Brush your spinning blade hairdo and grab your shotgun umbrella, as this review is for the latest edition of the 2012 classic arcade fighter ‘Skullgirls’. This new edition ‘2nd Encore’ is now available for PS4, with a PS Vita cross buy scheduled for later this year and there is even talk of a possible PC patch to upgrade the previous Steam version.
New features for this version include:
- USB Arcade stick support for PS4
- Two new playable characters (previously unavailable on consoles)
- Full voice acting in all story modes
- New challenges, trials and gameplay modes including ‘Survival’
- A full set of 43 trophies including a Platinum
- Cross platform online play
The plot of the original Skullgirls revolves around a magical artifact known as the Skull Heart. It has the ability to grant one wish to any girl who possesses it, however it will only grant the wish to whoever is pure of heart. Should any girl who isn’t pure make a wish then the artifact will corrupt the wish and the girl in question would become the ill-fated demon ‘Skullgirl’.
Each character in the roster has their own back story, agenda and desires so the progression of the story can vary greatly depending on the character you choose. There are a total of 14 playable characters which I thought was a bit shallow for a game that has already had two updates, but maybe I’ve just been spoilt recently by franchises that have been around for decades with a much larger legacy of characters. However what this game lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality. Some of the characters here are insane. These lavishly polished cartoony sprites all have a multitude of wild moves, weapons, mannerisms and characteristics which adds a lot of depth to the experience.
Notable characters include:
- ‘Big Band’ who is essentially a piano that’s been impaled with a saxophone (yes, you did read that correctly) who has a ton of instrument based moves and can morph into a rocket
- ‘Eliza’ who has modeled herself on Cleopatra and can morph blood into Egyptian style weapons and artifacts
- ‘Valentine’, a nurse who has an arsenal of surgical implements including saws, syringes and even a body bag
That’s just the tip of the iceberg as far as these characters go.
Being a fighting game there is a large variety of modes. For single player games there is a story mode, arcade mode, quick matches, survival, challenges and training modes. In multiplayer you have the choice between local 2 player matches, tournament modes and a selection of online bouts.
Unfortunately while I was playing I couldn’t seem find any opponents for unranked matches in any region. This may have been an error or maybe this feature hasn’t been implemented yet? However I had no problem accessing ranked matches and the online performance was really smooth and stable.
One thing I found unusual is that for a game that has put so much effort into the characters back stories, the story mode itself doesn’t last very long (around 6 to 8 fights for most characters). There is no consistent formula for the story mode, so the fights you end up having are driven by the story itself. Fighting Skullgirl may be the final boss for some characters, but may only be a midway boss for others. One benefit of having short story modes is that the game encourages you to attempt it multiple times to enjoy each characters story.
The gameplay itself is of a very high standard for an arcade fighter with a lot of interesting features tied into the fighting mechanics. Instead of the traditional ‘best of 3’ model each player can choose a team of up to three characters. You can switch characters mid fight as well as call characters in for assistance. You can even knock your opponent out of the screen forcing them to switch characters against their will. Each time a character is beaten they will remain unconscious in the stage until the fight is finished. Other interesting mechanics include automatic blocking when pulling back, double jumps, high jumps, and special moves that can only be accessed if you’ve gained enough experience.
From playing the tutorials it appears that the developers have refined the controls so that mindless button bashing usually goes unrewarded whereas technical and skilled players should be able to achieve larger combos and dish out more damage. One thing I noticed regarding combos is that pressing the same button twice usually breaks any possible combos. To effectively pull off a chain you need to work your way around a variety of moves rather than jabbing buttons repeatedly.
With the option of having up to three characters in a team and a wide variety of complex moves to master I think I can safely say that this may not suite casual fighters. Although you do get a choice of difficulty setting so less experienced players can enjoy this game, you really do get the most satisfaction out of it through skill and a lot of practice. I get the impression that this game was made for the more serious combatant in mind. For the amount of depth this game has an experienced player will find a lot of replay value here.
One of the most stunning aspects of Skullgirls is the graphics. The developers have used a mixture of 2D & 3D technology and have fused the two together beautifully. The foreground sprites are drawn in a timeless cartoon style with the backgrounds often containing 3D models to create a feeling of depth without losing its cartoon charm. The sprites are animated incredibly smoothly making the game a joy to watch as well as play.
Cut scenes are not actually animated. Instead they consist of a series of high quality still drawings with subtitled dialog running underneath. A new feature exclusive to this edition is that all cut scenes are now fully voiced. A nice little touch which I’m glad the developers have implemented.
Skullgirls has a retro 50’s America theme running through it similar to Rapture in Bioshock. As such much of the soundtrack has a fusion of smooth jazz running through it. An unusual choice for a fighting game however it works surprisingly well.
One feature I was particularly pleased to see included was support for legacy controllers. As such I can confirm that this title does support USB arcade sticks! So if you’re looking for a really strong PS4 title that offers the true arcade experience then this really does hit the nail on the head.
One unusual anomaly I experienced while playing was a huge glitch that affected all of the graphics. Everything from the menus to in game visuals had a complete fit. I have no idea what caused it but it forced me to quit and reload the game in order to clear it. Like I say, I have no idea what caused the glitch but in the time I took to review this game it only happened once. I may have just been unlucky.
Overall Skullgirls 2nd Encore is a really strong title and worth the time of any fighting game enthusiast. Although I personally would have liked to have seen a few more playable characters, this game offers more than enough to justify its relatively modest price tag.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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