Girls just wanna have fun (and kick your ass)
I should preface this review by saying I'm not a fighting "aficionado" and not even in the least bit skilled so take what I'm about to say with a grain of salt. Because Skullgirls seems like a game designed by a tournament fighter (which it is) but mainly for hardcore fighting fans. Now this is an indie game so it wouldn't have the huge budget of Capcom releases or the frequent entries of SNK with King of Fighters but in many ways, Skullgirls feels like it wants to and usually will leave a great first impression but even debut projects will have their stumbles and unfortunately this game has quite a few.
Skullgirls is a traditional 2D fighter with a roster of about 8 characters with promises for more along the way. This small roster on one hand can make each character feel distinctive from the rest (as opposed to Street Fighter's Ryu/Ken/Akuma/Sakura characters) but repetition will show itself and arcade mode is literally fighting the same characters over and over but with a color palette swap or a difference in team size. Here is where Skullgirls does one of many attempts to stand out in that rarely seen in fighting games, you can actually choose the size of the team as opposed to the mandatory 3vs3 of UMVC3 and KOF13 or the strict 1vs1 of Street Fighter and Blazblue. So you can have matches such as 1vs3, 2vs2 or 2vs3 with the more characters you have, the less powerful they feel. However the game doesn't take into account what team size you selected at the beginning of arcade mode so if you want to say, just pick one character, be prepared to have matches where you go up against 3 opponents rather than the entire ladder be 1vs1.
This doesn't help when Skullgirls AI is, in a word, brutal. Now I'm not a fan of dumbing down of games since in the past, when you beat a game, you really felt you accomplished something; learning everything you need to know to get to the final boss and win. But whereas most fighting games leave the challenge for the higher difficulties, the AI of Skullgirls do not mess around even on Easy. Be prepared for crazy mix-ups, punishes, zoners that can out-zone the best zoners that has ever zoned and some crazy 21-hit combos. This can be maddeningly frustrating since you can't actually learn your character's fighting style when opponents don't even give you a change to get a hit in. Then as usual, this game has a final boss that is, in a word, bullshit. A screen filled with projectiles, a counter for everything you have and more so you'd think a fighting game lover now turned designer would learn not to repeat the SNK Boss Syndrome of past fighting games when designing his own but alas, nope.
All of this and the game still manages to be fun which is of course, the most important thing. Aside from the bizarre character designs such as the classic shape-shifter fighter who looks like a bad anime monster, a sexy and violent nurse, a chick with monster hair (literally) and one with a monster in her hat, each character feels like a potential powerhouse in the right hands and having them be gorgeously animated certainly helps a lot. Knowing the ropes for each one is helped by a good training mode as well as an incredibly helpful tutorial. However the game did launch without a move list so it does echo back to the old days where you wrote down moves to games and even stuck em near arcade machines but it's just crazy to think a fighting game would launch without a move list but they said it will be patched in later.
In an odd reverse, story mode is actually the story for each individual character rather than "story mode" being the main campaign and arcade mode is where you get character-specific stories. Story mode is well-done because as Martin Lawrence would say, "shit gets real" and gets very dark as you progress. Not as elaborate as Mortal Kombat but works fairly well. As for the online well the online netcode is also some of the best as it uses the well-regarded GGPO and it's crazy how the mega-budget Street Fighter x Tekken had worse online than an indie game but there ya have it.
Skullgirls is a game that a lot of people will want to admire and some will outright love but it does make loving it harder than it should. The relentless AI, missing features and skimpy-by-most roster can push people away but if you were disappointed with the last Soul Calibur's features (or lack thereof) and want a new game to sink your teeth into, there's lot to get out of Skullgirls.