I’ve been smitten with Skullgirls since I first saw the game in motion five years ago at PAX East. The fantastic character designs and animation, unique soundtrack and solidly familiar but fresh fighting combined to make it an instant classic.
When the game launched it offered a wonderfully unique experience both in the characters and gameplay. However, there was no polish; there were no frills. The game was fundamentally an excellent fighter, but it lacked many of the amenities that fans of modern fighting games had come to expect by that time. There were very few game modes, the story mode was barebones, the art gallery kept a “coming soon” placeholder, and there was little insight into the game world. On top of that was the paltry eight character roster of characters to choose from.
Despite the obvious quality of the gameplay, certain components of the game felt very much cheap or budget, which probably couldn’t be helped at the time. I hadn’t regularly played Skullgirls before the Indiegogo campaign launched — a quality that goes far explaining my pleasant surprise when I sat down with Skullgirls 2nd Encore. The developers addressed every issue I just mentioned and then some with this release.
The single player offerings are much more fleshed out. The great tutorial is back, but now you can learn some essential combos easily with the command trials. They get more challenging as you progress with any character and though the more difficult ones may be less practical, they’re still really cool to see. There’s a new challenges mode that reminds me of a similar mode from the Super Smash Bros. series. You fight against teams of enemies that follow a certain theme (for example, in one you have to face a team comprised of Big Band, Squiggly and Eliza as a band since they’re all music-themed characters).
When you’ve had your fun with this, you can tackle survival mode. In standard survival format, you face an endless string of foes until they are defeated. Players will recover just a bit of health between rounds as they aim for a high score. The later fights become very challenging, especially if you don’t employ those big combos, but it’s still fun to see how far you can go. Speaking of a challenge, there’s also a new Marie 300% mode, in which you can face a buffed up version of the final boss from story mode. This is their cheap score attack boss that you fight just to challenge yourself.
The story mode now hos full voicing for all characters, although the events of the actual stories have been left unchanged in some cases. Some characters have story paths that seem way more thought-out and produced than other characters. For example, I was surprised after completing Eliza’s story path just how much unique artwork and dialogue was created for her. Compare her arc to Valentine’s and there appears to be a slight discrepancy in quality. It’s hard to complain though when you consider that the mode overall is an improvement over the original. Eliza’s campaign also played out more interestingly than any of the stories in the first game, if I recall.
The “coming soon” banner no longer hangs where an art gallery would be; the art gallery is here and it’s superb. Packing hundreds of pieces, the art gallery in Skullgirls 2nd Encore is far superior to the galleries in many other, bigger budget fighting titles. These people put everything in here, and there are tons to unlock. From sketches and promotional artwork of the playable characters, to the fan art and drawings featuring all the game’s characters to the characters that lost out in votes to the likes of Eliza and Beowulf are represented, the developers have a strong showing for bonus content. You can spend hours just collecting and ogling everything in the art gallery.
The playable roster has nearly doubled in size thanks to the addition of six new characters. These individuals don’t just bring the total playable roster to 14 characters, they also pack all of the personality, humor and uniqueness that made each member of the original cast so memorable and impressive. Again quality is traded for quantity, and while a figure like 14 seems laughable when compared to rosters in other recent fighters, Skullgirls 2nd Encore makes a case with truly unique fighters with wildly varying fighting styles and designs. Of course they are also brought vividly to life by the silky smooth animation that the game is probably best known for.
Along with the new characters, various new stages and songs were also created. The wonderfully jazzy soundtrack is back and with new tunes to jam to while you bash Painwheel’s ugly face in. The online is back and better than ever, with the game graciously supporting cross-platform play between PS3, PS4 and PS Vita users. This move seems to have brought more life to the game’s online community than it had back when vanilla launched, which isn’t saying much because at the time it felt like me and five other people in the country were the only ones online regularly.
The connection as usual depends on you and your opponent’s own connections, but in general matches are very smooth and virtually free of all but minor lag. Of course the matches can slow to a crawl too, but the game does a good job of indicating before the match begins whether or not you’ve a good connection with the other player, allowing you to simply opt out of matches that would degrade into frustration rather than fun. The addition of a full trophy set adds an additional layer of value to the game, whereas the original just had bronze, silver and gold, and very few of them. Considering the cross-buy, this game becomes a must-have.
The original Skullgirls featured a fantastic fighting system, great characters and music — but not much more. With very little in the way of a single player suite, virtually nothing to unlock or explore and so few features that it was difficult to recommend to anyone except hardcore genre fans content to do nothing but duke it out in versus mode endlessly. Skullgirls 2nd Encore has complimented the meat with potatoes and given the title some substance. Now you get that stellar fighting with lots of modes to explore and plenty to unlock. This is the best version of the one of the most original fighters we’ve seen in the last decade. So go get it.