Skullgirls Encore is gorgeous. The Reverge Labs/Lab Zero game blends an old school ‘40s style reminiscent of Bioshock with super crisp 2D anime-inspired graphics. The result is a quirky fast-paced fighting game set to sultry, romantic music, composed by none other than Castlevania’s Michiru Yamane. After a successful Indiegogo campaign, Lab Zero has been working since the initial launch to put out at least 5 new DLC characters, including the much-anticipated character of Eliza, and later this year the game will be launched on PS4 and PS Vita.
Right off the bat, I realized this game is no joke. I made the mistake of jumping right into the Single player mode, which offers a “Story mode” and an “Arcade mode”, and got a serious whooping. Or several. Unsurprising when you know the designer is Mike Z, a pro on the competitive fighting game circuit, but it could be an issue for newcomers to the genre.
Luckily Skullgirls provides an in-depth “Training” option under the tutelage of one very authoritative Mrs. Victoria, that takes you from the basics of fighting games to the game’s advanced controls. Unless you’re a fighting game veteran, you won’t want to skip this. The controls are super precise – so precise that I had to switch to an arcade stick because I just wasn’t hitting the quarter-circle commands on my 360 controller.
Once you’re done with the tutorial, the “Training Room” gives you a chance to test out your newfound skills. One thing to note is Skullgirls doesn’t have in-game reference material so you’ll need to look up things like character moves online.
In addition to the tutorial and the single player mode, Skullgirls offers a multiplayer mode, called “Versus”, which offers the usual LAN and matchmaking options.
There are ten characters right now, eight in the core game, with whom you progress through the story mode via a series of duels. In keeping with fighting game tradition, you can expect snazzy one-liners and cool victory animations. The duels are largely the same regardless of who you play, but while many characters share a similar fondness for extreme cleavage and tight clothing (obviously I’m not talking about the character of Big Band, here), each has a unique battle style that is intrinsically tied to her appearance.
My favorite character for instance, Ms. Fortune, is a cat lady who can take off her own head and use it as a weapon, and whose spliced and reassembled body can extend into crazy kicks and claw swipes. Best of all, she can wrap her enemies in massive balls of her own tendons, and when she wins, she bounces her head in her hands like a cat would a ball of yarn.
The last in the series of duels (second-to-last in the case of Squigly) is the famed Skullgirl herself – a powerful young woman taken over by an artefact called the Skull Heart, which exerts world-destruction influence on them (It wouldn’t be cool if the fate of the world wasn’t at stake).
As mentioned, the balancing is a potential issue. Even in Sleepwalk mode, victory over the other characters is no easy feat, and it’s even harder when fighting Marie, the Skullgirl. The battle is largely fought against an army of destructive skulls that show up while she floats above ground, and later, a shadowy skeleton man with a gun. It took several tries to get Little Bones Peep down.
All in all, I’m a fan. I like that each character has a tragic past that is both different from the others, while tying into the overall Skullgirls arc. The gameplay is fast-paced but smooth. I experienced no lagging. The art is meticulous, gorgeous and highly stylised. A lot of work went into making each character’s look and animations unique, and the result is worth it. The fighting is solid, though like I said, the controls take some getting used to if you’re a beginner, both to the genre and the game. Balancing could be an issue. Or you could view it a challenge. Solid recommend.
LabZero has launched a Skullgirls art competition to draw a cool, new outfit for Eliza.
After you finish the game, check out some alternate PC endings that were ultimately scrapped.