Skullgirls PSN review

With mechanics like a scalable 1v3, 2v3 or 3v3 matchup system and an infinite combo breaker which detects spammed moves and offers a power-counter move to the recipient (eschewing the damage-scaling mechanic of most fighters), indie studio Reverge Labs is appealing to the discerning tournament fighter crowd, and the feedback the team got from showcasing the game at last years’ PAX prompted numerous tweaks and refinements.

But it’s also a fighter that gives more than a cursory nod to the complete novice, where many fighters will happily dragon-punch you to tears and then use those tears in some kind of humiliating special move. Skullgirls’ tutorial is a crash-course in not only how to play this game, but how to grasp the subtler mechanics of the genre as a whole.

You won’t suddenly become a tournament fighter by completing the high-low blocking drills and offensive mix-ups, but it’ll help you feel slightly less befuddled once you start fighting in earnest and getting mullered by Ms. Fortune’s severed head and detached body coming at you from different directions.

About that – the character roster stands at a tiny eight, but it can just about be forgiven for the level of detail in each characters attacks, which are so consistently imaginative and bursting with cultural reference that they hardly ever look like actual punches or kicks. The play style of each character is also impressively diverse, though special moves are almost exclusively delivered by quarter-circle and z-shape moves.

The play style of each character is also impressively diverse.Cerebella’s muscly-armed hat makes her a prime grappler, Ms. Fortune’s detachable limbs give her an advantage at range, and Painwheel’s spine-mounted wheel of pain makes her an aerial threat.

In motion, it looks bloody bonkers. The frame counts on each animation are high, which makes it easier to read the game than the likes of KoF and BlazBlue – although the slower pace of Skullgirls than that pair will divide the fighting hardcore.

And once you accept that there’s always going to be at least one plunging neckline and ill-fitting skirt on-screen, the art deco styling and mega-detailed animation is mesmerising. Heck, even the story’s pretty good, to the extent that it includes what we’d deem ‘spoilers’ rather than the traditional ‘gradually released string of nonsense’ narrative structure in fighters.

With so much going for these gals, it’s frustrating that the game’s faults are fairly arbitrary, but annoying nontheless. The biggie is an absence of any in-game moves list – Reverge Labs is releasing character guides for free via their site, with a bespoke character-specific tutorial to follow as free DLC.

That sounds awesome, but it should be in the game at release – right now the training mode feels pretty useless without any on-screen moves to practice, and it’s odd to find a hitbox option that shows where each attack connects, but no input display to show how precise your moves are or where you’re going wrong.

There are a couple of other niggles: the edit controls screen is horribly fiddly however you try to change button commands – either by cycling possible controls or inputting directly, it’s unintuitive – but a small gripe. Moreover to our niggles, the aptly-named Double is a chameleon character a la Street Fighter’s Seth, which is a bit disappointing given the already low roster and how strong her visual design is, and the game’s big boss battle against the Skullgirl herself falls some way short of expectations having enjoyed some fantastically varied and smart scraps along the way.

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Skullgirls is a fairly niche offering, in a market dominated by decades-old franchises populated by dozens of characters who’ve absorbed into pop culture, but a niche well worth investigating. It’s bold, smart and tackles the genre’s problems head-on with its willingness to teach you and anti-spamming mechanics that give you an active role in breaking an infinite combo.

Whether you find its t&a-heavy stylings cheap or charming, the unique combat and constantly entertaining animations are almost enough to elevate it into the realms of the genre’s giants. At present though, without an on-screen moves list it’s too fiddly to put the hours of training into – which is frustrating, because you will want to put those hours in.

Our Score

Score: 7