Skullgirls 2nd Encore Review – Third Time Lucky (PS4)
Skullgirls 2nd Encore collects the efforts of two previous releases and the results of a successful indiegogo funding that date back to 2014. Now with a long awaited presence on the PS4 and Vita, 2nd Encore delivers all previous DLC of the franchise, the crowd funding rewards and heaps more to add some bulk to the already fantastic 2D visuals and brutally professional combat helping this bizarre title finally shine among its peers.
Big Hand for Big Band
The Skullgirls universe is often one of familiarity, the Art Deco UI literally oozes with BioShock and a soundtrack that harks back to hectic first-gen Pokémon battles. An ancient artifact of great power, known as the Skull Heart, has the power to grant the wish of a woman. If she is of an impure heart, however, then the Skull Heart will corrupt and warp her into an all-powerful, titular Skullgirl. 2nd Encore finds us in a cityscape setting of despair, corruption and conflict where a new Skullgirl has emerged, bringing together our motley crew of fighters in pursuit.
From the get-go, even with all the trimmings, it’s clear that 2nd Encore doesn’t offer the same amount of content its competitors do, boasting a quaint roster of 14 characters complete with a short but fully voice-acted story arc. The folks at Lab Zero Games have clearly disregarded the term normal and instead opted for the eccentric; offering up some seriously odd characters from the one-man jazz troupe, Big Band, to the grotesque experiment gone wrong, Painwheel.
While often sounding great, often belting out some grin-inducing puns, these folks are also gorgeously animated in a crisp fashion that renders smoothly and sharply on the PS4’s architecture. The art style in general is a warm aspect of the Skullgirls franchise and the absurd character design here marries exceptionally well with the BioShock-esque menus and old-school film portrayal of the matches.
Go Hard or Go Home
Initially, simply playing a match will be an unforgiving experience. 2nd Encore still omits any sort of legible move list and instead opts for button descriptions like “P” which correlate to traditional fighting pads rather than the Dualshock 4 you’ll inevitably be using. This is a bewilderingly daft omission and is a massive block to intrepid franchise and genre newcomers. When you pair this with the positively brutal AI, you’re faced with a very inhospitable game, even on the lowest difficulty setting you’ll get your ass handed to you to begin with.
Making it past the first wave of knuckle sandwiches is worth the effort, however, with matches swiftly turning from painfully brief episodes of embarrassment to deeply tactical and rewarding fights. When you adjust to your character, usually through trial and error (or by researching their move-set online) you suddenly unlock a staggeringly fluid and strategic fighting game that rubs shoulders with tournament level complexity and competition.
Much of this is down to subtle varieties that have been incorporated into the combat model. Everyone in the roster possesses a handful of extra powerful moves alongside finely tuned unique traits that are designed to suit specific play types. This variety partners perfectly with the ability to enter matches with teams of one, two or three combatants, balancing them in the process. Picking a single character beefs them while choosing three weakens them, but enables you to work with several styles at once, play about with the team sizes and find what suits you.
The story mode is now supplemented with several new features to keep you around after you’ve bested the roster and their tales. Challenges provide a cheeky twist on the usual quick-fire Arcade game type, enabling certain battle conditions such as “No Jumping.” Trials further the in-game training sessions with specific focus on the all-important combos, teaching you to nail everything from the simple to the complex. Survival mode is a self-explanatory mode of purgatory, pitting you against an endless stream of random foes – sounds fun enough, but grows boring incredibly quickly once you’ve faced Peacock 15 times.
Multiplayer makes a return in both online and local form, adding the competitive edge of human vs. human to an often-complicated mix. Hosting your own online tournaments is a nifty component and bound to populate the likes of Twitch in the coming months, while local multiplayer continues to prove that couch-based gameplay is king. This genre really excels in company and 2nd Encore is no exception, playing smoothly both on and offline.
Not as light on content as its predecessors, the core mechanics of Skullgirls continues to work beautifully on almost every level. Staggeringly good animation dolls up its unforgiving control scheme, while the bonkers roster provides innumerable strategies and play styles. It’s brutish welcome is certain to dissuade many newcomers with unrelenting AI and unnecessarily obscure move lists, but those that make it past the opening trials will be rewarded with one of the most unique and charming 2D fighters in a long time.
Review copy was provided by the publisher. For information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.