Beauty collides with brawn
Is it a coincidence that every time I enter a fighting game, I end up playing to my strengths with the most scantly clad female in the roster? Yes…yes, I assure you it is, after all if I were too busy staring at certain appendages they’d hardly be worthy fighters in my hands *ahem*. Some may glance at me with an eyebrow raised, but then Skullgirls comes along, a new beat-’em-up where players have no choice but to pick out a feisty female to fight for victory…usually endowed with ridiculous assets. Lying somewhere in the Canopy Kingdom lies a mysterious artefact known as the Skullheart. Guaranteed to grant the wish of any female who obtains it, such a grand desire usually comes at a price. Should you not be a woman of pure and unselfish intentions, you’ll become a hideous, over-powered monstrosity known as the Skullgirl, a demi-God of mystical terrorism. Seeing as the Skullheart has an ironic interpretation of what makes a pure human being however, every fighter that strives for it is forced to question just how badly they want their wish to come true. Each of the eight characters may share the same goal, but all fight with their own incentives in mind that can be individually explored through the ‘Story’ mode. Playing out much like the story modes from the Blazblue series with scrolling text interrupted by the odd battle, each offers up a unique perspective on events from the amnesia suffering schoolgirl with a macabre parasite controlling her hair to a nun…who can seemingly turn her organs into separate entities. The plot has a surprising amount of depth to it, yet seems to only slightly scrape a world which could really do with a lot more delving into. The battle system is deep enough for fighting veterans to dig into and interesting enough for beginners to get to grips with. When I say beginners…I don’t mean button mashers. All the girls have a desire to flounce the most complex combos ever seen, and although the pervertedly optimistic will catch an up-skirt gander as they clumsily batter buttons, they’ll soon be bathing in horrid defeat. Every fighter comes with such a mammoth health bar that kicks to the face can only dream of denting. Even on easier difficulties, opponents barrage you with infinite combos, and it makes one thing abundantly clear. Play with some integrity or GTFO. With Skullgirls built from the ground-up with tournaments in mind, it’s easy to see why abusers of spamming are shooed away by the gameplay. Fortunately some extremely comprehensive tutorials detail everything you need to know about the game mechanics from the off, making you a genius in its approach to fighting logic. These optional (but recommended) lessons mean that there’s no excuse to palm buttons in with absolutely no skill or forethought. Although they take an age to get through, they give seasoned brawlers a chance to play around with the new mechanics whilst offering so much more in terms of teaching basic fundamentals to those who don’t know what part of the body they should be kicking with. Although the complexities soon become basics to even the dimmest beat-’em-up virgin, each character is diverse enough and so imaginatively abstract in move sets that each match feels like more of a mind game…a colourfully bizarre mind game. Each characters abstract moves create a ton of different strategies to contemplate when mixed together, and if the frenzied and unskilled are too slow to block, then the opponent can take advantage of owning them in a double digit combo so long they’ll demand the poor sod make them a sandwich as they get owned.
A whole lot more than just easy on the eye
Of course, fluid fighting needs fluid moves to boot, and whoever graced this game with their pixelated paintbrush deserves a huge pat on the back. Skullgirls is arguably one of the most beautiful fighting games I have ever seen, flaunting gallons of style without ever entering migraine blitzing madness that some fighters are becoming known for. Canopy Kingdom could be Bioshock’s Rapture if it weren’t for its lack of moistness, its Art Deco style marrying a jazzy soundtrack marvellously. Each character has been beautifully animated, intelligently drawn and explode in wonderful complexity as they blitz out insane combos at a marvellously smooth rate. As crazy as things can get on screen the design remains clear-cut and precise, and though style could so easily overtake substance, it never does. Skullgirls does a brilliant job drawing you into its world with its individual stories for each character and comprehensive tutorials, but it’s rather quick to let go of your hand once you’re in the midst of it. It may take great effort in schooling you, but it occasionally feels squandered if you’re left completely clueless on what commands you should string together. You can take advantage of the standard training and the hours of lessons available, but the game constantly forces you to head onto the official Skullgirls website to catch a glance at move lists. This is an issue that’s sure to affect beginners more than the experienced, but it still feels like a shot in the foot considering it spends so much time teaching the games fundamentals. The online capabilities are also just as fluid if not quite as complex as the combat system. Create a tag-team of up to three characters in multi-player (automatically balanced should the opponent deliberately want to be outnumbered) and you can even alter each characters assist attacks in a bid to turn the tables on foes. It’s a good thing that these multi-player attributes and fighting mechanics add depth to online battles…as there isn’t exactly much else to dig your teeth into. The eight stories are fairly minimal in battles, the only major time-sink coming in the form of an astoundingly difficult boss. A standard arcade ladder is also in tow, but as fights occur randomly, you’ll sometimes be forced to compete against opponents you just fought. It’s somewhat unfair to compare Skullgirls to retail releases, but whilst heaps of imagination have been poured into character design and fighting styles, not a lot of attention has been put into actual content. A promising first entry in what will hopefully become a strong fighting franchise, it feels like Skullgirls is a delicious taster of things to come. Its gorgeous design and flawless fluidity coat a game filled to the brim with exceptionally good ideas, but is also devoid of some rather basic ones. The lack of content might be rather annoying, but it’s very clear that emphasis, love and pride have been put into the characters more than run of the mill modes and the gameplay benefits from this. Its faults are slight and can certainly effect the experience some newcomers can have, but if they stick with it they can find a very addictive fighter here. Beautiful in so many more ways than the easily obvious, Skullgirls is certainly a title that is a whole lot more than just easy on the eye for beat-’em-up veterans.
The Bad: Rather slim on modes, RIDICULOUSLY tough final boss, Strands newcomers mid-battle with no in-game move-lists