally easier with such knowledge.
In terms of mechanics, Skullgirls features the same cross-up system originally used in Street Fighter II. High and low blocks break all four designated types of attacks, but the emphasis is reversed here. Opposed to the blocking player opening up the opponent for a counter, the aggressor is given the opportunity to break through the block with an alternate attack. Should this deferred attack also be blocked, the defending player is quickly reinstated as the controlling participant in the fight. When beginning Skullgirls this will be a regular occurrence. It’s only once the player realises that blocks are equally as important as attacks that they will find their feet.
Despite the outward look of the videogame – which appears to be designed for idle teenage titillation even more than the likes of Dead or Alive or Rumble Roses – Skullgirls presents a very deep beat-‘em-up experience. The Story Mode hides a wealth of interesting design. The Arcade Mode, as traditional as it’s construction may be, presents the opportunity to head straight into a match with a varying number of characters with a varying amount of health. Do you opt for one singular, strong character in an attempt to take down your three adversaries? Or choose to battle it out with a team of equal number, with equal endurance?
One of the greatest strengths of any beat-‘em-up videogame has to be its multiplayer mode. Thankfully Skullgirls was no exception to that rule. Either online or on the same couch, Skullgirls performs best with someone of a similar skill level to share it. The online gameplay wass incredibly smooth and the ‘rooms’ system echoed that of the Mortal Kombat reboot. However playing against opponents in Ranked Matches was a little limited in scope. As the matches were remarkably quick to connect this was a minor flaw.
The visual and aural standard presented by Skullgirls is also of a commendable standard. While the character design may be seen as the game’s key selling point it’s almost certainly for a different reason to the actual fact. Yes, Skullgirls is all about the female anatomy. However it’s brought to life with such stunning imagination in character presentation, a ridiculously colourful palette and some truly fantastic animation that any gamer with a keen interest in design will surely overlook the metric ton of cleavage presented in near-every screenshot. The soundtrack is also noteworthy, featuring a clear jazz influence in many of its menu themes. They might appear unusual accompaniments to the action at first, but eventually became as welcome as the classic ‘Guile’s Theme’.
Originally made available to download for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Skullgirls didn’t carry the same asking price as many of its peers. As such it didn’t provide quite as much content. Just a handful of characters and arguably the bare bones amount of gameplay modes, Skullgirls is perhaps a lightweight presentation in terms of variety. But the strengths of the videogame clearly lie within the gameplay, not the instant appeal of large rosters.
Much more could surely be made of Skullgirls if it weren’t for the fact that trying to breach its learning curve is like trying to have a picnic during a landslide. However, even as it stands Skullgirls is still a very entertaining experience. Skullgirls had some interesting ideas, fantastic arrangement and a welcoming online presentation. However it was the follow-up, Skullgirls: 2nd Encore that really made the most of the groundwork laid here.
What happens to the Skullgirls series next is anyone’s guess. Things didn’t go too well for Zero Lab Games post-launch, despite the incredible sales of the game. Will we see another Skullgirls down the line? It’s not looking likely, but at least we’ll have 2012’s debut to remember fondly.