PAXEast Hands-On Preview – Skullgirls
I’m not a big fighting game person, especially the 2D ones. It isn’t that I don’t like them, it is just that I am notoriously horrendous at them. Even on the easiest settings I have trouble beating games like Marvel vs Capcom 3 or Street Fighter 4 with most of the characters. When I play against my friends, forget about it, it is absolutely no contest; I may even have trouble beating an unpracticed child, I have the opportunity if I want, but I would be too embarrassed to even try. That is why I was very apprehensive to even grab a controller and try Autumn Games’ upcoming fighter, Skullgirls. Fortunately they not only had players like me in mind when they designed this game, but they also had seasoned tournament players in mind as well. Autumn Games may have managed to create the most well thought out fighting game of all time.
The version of the game I played was pretty early in development, there were no menus past simple text and only two characters and a couple of stages. The two characters provided two different strategies, the first was a fast character named Filia who seemed to rely more on quick combos; while the other, named Cerebella, was a larger grappler to would take a more direct approach. Despite the lack of menu option I did get to see one of the games most original features for tag-team fighting; instead of having a small selection of only three assist moves like in the Marvel vs. Capcom series you can program your own assist during character selection, though more novice players still get three options to select from. With this feature you are able to add a layer of customization to your assist combos instead of just being limited to what the creators think is best for you.
Skullgirls is meant for tournament play so balance is a huge issue and cutting down on cheap play styles is a must, to do this Skullgirls has a set of gameplay rules, almost like a basic artificial intellegence, which is able to determine if a player is being cheap and put a stop to it. If you attempt to throw a playing into an infinite combo for example your attack’s visual effect will change color from blue to red, this is a clue to your opponent that you are being an a cheap bastard. One this happens all that person would need to do it hit a button to slap you out of the combo and maybe even move in for a follow up move, lesson learned. It also prevents a person from doing a cheap unblockable combo using theirtag partner; if you attempt to do two moves at once, one high and one low, then as long as the first move is blocked neither will hit the intended target, but this is only for immediate followup moves, after a quick moment the block will no longer still work if not in the proper place. The rules not only help prevent cheap players from getting the upper-hand, they can also help out novice players such as myself by giving them a little more leeway with move input. The best example I have is a full circle motion, in an average fighter a person who is not seasons may have trouble doing a cirlce without jumping;but with Skullgirls as long as the circle starts downward the game knows what you are trying to do and disables jump while the circle is being performed… genius! Some people would claim that these features kiddify the game, or dumb it down and those people would be idiots. It is actually quite the opposite, the game is still very skill driven and deep, no button mashing wil prevail this is all just done in a well established attempt to create a balanced competative environment. It’s intellegent game design, I think Capcom could learn a thing or two.
Last but not least is Skullgirls superb high-res 2D animation, the stills may give off a vibe of your everyday doujin fighter, but in motion it is anything but. Everything is super crisp and the animation is amazingly fluid, it is easily some of the best hand drawn animation I have seen in gaming. I was told this was accomplished by scanning in all artwork at double the require resolution, providing the clearest images possible. The backgrounds are also very detailed and have a unique style among fighters. I want to say they remind me more than anything else of old comic books, a gothic art deco reminiscent of the Batman animated series from the early 90’s. Another awesome feature is that the game makes use of dynamic lighting, which you almost never (actually I don’t think I ever) see in a 2D game, this is because the game runs on a 3D engine. It’s a small touch, but it looks quite good when you see it.
Skullgirls is due out this Summer for Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network. Many people will probably be turned off by a fighting game that isn’t by one of the major companies or from an established series but I urge any fan of 2D fighting games to give this one a try, because in term of gameplay I believe this one can truly stand up to the big boys.