Reverge Labs plan to make Skullgirls the best competition fighting game on the market.
This might sound like a remarkable - even ridiculous - statement... but what's more remarkable is that they're actually on course to succeed in spectacular style. This humble download title is set to pack more nuance, better balance, more nuance and more fun into its eight characters than any number of monolithic full-price Japanese juggernauts. Our extensive hands-on test was barely enough to scratch the surface, yet we came away knowing that Konami has discovered a major game-changer that caters for the most hardcore players and genre-fearing newcomers alike.
Marvel vs Capcom 2 provides the inspiration behind Skullgirls' basic premise, but not in the way you might expect. Reverge Labs love Capcom's classic fighting franchise - and at the same time, feel that it's broken at a very basic level. Competition players only tend to favour a handful of fighters out of the enormous roster (Magneto and Tron Bonne especially), highlighting what is essentially an unbalanced and unfair system. Not only that, but "infinites" cause newbies no end of grief as advanced players exploit unbreakable combos to facilitate cheap victories.
This will not stand. Skullgirls is here... and it's going to fix everything.
Balance is the key to a great 2D fighting game, and Reverge has thought long and hard about how best to address it. Eight female fighters all embody different traditional fighting archetypes and present unique fighting opportunities, with vulnerabilities that are matched by ways of getting out of dangerous situations. The traditional tag team format has been given an exciting new twist: a ratio system that lets players control a single powerful fighter or multiple weaker characters who can employ tag team tactics.
Mechanically, each character (who will be discussed in more detail later on) can employ a series of light, medium and strong kicks and punches along with multi-level blocks and dashes. A super meter only charges when attacks are triggered when moving forward in order to ensure that players can't cynically fill their bars by retreating and attacking thin air. The basic mechanics are instantly responsive and packed with unique flourishes, resulting in an exceptionally slick fighting experience. Dynamic tutorials will kick in if new players have trouble with more advanced techniques and explain how to use them on the fly.
It's time to explain exactly how Skullgirls fixes everything, and we'll start with the infinites. The AI will recognise if a player starts spamming unbreakable combos and change the colour of their hit sparks. Once this happens, their opponent can press a single button to break them out of the loop and take advantage of their weakness. It's a simple, elegant solution that levels the playing field and encourages advanced players to vary up their combos.
Blocking has also been improved. The practice of forcing players to crouch with low kicks and instantly triggering an high attack that can't be blocked will now be a thing of the past, as each high or low block stance makes players invulnerable to both hits for a split second. A simple solution once again, but one that works brilliantly while making the game more interesting.
This might all sound a bit dry to some gamers, and frankly, it's not really doing Skullgirls any justice whatsoever. As well as balance and technique, Reverge Labs have packed the experience full of genuine personality. Each character is incredibly different in terms of fighting style, handling and aesthetic, so it's time to take a closer look at three of the announced roster.
Parasoul is a smartly clad war princess who fights with a long umbrella. She's a "poker" who excels at medium range, but can tactically deploy bombs that can be paused in mid-air and triggered manually. As a military commander, she can also summon bodyguards to block projectiles or literally drag her out of otherwise un-cancellable attacks. She's new to Gamescom 2011... and to be honest, it's going to take me some time to learn the ropes. Or to put it another way, not die instantly.
Cerebella is completely bonkers. This busty brawler sports enormous muscular arms growing out of her head (just roll with it, she looks awesome), and functions as a grappler archetype. Her range of throws are as complex as many other character's entire movesets - in fact, she rocks the most special attacks out of the whole roster, and glide attacks allow her to gracefully swoop around the screen by lift generated by her crazy head-arms. Bonkers, but brilliant.
By far our favourite character was Peacock, who plays a little like Guile from street fighter. If Guile was a diminutive magician machinist influenced by 1950s animation, that is. She excells at range; able to shoot projectiles, distance herself from opponents with a ridiculous laser super and drop pianos on people. In fact she can drop over 30 different items on her enemy, the size and warm-up time depending on how long you hold the button down (while still able to move). In a fun twist, each of her attacks contains a reference to classic animated films and cartoons such as Bad Luck Blackie.
Her major super attack, an enormous ACME bomb, actually takes a fair bit of time to count down. Both players can push it towards their enemies, creating a hectic game of hot potato and scope for seriously epic fails. Other supers are similarly balanced with commensurate risk alongside the reward.
Skullgirls also looks absolutely impeccable, which is down to painstakingly-detailed artwork that packs huge numbers of frames into each animation. Much like the cast revealed so far, it's dead sexy.
There does appear to be a single downside, however. Skullgirls' reliance on 360 degree stick rotations, dashes and supers are aimed squarely at arcade joysticks (and arcades in general), but translates poorly onto traditional console controllers. Reverge Labs still has time to tweak the inputs and sensitivity before launch - and we hope that Skullgirls won't be crammed into a smaller niche than it deserves. On the other hand, I was impressed that none of the characters accidentally jumped when I rotated the stick, which is apparently down to dynamic AI.
Skullgirls is set to release later this year and we absolutely can't wait to get involved. From what we played, it's a game without compromise, without weakness and without the balance issues that plague the genre. Only time will tell whether it's also without equal.