There was once a time when female appearances in interactive fighting experiences were frowned upon. So much so, in fact, that Capcom had to deliver the ludicrous suggestion that Final Fight’s Poison was a pre-op transsexual just to be granted the opportunity of a North American release. Times have changed in the twenty years since of course, with Skullgirls proving 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 isn’t the first all-girl fighting videogame, and it’s already been revealed that it won’t be the last, with Girl Fight also set for release via digital distribution services later this year, but it’s arguably the most prominent presentation: for all of Arcana Heart 3’s worth as an innovative beat-‘em-up property, 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 twenty-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 and recently revived for Street Fighter IV. 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, and so it’s only once the player realises that blocks are equally as important as attack structure 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 while 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, and thankfully Skullgirls is no exception to that rule. Either online or on the same couch, Skullgirls undoubtedly performs best when there’s someone of a similar skill level to share it with. The online gameplay is incredibly smooth and the ‘rooms’ system echoes that of the popular Mortal Kombat, but when playing against opponents in Ranked Matches it can seem a little limited in scope. However, as the matches are so remarkably quick to connect, collide and close, this is a minor flaw in an otherwise very well presented online mode.
The visual and aural standard presented by Skullgirls is also of a commendable standard. While the character design may be seen as the videogame’s key selling point it’s almost certainly for a different reason to the actual fact: yes, Skullgirls is all about the female anatomy, but it’s brought to life which 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 and what might seem like unusual accompaniments to the fast-paced action at first, but will eventually become as warmly welcomed as the classic ‘Guile’s Theme’ from Street Fighter II.
Available to download for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 now, Skullgirls doesn’t carry the same asking price as many of its peers, and as such may not 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, but even as it stands Skullgirls is still a very entertaining videogame experience. Skullgirls has some interesting ideas, fantastic arrangement and a welcoming online presentation, but just as with Arcana Heart 3; it’s one for beat-‘em-up aficionados that want to have their skills put to the test.