Skullgirls – E3 Preview

At E3, it’s easy to get lost in the sea of big name games from big name publishers. As I walked the show floor, I saw something out of the corner of my eye that made me stop dead in my tracks. Something that to me personally, was not only one of the most stunning games I saw at E3, but also had a game mechanic second to none.

On the back side of Konami’s booth, Skullgirls by Autumn Games/Reverge Labs was captivating everyone who walked by—fighting game fan or not. At first I thought I was watching a trailer for an upcoming anime–until I realized it was a game. Skullgirls is a 2D fighter that not only corrects same of the failings of current games on the market, but also boasts some of the most gorgeous character animation that I have seen.  When I started playing the game, the fluidity of the animation and uniqueness of the characters, at first, made it hard to focus on the game. Every frame in Skullgirls is 100% hand drawn and it shows. Alex Ahad, Art Lead, has done an amazing job at creating unique characters that you not only want to play, but also are completely happy to watch as their moves are executed—a crucial element for a tournament fighters which they nailed perfectly. It’s hard to describe the style of the characters but think anime-inspired, dashed with a hint of modern flair and a little sci-fi and that gets you at least in the same ballpark—it’s not cookie cutter by any means. Once you can actually stop looking at the animation, the game mechanic itself is quite deep.

After getting beat up a few times because I was too busy eyeing the animation to focus, it was time to dig into the controls itself. Skull Girls had only three playable characters: Filia, Cerebella, and Peacock — all of whom felt very polished. The controller configuration was like Street Fighter and Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 in that it was a six-button layout, which allowed you to adjust quickly to the light, medium, heavy, and assist style of play. The speed of the game is well-balanced. It’s not MvC3 and it’s not SF—think somewhere in between.  I spent time in a team match Cerebella and Filia in a  match against another journalist. What I noticed right away was how tight and responsive the game was. The ability to execute supers and combos with the same level of efficiency as say, Street Fighter IV, immediately put Skullgirls in a position to compete with Arcana Hearts for time on the fight circuit. During my demo time, I gravitated towards Filia who was a rush down character in a similar vein to X-23. Filia was nimble, quick, had gorgeous animation during her combos, and the speed of her moves felt perfect—especially when the game is running on pre-alpha code.

On the feature side of things, I spoke with Peter Bartholow, Lead Designer, on a few very interesting aspects of the game mechanics. First–and much to the delight of those around me when he said it—Skullgirls will feature a custom assist system. This opens things up a bit because being able to select the exact assist you want versus one’s pre-defined for you is extremely nice. The second interesting factoid was the anti-infinite system.  If the system detects that an opposing character is performing a looping infinite attack, the colors of the impacting attack change and the infinite can be detected by hitting any button. It’s subtle changes like these that show that Mike “Mike Z” Zaimont has been working on the core mechanics of the game, implementing the right types of change to make the game more enjoyable.

Skullgirls is set for a release sometime this year on the PSN. If you’re a fan of anime, of fighting games or of the fading art of 2D animation owe it yourself to at least take a look when Skullgirls arrives later this year.