This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Reverge Labs' Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network 2D fighter Skullgirls, which reviews describe as "a downloadable title featuring the bells and whistles that many retail fighters are lacking." Skullgirls currently earns a score of 77 out of 100 at Metacritic.com.
IGN's Ryan Clements scores Skullgirls at 8.5 out of 10. "Skullgirls comes from the union of two distinct motivations: creating the prettiest 2D visuals to date, and building a fighting model worthy of the most serious professional competitor," he notes. "In these pursuits the eccentric downloadable Skullgirls succeeds."
"Though it lacks the same amount of content offered by its competitors and punishes newcomers with rabid AI, Skullgirls shines with potential," Clements continues. "It stands atop a foundation of precise controls and sprinkles a bizarre cast over the fighting game masses."
Clements feels that fighting game fans will appreciate the depth in Skullgirls' gameplay. "Skullgirls plays with sublime fluidity, brimming with combos and strategies," he praises. "Considering that experienced tournament fighter Mike Zaimont served as project lead and designer, these finely-tuned systems were designed for tournament-grade competition.
"Balancing minutia aside, each character in Skullgirls has a unique twist and a devastating assortment of techniques. Almost every fighter beat has been covered, from Cerebella's knack for grappling to Parasoul's slow-but-steady stage control. It all fits together, has plenty of entertainment value, and facilitates the very human mind games that emerge from every match."
"While light on content, the core play in Skullgirls works beautifully on numerous levels," Clements adds. "And for those looking for real competition, both local and online multiplayer run smoothly. One can only hope that Skullgirls meets a warm reception from the fighting game community and prospers in the years to come."
Dan Ryckert at Game Informer gives Skullgirls an 8 out of 10. "Consoles have been treated to a revival of the fighting genre ever since Street Fighter IV's release in 2009, but no notable new entries have made their way to the downloadable arena," he begins. "Reverge Labs is finally delivering this with Skullgirls, a game that feels more like a full-on fighting experience than a diluted downloadable wannabe."
Ryckert continues: "Creating a fighter that appeals to both casual and hardcore fans of the genre is no easy feat. To pull this off, a game has to be accessible enough to be immediately fun while deep enough to reward gamers who sink dozens of hours into learning minute elements of the battle system. By combining familiar inputs with an extensive training system, Skullgirls successfully courts both audiences."
The game's approach with regard to player training is inconsistent, however. "An extensive tutorial system teaches more advanced tactics, such as mix-ups, canceling, chain attacks, and off-the-ground combos," Ryckert explains. "If you're looking to dive even deeper, training mode allows you to study elements as specific as hitboxes."
However: "Despite the impressive amount of information in these tutorials, Skullgirls features no in-game command list. This would be baffling no matter what fighting game it was, but it's especially confusing considering how much learning material they did include. I can turn on advanced hit boxes, but I can't see how to perform a specific move?"
"As a downloadable title featuring the bells and whistles that many retail fighters are lacking, Skullgirls is an impressive feat," Ryckert notes. "Hardcore fans of the genre should find a lot to love, but more casual fighting fans may not have the same appreciation for the game's intricate mechanics.."
Edge Magazine rates Skullgirls at 7 out of 10. "Skullgirls' divisive panty-flashing visual style has seen it dismissed as anime fan-service, but it's clearly also been inspired by the work of Bugs Bunny creator Tex Avery, and videogames of the 8 and 16bit eras, as much as it has by manga," Edge observes. "It makes for a jarring mashup of early and late 20th century pop culture."
"Designed by competitive fighting gamer Mike Zaimont, it seeks to fix many longstanding genre flaws," Edge continues. "Systems are in place to stop unblockable and infinite combos; button checks and colour selections are streamlined to help tournament organisers by reducing the time between matches."
The tutorials are also well designed. "After covering movement and blocking basics, Skullgirls moves on to high-low mixups: an AI opponent performs random strings of attacks, alternating between high and low and forcing you to block accordingly," Edge recalls. "Later you'll be taught the merits of poking with safe chains, using short combos that can't be punished if blocked, but set up big combos if they connect.."
Opponent AI is an issue, however. "It all falls apart at the final boss," Edge warns. "Like so many fighting games, Skullgirls arbitrarily ratchets up difficulty, and breaks some of its own rules, to provide a suitably formidable final opponent. She might not read player inputs like Street Fighter IV's Seth, but Marie doesn't recoil when hit; she soaks it up and carries on. [...] How sad that, after fixing many of the genre's problems, Skullgirls ambushes players with such an old trick.
"There's plenty of range in its eight-character roster, and more fighters are on the way as part of a post-launch support schedule also including downloadable move lists for smartphones, character-specific tutorials and spectator lobbies for its online offering," Edge concludes. "But it's the tutorials that stick in the mind: Skullgirls' real win is via Zaimont grasping that fighting games needn't be easier to play, but should be easier to understand."