Review: Skullgirls

In which an eight-person team puts other indie games and AAA efforts alike to shame.

Fighting games are the ultimate test of a developer’s ability to create engaging mechanics. Mechanics and artwork are the driving force behind success in the medium, in that order. Fighting game players will play a game with extremely dated art if they prefer the mechanics, so mechanics are the most important aspect of the game. The developers of fighting games face a serious challenge when it comes to attempting to make a game accessible, but deep enough to keep the community engaged. The powerhouse developers in this particular genre are Capcom, SNK Playmore, and NAMCO. Though from time to time other developers create games that get received well by the community, these developers set the standard.

Enter Lab Zero Games. A small independent developer seeking to tackle the genre with the most exacting, demanding fans in the business. These fans have been characterized by developers whose feelings have been hurt as elitist, and irrelevant (because hardcore audiences are difficult to develop for and tend to be smaller than the Call of Duty audience). Well, these fans are elitists. And that’s a good thing. They play only the most amazing games released in their pet genre because the time investment to become good at a fighting game is insane. We are talking tens of thousands of hours. It has been said that it is impossible to create an accessible game with mass appeal that also satisfies the insanely high standards of this community. Well Lab Zero Games has done the impossible. Not only have they done the impossible, they’ve done it with a team of just eight people. They have done it with flair.

In Skullgirls, Lab Zero Games has done the impossible. They have done it with flair.

Mechanically, the game is easy to learn. You will experience one of the most extensive tutorials the genre has ever seen. This team doesn’t just want you to buy their game and mash some buttons. They give you all the tools you need to play the game in the correct way from the very start. This makes the game much more fun because these games are at their best when the player has a strong understanding of the mechanics. The mechanics are simple. The combo system is elegant. There isn’t a large cast of characters, so it’s easy to learn how each character works. The online play is nothing short of the best in the industry, at least on the PC version. Oh yeah, and there is a PC version.

The fundamental simplicity of the combo system in Skullgirls belies a much more complex beast within. You can pull off amazing combos shortly after picking up the game. But there are even more interesting, and downright impressive combos out there to be discovered. The depth of the game means even a seasoned veteran can sit down for hours inventing new combos and finding new mechanics to exploit to achieve ultimate victory. It never took me more than an hour to get a combo down in training mode (pulling it off in battle online is a whole different story, mind). This is coming from a casual fan of fighting games. I don’t spend thousands of hours playing fighting games. But I like learning new systems and I have fun with mechanics so I spend some time here and there with new fighting games: learning some of the intricacies, playing with friends, and having a good time. So when you read my words about how easy the mechanics are to pick up, these are not the words of a seasoned fighting game veteran. These are the words of a fighting game newbie.

The online play is nothing short of the best in the industry, at least on the PC version. Oh yeah, and there is a PC version.

Now that I have told you about the accessible mechanics, the hallmark of fighters, let me talk about the art. The art of Skullgirls is nothing short of a visionary masterpiece. Both the artwork and animation is beautiful, and could not be characterized as anything but a masterful labor of love. The character design is quirky, and perfect. The backgrounds are vibrant and interesting. If you weren’t embroiled in the fight of your life, they would be distracting. Every last detail of the game is impeccably designed.

The real miracle here is that nothing on the mechanical or functional side of the game suffers because of this. Many independent development studios focus so much on creating amazing artwork, that the craftsmanship of the rest of the game is shoddy. Their marketing centers around the premise that they have created something pretty and you should purchase it simply because of its artistic value. This is straight bullshit. If I want a pure artistic experience, I go to an art museum that houses some of the greatest masterworks of human history. If I want amazing music, I listen to it and go to concerts. I love video games that have incredible artwork and stunning music. But the most important part of a video game is that it be a game, and not the interactive equivalent of a five minute amateur Youtube video.

Skullgirls is a master class for would-be independent developers on how to create something people actually want to play.

Skullgirls never asked me to buy it because of its incredible artwork, great music, or sense of humor. Lab Zero Games created an incredible game period. Skullgirls is the most interesting and engaging fighting game I have played in years. This independent studio has blown the efforts of several AAA houses out of the water, and holds its own against the greats of the fighting game genre.


Skullgirls is not only a great game, it’s a fucking master class for would-be independent developers on how to create something people actually want to play. The only catch is that you have to have the dedication to create something wonderful. Lab Zero Games did something amazing with eight people. There are no excuses left.

If you’ve ever wanted to check out fighting games but have been too intimidated, or don’t feel you have the time to really get something out of it, now is your chance. Buy Skullgirls and thank me later if you aren’t too busy having a blast. It’s only $15.00.

Grade: A

Developer: Lab Zero Games, Reverge Labs
Publisher: Konami, Autumn Games, Marvelous AQL
Platform: 360, PS3, PC, Linux

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