Back in the '90s, after the success of Street Fighter there was a rush to put out 2D animated fighting games. It was exactly like how hair metal took off in the '80s. Products were rushed to market to capitalize on the trend, and it was kind of a two-edged sword. On one hand, a lot of these games weren't very good, but on the other hand it meant that they would throw literally anything in the games because who cared? World Heroes 2 is my personal favorite of these because for some reason, I have a fixation on playing a tribal stereotype called Mudman.
Konami's Skullgirls plays heavily to the nostalgic aspect of that time period. The plot, what there is of it, involves an artifact called the Skull Heart that grants wishes, but that can turn the user into a monster if he has a corrupt heart. You may recognize this as the plot of every single Legend of Zelda game ever. Well, that's not a fighting game...oh wait, it was also basically the plot of Soul Edge.
Okay, so the plot's weak. It's a fighting game; it doesn't need some kind of overblown back-story, though I think that the last two Mortal Kombats have proven that it helps. Let's turn to the characters.
Your cast of fighters owes a lot to the Darkstalkers series. The animation style is near-identical, with some like Cerebella being particularly close to specific designs (Hsien-ko in her case). That being said, you have to give Autumn Games props for not being afraid to try some truly insane things.
Take Cerebella as an example. She's a circus performer with a sentient hat that has super-strong gorilla arms. I know that it sounds like I typed this review into a Mad Libs generator, but that's really the setup. You also get an inside-out nun, your obligatory evil/sexy nurse, a catgirl who can detach her head and allow it to be controlled separately, and Peacock, who looks and acts like something Max Fleischer would've dreamt up during a murderous ether binge.
Personally, I picked Painwheel, a twisted girl who was mutated in an experiment and now has a giant spinning blade sticking out of her back. I felt it was the closest I was ever going to get to my cenobite fighting game dream.
The controls are pretty standard. Any Capcom fan will be instantly at home with the basic move commands and the three strengths of punches and kicks. Six-button hit schemes still feel as awkward on a PS3 as they did the first day I picked up Street Fighter on the SNES. One of the things that helped launch Tekken and Mortal Kombat as home console fighting juggernauts was the fact that they stuck to a four-button scheme that was much more conducive to the controller layout. Moves that require two-button presses, like throws and super combos, are difficult to pull off.
As for the actual fight mechanics, the game is long on accessibility but short on innovation. I haven't been a dedicated fighting game fan in years, but I was able to easily integrate into the experience within minutes. On the basic single player mode, you'll likely be able to take down the final boss, Bloody Marie, a couple of hours after picking up the game for the first time.
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One thing I'm kind of puzzled about is the fact that the game boasts an infinite combo detection system and has moves that allow you to break out of them. For the most part, an infinite combo means that the designers made an error. It's nice that they went all founding fathers on us and left a way for us to fix it ourselves, but wouldn't a patch be a better bet than just leaving infinite combos in there?
Then again, finding infinite combos is a hallmark of player innovation, so maybe this is the better path. Of course, since breaking them is so simple, it's likely to just kill the point of discovering an infinite combo in the first place.
Overall, Skullgirls is a fighting game for the kind of people that grew up on Invader Zim. It's macabre without being gruesome. It's bloody cupcakes. You won't find much that Capcom and SNK haven't handed out before, but for an old-school gaming experience that skews toward the morbid, it can't be beat.
Skullgirls is available on PSN and XBLA.