Skullgirls Playtest: A Really Good Teacher
Skullgirls’ character design is a bit of a love-it-or-hate-it affair, but no one can deny the extraordinary effort that was put into the characters’ animation. What made the biggest impression on me is how smoothly everything flows and that the 2D sprite animation is a delight for the eyes to feast upon.
Before we get to the meat of the game, let’s discuss the tutorial first, since it’s the very first feature that newcomers will use. For starters, I found that Skullgirls’ tutorial was very well constructed, and very helpfully contained valuable information that was not only relevant to the game itself, but could also be applied to any other fighting game.
As an example, instead of the usual “press left or right to move” that tutorials love to throw at you, Skullgirls goes with “Move away from the falling objects!” and “Jump over these lovely walking bombs!” instead. The most challenging part of the tutorial was when I needed to block several mix-ups into a throw, which I felt was rather difficult as the input timing to break throws in this game is fairly strict. Additionally, it had to be done thrice in a row, and a failed attempt would reset you back to square one.
Once I was done with the tutorial, I put the controller down and reflected upon how well it was presented. This was the first tutorial in years where the game actually respected my intelligence and put me through numerous challenges to ensure that I was well-equipped before moving on to the actual game. Skullgirls’ interactive way of teaching gave me a sense of accomplishment instead of just asking me to follow a bunch of on-screen prompts.
There’s a lot to learn here, too. Skullgirls takes several lessons and features from other fighters and mixes them all into a single game. For instance, players are allowed to create either a team of 3, a duo, or even use a single representative to fight akin to Capcom Vs SNK 2’s Ratio System. One of the cooler features is the ability to map any desired move as an assist. This gives you a simple way to customize your team and form your own strategy in the process. You could assign a projectile to assist in zoning or instead use an overhead move to keep the opponent guessing about where to block.
An easy way to explain Skullgirls’ fighting system is that it resembles Marvel vs. Capcom when playing with assists in a team of 2 or 3, but without the frantic pace of MvC. However, if you play the game with a single fighter, it feels closer to Street Fighter X Tekken with air-dashes and light > medium > heavy chains, but with more leniency in creating combos, as opponents can be launched off the ground to continue the combo streak. Ultimately, I settled on a team of two, as I felt that a single fighter lacked regenerative capabilities and a team of three deals less damage and gets knocked out easier.
Lacking confidence in my skills to duke it out online during my first few times with the game, I decided to tackle story mode first and to found out if I could even hold my own against the CPU. Eventually, I was glad I did this, because the CPU can be rather brutal if you aren’t accustomed to Skullgirls’ fighting system and able to utilize its different functions with relative ease. Naturally, if the CPU was giving me a beating, playing online against experienced players would be a nightmare. The character Peacock (with multiple supports), in particular, was a tough challenge. Peacock is great at zoning and when she chooses to do this, patience is your only solution as you wait for an opening to present itself. I’d advise playing the game on Easy or even Sleepwalk your first time around, and then move on to higher difficulties incrementally until you find your comfort zone.
Another really good reason for starting out on Easy is that the developers decided that Skullgirls’ final boss should channel the legendary SNK bosses in spirit. You’ll find yourself experiencing some rather obvious “SNK boss syndrome” where the boss can lock you down on the other side of the screen, do ridiculous damage, and is immune to blockstun. Once you beat her, the ending plays and the credit screen rolls along to a classy jazz track to celebrate your victory.
Skullgirls’ story mode is just the perfect length. It doesn’t drag on for too long, nor is it too short. Each character’s story will take approximately 15 minutes without skipping cutscenes, and depending on your skill it could potentially be a tad shorter or maybe significantly longer because of the final boss. The story itself is presented in a visual novel style with static pictures and text displayed at the bottom. It’s like BlazBlue’s story mode, but it doesn’t have any voicework. As an avid BlazBlue player, I felt the lack of voices took a little something away from the story presentation, but wasn’t overly bothered by it.
Once I was comfortable enough to go online, I began playing online matches. At the moment, I would describe online matches in Skullgirls as just “OK” and nothing more than that. Online features are rather barebones at the moment, with the standard Ranked and Unranked matches, but lacking the capability to host a room with more than two people and replays noticeably absent.
That having been said, I found Skullgirls to be relatively lag-free in online matches during my own experience with the game, with GGPO being an effective solution to masking most lag that was present. Skullgirls also doesn’t have the frame stuttering and sound issues that were present in Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Online Edition. My only complaint is that the GGPO delay in Skullgirls has to be set manually for every session you participate in. I found it was wise to simply adjust the frame delay to the recommended value or else matches would be plagued by significant slowdown.
I only really have two primary complaints about Skullgirls:
1. The lack of in-game movelist is baffling, especially since the tutorial is so well designed to accommodate new players.
2. The inability to manipulate the training dummy is also a concern as the developers bothered to include hitboxes for analysis, but not the dummy’s recovery/blocking/movement state when you just want to try out new things. The best alternative to this is to train online, but you aren’t guaranteed to find a similarly levelled player. Hopefully the team will be able to patch these features in soon.
Food for thought:
1. There are numerous references made in the game to fighting game history and Internet memes. Parasoul’s Blockbuster attack for example, will have her saying “One Million Troops” as her Egrets rush down the screen, Valentine’s Blockbuster mimics Dio Brando’s knife attack from Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure and one of Double’s intro quote is “What is a man?”.
2. Skullgirls’ HUD placement is quite unorthodox with the placement of the super bar on the top screen instead of the usual long bar on the bottom. This needs some time to get used to but doesn’t deter from the game’s experience.
3. The game’s input times are quite strict, especially for pad players. On the bright side, this trains players to be more precise with their inputs so that they can pull off the desired moves most of the time.
4. As interactive as the tutorial may be, unfortunately it did not include some of the advanced techniques that are available in the game, such as push blocking, delayed hyper combos and stunt double.
5. The soundtrack is excellent.