Skullgirls hasn’t had the easiest ride, but having survived the disintegration of original developer Reverge Labs, and the game’s subsequent removal from PSN and Xbox Live at the hands of Konami, it bounced back following a successful Indiegogo campaign, with the team re-housed and renamed as Lab Zero Games, and the addition of the Encore suffix allowing it to return to digital marketplaces.
Now, the latest edition of the game, Skullgirls 2nd Encore, has brought the series to PlayStation 4 – and shortly to PS Vita- with it a host of improvements that aim to make this the ultimate version of the plucky fighter.
Skullgirls is a 2D fighting game, and draws heavy influence from Marvel vs Capcom 2, which its worth noting is amongst my favourite games within the genre. Indeed, a number of the mechanics such as team assists and snapbacks come directly from it, though like Capcom vs SNK 2’s Ratio System you’re also able to decide the make-up of your team, opting for one super-powered character, two strong characters or three ordinary ones, with the advantage of team assists and versatility balancing against raw power. There are also a number of elements to promote balanced play, including the ability to recognise and break infinite combos.
Set in the 1940’s-esque Canopy Kingdom, and each revolving around the magical artefact the Skull Heart and the eponymous Skullgirls, the story mode for each character runs along snappily, with single rounds breaking up the storyline which is presented in a series of painterly stills or static character art. The art style on the whole is vibrant and quirky, and there is an impressive gallery which you unlock through repeated play, though there are occasionally images during the story modes that aren’t up to quite the same standard as everything else, though luckily this doesn’t detract overall.
The newly added voice-acting really adds to the immersion, and is generally of a very high quality, featuring such genre favourites as Erin Fitzgerald and Cassandra Lee. The normal difficulty is not particularly challenging, allowing plenty of repetition of moves, though it gives you a good opportunity to learn the ropes and try out all of the enjoyably diverse characters before moving on to a higher tier, or online competitors.
The thirteen-strong roster expands on the original game’s eight adding more variety to the whole experience. My favourite of the newer additions, Big Band, one of the two male characters, is a heavy hitting behemoth whose life was saved by the mysterious Lab 8 by grafting a variety of musical instruments to his damaged body. An original favourite, Cerebella, is a circus performer who wears a mystical hat with huge well-muscled arms protruding from it, while Peacock is a messed up 1930’s Toon who’s a zoning nightmare.
Overall I found the roster a lot of fun, though a couple of the characters such as Squigly missed the mark for me, and Robo Fortune’s vocal effects are amongst the most annoying I’ve come across in a fighting game for a long time. There are also a number of currently unplayable characters that appear in the course of the various story modes, such as Black Dahlia, who it would be good to see join the roster in the future, though it’s certainly large enough as it stands.
The soundtrack meanwhile is a highlight, infused with 1940’s esque jazz and rhythm and blues, with plenty of piano, bass and swing-style drums featuring alongside some more modern, darker tones. Lead composer Michiru Yamane had previously worked on a number of games in the Castlevania series, and there are occasional flashes of that which are perfectly in keeping with Skullgirls’ ‘Dark Deco’ style.
Given the game’s close relation to Marvel Vs Capcom 2 in some ways it’s interesting to see some of the influence in the music, particularly given that MvC 2’s soundtrack was much derided at the time – though I couldn’t imagine it now without its various jazzy themes – and Skullgirls music actually fits with the game’s setting.
The game has a fully featured training mode, with the practice room certainly amongst the best I’ve come across in the genre, offering a bevy of options such as allowing you to play in slow motion, offer attack data, or show hitboxes or a hitstun bar. Alongside the standard training mode, there’s also a series of tutorials to teach you the ins and outs of combat, as well as specifics for each character. Finally there’s also the Trials mode which teaches you a variety of combos for each character and the Challenges mode where you have to win under various conditions such as not being able to jump.
The requisite Versus mode offers both local competition and online. While offline play is straightforward, competing against a friend online isn’t the most intuitive experience, having to create an unranked room, then inviting them to it, only for them to join with no indication that it’s them is odd. More worrying was the initial disconnects that I suffered whilst playing against fellow writer Dave Irwin, though we then had a consistent connection for a good while.
Admittedly it is early days, and hopefully any hiccups will be ironed out relatively swiftly. Beyond the disconnects the GGPO netcode seemed solid, with no noticeable input lag, assisted by each connection’s ping rating popping up as you connect with another player so you can ensure a solid experience. One welcome addition is the ability to cross-play the game with players of both the PS Vita version and the older PlayStation 3 edition, which should help to ensure the servers stay busy.
It hasn’t been the easiest journey for Skullgirls to the PlayStation 4, but with 2nd Encore, Lab Zero have turned in the definitive edition of a high-quality fighting game that not only has bags of character but matches it with both technical and enjoyable action.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4