As a low-profile indie fighting game coming out of a virgin studio, Skullgirls is going to have its work cut out if it is to get people to super cancel out of their current fighter of choice and into a brand new one.
Many great games have fallen at the same hurdle over the years, great underdogs like Melty Blood, Arcana Heart and Battle Fantasia barely denting the Street Fighter crowd, while even re-released classics like Garou and KOF2002 can’t seem to find an opening in the market’s sterling defence except with the dedicated hardcore.
But Skullgirls doesn’t just want to attract the hardcore. In fact, while Reverge’s first fighter might be pitched as a high-level, tournament-ready fighter that does away with a lot of the bullshit that creeps into even the most revered of the usual Evo mainstays, there’s a very clear push towards bringing in newcomers and those willing to learn as well.
They say that the first bite is with the eye and, if there’s any truth in that, the utterly beautiful hand-drawn visuals and stunning 60FPS animation mean that Skullgirls must taste like slow-cooked unicorn dreams in rainbow sauce.
It looks great static but amazing in motion, the sky-high production values extending far beyond what should be possible for a start-up studio – stick the majority of gamers in a room where one set-up is running Skullgirls and another is running Arcana Heart 3 and ask them which is the downloadable game, and we all but guarantee a full house of wrongness.
The digital angle should also work in the game’s favour, the inevitable trial version meaning potential players can try before they buy while precious few retail fighters enjoy such luxury.
Then there’s the control scheme. Where some new fighters come out with quirky button layouts and odd command options in order to differentiate themselves from the competition, Skullgirls opts for a no-frills six-button approach that means anyone that has played a mainstream fighter is instantly at home.
Yes, the roster is small but give Skullgirls a chance – Street Fighter 2 had just eight playable characters at the start.
Commands are the usual Street Fighter quarter-circles and dragon punch zig-zags, again sidestepping the obscure inputs that put some of King Of Fighters XIII’s specials far beyond the reach of most casual players.
Even classic motions have been made more user-friendly, the most obvious example being grappler Cerebella’s full rotation Spinning Pile Driver equivalent – if the game notices that you’re trying to go for a full-circle input, the system will prevent you from jumping when you reach the up portion of the 360-degree stick spin.
The tutorial is also worthy of mention and rates among the best we’ve seen, a 2D equivalent of VF4 Evolution’s concise learning tool in that it teaches you not only character-specific combos and tricks but also educates on a more fundamental and general level, with lessons on mix-ups, hit confirming and loads more besides – something pretty much any level of player will be able to benefit from.
And while some might be put off by the fact that Skullgirls will launch with just eight characters, this focus makes it far easier to try them all out and quickly settle on a character or team – something that many people are still agonising over in character-packed festival of nonsense Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 the best part of a year on.
Those still offended by the initial octet can take some solace in the fact that other fighters will later join the fray as DLC, making this almost a step towards a more freeform ways of purchasing content-rich games.
We’ve always envisaged a future for games like Rock Band where you buy a basic package up front for a low price then flesh it out with the content you want, though the format equally applies to fighters – Skullgirls will launch at a fraction of the price of your average retail beat-’em-up but at an equally high standard on a gameplay level, making adding to the roster that much easier to stomach.
In any case, the best fighting line-ups are those grown slowly and carefully rather than thrown together to make for a bigger number in that flash on the back of the (in this case nonexistent) box.
The hardcore are certainly not left wanting either, a rich combo system allowing for juggles galore and the ingenious anti-infinite detection righting one of the beat-’em-ups oldest issues while custom assists let you decide what partner characters will do when they tag in.
Reverge is gunning for the unlikely marriage of tech and accessible and it looks on course to nail it. If we’re honest, we liked Skullgirls before because it looked the part. Now we know it plays the part just as well, we couldn’t be more excited.