While the game might not have a large roster as compared to other current fighting games (there are only eight playable characters), the prospect of additional characters arriving via downloadable content has already been mentioned. You have your basic archetypes in rushdown characters who move in fast and can slip past your defenses, defensive turtles who can keep you at bay for the entire match, a grappler that can put the hurt on you faster than you can figure out just what a Skullgirl is and odd hybrids of the three archetypes.

The individual character design is absolutely amazing. The level of creativity found within each character was enough to immediately draw me in and get me genuinely interested in the games story mode, which goes over the background of one character at a time. I’m at the point right now where I can’t pick out a single character as my favorite because they’re all so amazing. Seriously, I’m not even exaggerating.

Double, on the left, blocking a poke from Ms. Fortune, on the right. Ms. Fortune is a character who doesn't have alll her limbs fully attached, meaning she can stretch her limbs abnormally far, as well as remove her head from her body at will.

You have Filia, a mild mannered girl with a parasitic shapeshifting demon named Samson disguising as her hair; Peacock, a robotic girl who is completely styled after early to mid 20th century style of cartoon characters (and smokes a cigar to complete the image); Double, the shapeshifter who has moves of all the other playable characters; Cerebella, the grappler who has two arms coming out of her head that allow her to perform painful throws; and four other characters that keep up the same level of creativity and fun throughout their design. When the characters are this refreshing, it’s hard to imagine the game getting boring.

The only real issue with the fighters in Skullgirls is that there simply aren’t enough of them. Considering most modern fighting games have large playable rosters, having such a high profile game include only 8 playable characters feels somewhat odd. Granted, there are options for having multiple characters on a team and for choosing different assists. There is definitely more customization for a team than there might seem to be at first. Still, there’s a part of me that simply can’t get over how small the roster is.

The animations are all very nice and smooth, and the cartoonish art style of the characters works well with the overall aesthetic of the game, which is focused around mid 20th century cinema. Things like film reels and spotlights are present through a large portion of the game, as are somewhat faded tones that almost remind me of some later movies in the film noir genre. Ultimately, you end up with a product that’s incredibly visually appealing, and very fun to watch. Skullgirls is absolutely beautiful. The team took something of a risk when going for such a bold, unique visual approach to the game, but it absolutely paid off. My only complaint for the graphics is that some of the backgrounds definitely don’t have the same level of detail as the characters do, although it’s not something you’ll notice most of the time. There’s only one stage that I encountered that really made me wonder why it didn’t look better.

On the audio side of things, Skullgirls sounds great. The soundtrack consists of mostly jazz, which is something that I greatly enjoy. However, as much as I absolutely love it, I can understand that not everyone is a fan, and it might end up not being as popular with others. Personally, I love it, but I’m also a big fan of the soundtrack to Marvel vs. Capcom 2, so take that as you will. Regardless, the soundtrack works perfectly with the distinct visual style. I don’t think that it’d be possible for either of them to work as well as they do without the other component. They operate in tandem to provide a really unique experience for the player.

One of the rising trends that I’m happy to be seeing in fighting games recently is the addition of a tutorial mode alongside the traditional training mode. The tutorial goes over the basics like blocking, normal and special moves and the systems unique to the game. However, it does something that I haven’t really seen in a fighting game tutorial: it teaches some of the fundamentals of the genre. As much as I praised the tutorial mode in Street Fighter x Tekken for taking a step in the right direction, in comparison, Skullgirls takes a running leap. Things like pokes, high-low mixups, crossups, air combos that require dashing, hit confirming and more are all explained in the tutorial. Imagine, if you will, three RipTen Dojo’s in playable game form. The tutorial mode in Skullgirls will absolutely make fighting games more accessible to everyone.

In this picture, Cerebella, on the left side of the screen, is about to ruin Double's day, and possibly every day that's going to follow it.

Unfortunately, the game isn’t without fault. For some reason, Skullgirls does not have a movelist for any of the characters built into the game, instead forcing players to go online in order to find out each characters special moves and showstoppers. Considering that movelists have been included in what seems to be every fighting game, to not have one in a title feels incredibly strange. In fact, I honestly can’t think of any reason as to why it wasn’t included. It’s a little disappointing, especially if you don’t have access to a computer while you’re playing the game. I can imagine having to run between rooms to refresh memories getting old very fast.

In the end, Skullgirls is a game that does a lot of things right. It takes the hectic 2D fighting game style and makes it more accessible to players. It took a risk that paid off immensely with the incredibly unique audio and visual style, which create a refreshing feel, in comparison to many of the other current offerings in the genre. It has only one minor hiccup that I encountered, with the movelists for the characters existing only outside the game. It is incredibly fun, and combines mechanics from some of the most popular titles without coming off as being a “clone.” For a grand total of $15, you’re getting an amazing fighting game. I can’t think of many better ways to spend $15, and I honestly urge anyone who’s enjoyed a fighting game, past or present, to go out and buy Skullgirls.

Here’s the Rundown:

+ Cheap! Skullgirls is only $15, and worth every penny
+Amazing visuals and a great soundtrack make everything feel fresh
+Team customization allows you to play the game how you want to play it
+Quite possibly the best tutorial mode for a fighting game to date. It’s designed to teach the fundamentals as opposed to just how to do a special move or two.
-No movelist in the game. This is pretty standard, and it not being included is genuinely surprising.
-Comparatively small number of playable characters…
+…but with the level of customization you can have for a team, it really doesn’t matter

 

9 and 9.5 represent the pinnacle of the genre, a game that defines what that genre should be about. These scores are for games that you not only feel would be worth your purchase, but you would actually try to convince your friends to buy them as well.

Skullgirls was developed by Reverge Labs and published by Autumn Games and Konami. The title is available on XBLA (reviewed version) for 1200 msp and the PlayStation Network for $15. A review code was provided by the publisher.