Review: Skullgirls (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Genre: 2D Fighting
Developer: Reverge Labs
Publisher: Autumn Games
Release Date: 4/11/12

We tend to write at length about the games we review on this website, because that’s the kind of review we like to read, and everyone on the staff is sort of a fan of the medium. However, there are times I’m sure people just want a recommendation and don’t want to read through the block of text or scroll to the bottom where we summarize our opinion. For those people, I just want to say, if you are interested in Skullgirls and either a fan of fighting games or just someone who plays them occasionally, I highly suggest you download the demo right away.

Or just buy the game. It’s easily worth the money. Stick around and I will tell you why.

I’m a fan of fighting games, specifically the 2D type. There is more than one type of fighting game fan, and I fall into the casual category. I know the word casual has negative connotations now, but I want to get it out of the way that I’m not the kind of guy that counts frames, knows movesets better than my home phone number, and so on. Hell, I can’t beat my wife in Street Fighter. I like Mortal Kombat, Tekken and Guilty Gear, and while there are deeper levels of competitive play for those games, I like them because I think the characters are interesting to me.

Skullgirls interested me for the same reason. The characters are visually interesting, and I love the 2D art style. There are eight characters in the game, all of which have a distinct look to them. The game contains a Story Mode where you can play through as each of the characters, who all of their own motivations for wanting to get the Skull Heart, an object of power that can grant a wish, but usually the power ends up corrupting the person using it. These stories are told through panels instead of fully animated cutscenes, but each panel looks great and the scenes are well done.

What’s better is that the stories of the individual Skullgirls are actually interesting, instead of super cheesy like many fighting games. The stories are still over the top, but they’re also funny, occasionally brutal, and sometimes sweet. I have played through more than half of them and plan on playing through all of them, which I normally don’t care to do in a fighting game. I can’t say too much about the stories told without spoiling them, but there are some very graphic moments of shocking violence split between HP Lovecraft references and humor poking fun at different online memes. The endings are nice, and there are characters introduced in some of the scenes that I really hope make it into the game as future DLC, as additional Skullgirls or Skullboys.

There are other modes besides the Story Mode, of course. There is an Arcade Mode where you fight your way through different Skullgirls to face the same boss as in the Story Mode. In Arcade or Multiplayer you can even choose any combination from one to a team of three Skullgirls to fight with. The game balances this very well, as you can choose to have one character fight a team of two or three instead of choosing the same number of characters, and if so, the one character will be stronger and take more damage to make up for the difference. There is also Multiplayer, which can be played locally or online. The online lets you play quick ranked matches or set up unranked rooms. While I did not see many people playing unranked at all, quick match was really quick to get into the games I played. The matches I played were silky smooth, which is impressive given both how great the graphics are and how quick the game moves. It might mean more to a more dedicated fighting game fan than me, but the online is built on the GGPO networking library. There are no lobbies currently.

In addition to all of that, there’s also the Tutorial Mode. Usually tutorial modes in games are things I ignore; however, it is worth spending the time to play through the tutorial in Skullgirls, as it may be one of the best tutorial modes of any fighting game. It is elegantly designed to walk a player through concepts such as Air Dashing, Canceling, Linking different attacks and so on. I’ve always felt that there was a barrier between being a fan who enjoys playing fighting games, but might be intimidated by trying to learn more of the complexities of the genre that the more diehard fans of the genre know about and enjoy. Skullgirls makes it easier to understand these concepts without overwhelming the player by taking them step by step through different things while explaining what different terms mean in a way that is easily understood. This tutorial is a beginner’s guide to understanding the deeper layers of fighting games, which not only serves as a great tutorial, but really opens a players eyes to the amazing complexity of the game they are playing. Of course, someone new to fighting games will not be able to play through the tutorial and suddenly be able to be a master fighting game player; it just makes the step from fooling around with cool looking moves to understanding how to use them effectively much easier than it was before.

Speaking of cool looking moves, Skullgirls looks fantastic. Incredibly detailed hi-res 2D sprites fight on a slightly 3D background that looks almost like a sharper animated watercolor painting. Each of the characters has a distinct look to them, from Peacock’s old-style cartoon look to the circus/jester style of Cerebella. Each fits with the personality they portray, as well as with their movesets. Peacock’s moves draw inspiration from old cartoons, and you almost expect ACME to be written on the side of objects that fall out of the sky. Some of the characters range from sexy spy to sexy nurse, but since the art style is exaggerated already, having the sex appeal of some characters also be over the top fits with the style and does not detract from the game in any way. Everything animates very fluidly and I’ve not seen any slowdown at all. It is beautiful to watch in motion.

The music fits with the theme as well. A lot of the menu screens appear to draw from the silver age of cinema, with a slight pulp feel to the story telling. The jazzy background music fits with all of this and compliments the game well. Different characters will say things at the beginning of fights, and often these are amusing, and at times caught me off guard, so that I’d be laughing at the beginning of the fight instead of paying attention. The sound effects are also great.

Even if Skullgirls has a good selection of modes, and looks and sounds great, if it didn’t play well then it would all be for nothing. Luckily Skullgirls is an amazing fighting game. Mike Z, a tournament level fighting game competitor, is a part of Reverge Labs, who developed the game, and you can tell when playing that the people who made this game not only have a deep understanding of the genre, but also really love fighting games. They’ve managed to create a game that strikes a perfect balance, as every character is useful, and the input times for moves are forgiving while still requiring skill to pull off and use correctly. The game has built in protection against infinite combos, as once the game recognizes a combo loop, orange sparks start flying on connected hits, which signals to the player receiving the damage that they can break out of the combo. As long as a player isn’t looping a combo and has the skill to pull it off, there are some insane combos that can be done. All of the inputs for moves can be done with simple motions.

The game controls are set up with a six button configuration. I played this on the 360 with a controller so that setup used X, Y and the upper right bumper for light, medium and heavy punches, while the A, B, and right trigger were used for light, medium and heavy kicks. An arcade stick would be the ideal way to play the game, as some inputs, like light punch + medium kick, would be easier to pull off, but the 360 controller worked fine as an alternative for me. There are some moves, like grab, that are pulled off by pressing light punch and light kick together, and special moves that vary per character, but none are hard to pull off. A lot of the moves use a quarter circle joystick movement, which should be familiar to fighting game fans of any skill level. That said, while it is easy to figure out the controls, mastering them is a different thing entirely.

Mastering the controls requires learning how to mix up attacks, combos, cancels into other combos and so on. While this can take some time to learn, I’ve been enjoying the process in Skullgirls more than other fighting games, thanks to not only the helpful tutorial, but the fact that without infinite combos or random seemingly unblockable attacks, and the ease of input, it has been easier for me to see exactly what my mistakes are and how to try to avoid making them again. When there’s no attack that can’t be avoided by playing intelligently (and with fast reflexes) you can see your weaknesses easier, which makes learning, and winning because you learned from your mistakes, feel that much more satisfying.

If you don’t know what mistakes you are making, the computer AI will show you by smacking you down every time you make one. The game has multiple difficulty levels, and even on the lowest one you can get your ass handed to you if you are just mashing buttons. On Normal and above, the game can be difficult for a more casual fighting game fan, because when you make a mistake, the computer will aggressively capitalize on it. Once you get the hang of blocking effectively and countering, the difficulty isn’t so bad. Well except for Marie, the boss of Story and Arcade. She has multiple forms, and the last one can drive you insane with the amount of projectiles she can throw at you. The difficulty levels are great though, and the higher levels of difficulty should challenge even some of the more diehard fighting game players.

With the stories of eight characters to play through, an arcade mode and online multiplayer, there’s plenty of reason to keep coming back to play more Skullgirls. For some people, the fact that there are eight fighters might seem low, and it looks a little low in the game since the character select screen is small and centered on the screen, surrounded by empty space (for hopefully more characters in the future), but I’d rather have eight great characters to play around with than thirty, with twenty-five of those characters being ones I’ll never touch. Besides, fifteen dollars is what other fighting games will charge to just download an additional four characters. For the price there’s plenty of replayability to this title.

If you can’t tell from reading this review, I really like this game. Skullgirls manages to be a game that fighting game fans of any skill level can get into, with unique underlying mechanics that make it a joy to play no matter if this is your first fighting game or your fortieth. It’s easy to pick up and hard to put down, and I wound up pissing off my wife because I was late to do something, as I thought I had enough time to play through just the arcade mode with one character… then ended up playing through story and some online as well because I didn’t want to stop. I felt like I got into a good groove. Of course people online showed me otherwise, popping me open like a can of Pringles. But even when I’m swearing at Marie, or getting destroyed online, I still have enjoyed every minute of Skullgirls that I’ve played, and look forward to enjoying even more time with it. There is not a movelist within the game, unfortunately, but it’s very easy to learn the moves of each character through the practice mode, and it also can be found on the Skullgirls website.

I hope this game succeeds because I want more, damnit.

The Scores
Story: Very Good
Graphics: Amazing
Sound: Great
Control: Classic
Replayability: Great
Balance: Unparalleled
Originality: Very Good
Addictiveness: Amazing
Appeal Factor: Amazing
Miscellaneous: Unparalleled


Short Attention Span Summary: Skullgirls is a fantastic game and a great example of what can be accomplished by even a small team of dedicated and talented professionals.



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2 responses to “Review: Skullgirls (Microsoft Xbox 360)”

  1. FlushingAccountant Avatar

    Yah, it’s settled. I am getting this game :) Thank you so much for the review, Matt!

    1. Myeager Avatar

      No problem, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

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