PAX East 11: Hands-On Impressions: SkullGirls

By Kenneth Richardson

March 13, 2011

The fighting community has been buzzing about SkullGirls for some time now. There is definitely a reason why though: it’s being developed by fighting game tournament champion Mike Z, who has long been hailed as the best BlazBlue player in America. If you feel the same way about BlazBlue as I do, that is nothing short of amazing.

However, this isn’t about BlazBlue. This is about an innovative new fighter that mixes the speed of the Guilty Gear series with the tag team components of the Marvel series and tops it all off with a visual and aural style that can’t be compared to any of the above. This is about SkullGirls.

The art and character design was just exceptional. Sharp lines and bright colors portrayed cartoon-like and unique characters. The game runs at a razor sharp 720p. The stages are rendered in 3D and the game features real time lighting. The character animations are eye catching and very interesting. One character uses her hair to form mouths and bite the opponent. It’s all really very over the top and makes me think of the first time I played Bayonetta.

The game is approachable, but it has a lot of strategy and depth. It has a six button scheme: light, medium and heavy punches and kicks. It rings more of older, more hardened fighters such as Marvel vs. Capcom 2 and Street Fighter 3. The scheme also stood out in sharp contrast with the recent success of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and its four button scheme.

Characters can dash in the air, to and fro, and dashing can also be performed by just pressing two buttons. The tag team component that has appeared in numerous Marvel games makes an appearance but with an interesting twist. Battles can be fought 1-on-1, 2-on-2, and 3-on-3. That isn’t too remarkable, but fights can also be played 2-on-3, 2-on-1 or 3-on-1. Your team can consist of just one character, even if your opponent uses three, and health is scaled appropriately. I thought that was pretty neat, and it made me shutter at the idea of a similar mechanic in MVC3 (Sentinel, yikes).

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Taking another note from Marvel, your team characters can lend an assist attack during the fight to set up some nasty combos. Unlike Marvel though, you can customize your assist. Instead of choosing assist A or B, you can choose custom, where you’ll then be allowed to input a command and the game will save it as a custom assist. This genius idea basically allows you to use any attack a character has as there assist attack. There is also a snapback feature, where you exhaust a special bar to force your opponent to switch characters.

Special (super) attacks work as expected: you build a meter by fighting and can use a powerful technique when it has filled. You can use team special attacks, again similar to Marvel, by inputting a combination for your teammates special attack, during your own.

Aside from executing an undeniably solid formula, SkullGirls brings a few game-play elements that, to my knowledge, are unheard in the genre. There is a system in place that automatically detects infinite loops. If a certain combo string is repeated, and the system picks up on it, the loop will break and send the cheapskate flying with the press of any button. A red aura will surround the victim of the infinite when it is detected, giving them the queue to break the chain.

Another superb new feature is the removal of impossible to block mix ups. For example, in Marvel, using a low sweep assist and an overhead attack at the same time will result in your opponent getting hit by one of them no matter how they block; an unblockable. In SkullGirls, the same scenario would result in a stop sign appearing over the blocking victim and both hits will be blocked. These mix ups are still possible if the player times them very well, but the unblockable property is gone. You would have to depend on your opponent not blocking fast enough to catch them.

At the end of my forty-five minute stint with SkullGirls, I was blown away by the depth and elegance of the game. It is so packed with mechanics that mastering the game will take forever. At the same time, a first time player like myself was able to have fun after just five minutes with it. Look for SkullGirls on HD consoles this summer.

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Kenneth Richardson

Kenneth is a Graphics and Game Design student who's worked as an author for since June of 2010. His favorite gaming genres are Fighting, Role Playing and Sadistic Action games like Ninja Gaiden and Bayonetta. In addition to gaming, he is also strongly interested in music, fashion, art, culture, literature, education, religion, cuisine, photography, architecture, philosophy, film, dance, and most forms of creative expression.

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