Previews

Skullgirls: Fixing fighting games?

Hands-on with the XBLA and PSN fighter

Let's be honest: these days the popularity of fighting games is mostly fickle and almost entirely reliant on initial hype. Only a prizefighting franchise capable of tugging at the strings of nostalgia can get people excited, and even then their complexities usually kick all but the most devout to the kerb.

So in a genre dominated by world warriors, mortal kombatants, kings of Iron Fist and superheroes duking it out for the fate of two worlds, what chance does Skullgirls, a 2D fighter with an art deco visual style and a risqué, all-female cast have?

From what we've played, a pretty good one.

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Not just because it's a stunning example of 2D sprite-work and characterisation at its finest, but also because at its core is a thoughtfully designed fighting system that holds incredible depth for those willing to unlock it, and accessibility for those with the desire to learn it.

These are bold words considering the game is still in the preview stage, but Skullgirls is in very capable hands.

HISTORY LESSON

Those hands belong to project lead and designer Mike Zaimont, better known as 'Mike Z', respected BlazBlue player and kicker of ass on the professional fighting game circuit. Unlike the communal design of most games, Skullgirls' mechanics are dictated entirely by his singular vision.

Instead of crafting an entirely new system from the ground up, Mike and his cohorts at Reverge Labs have opted to use systems from established classics and build on those foundations by 'fixing' some of their quirkier facets.

For anyone with genre experience it's easy to spot the fingerprints; the fast-paced, responsive gameplay along with the 'Magic Series' combo scheme - which strings together light, medium and heavy attacks in succession - is reminiscent of Marvel vs Capcom. The ability to to pick between one and three fighters, and distribute health and strength accordingly amongst them is very similar to Capcom vs SNK 2's Ratio system.

The freedom to decide your numbers means players accustomed to 1v1 brawls can choose to learn specialise in specific characters, but those who enjoy the frantic pace and synergy of team-based games are also accommodated.

Of course, different team builds have their own advantages and disadvantages. A lone warrior might be able to deal more damage and have more health than a each individual in a two or three woman squad, but she won't be able to rely on assists from teammates or tag out in a pinch.

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Interestingly, Skullgirls also lets players customise assists. In games like Marvel vs Capcom there's usually a choice of three special moves, which the character performs when called, before legging it back to safety. However in this game any ground-based normal move, dash or special can be used as an assist. This means you can order your partner to dash forward and take a hit for you or deliver direct attacks and extend combos. It's an interesting concept that will give creative players a wealth of options to experiment with.

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