Monday, April 30, 2012

Game of the Week : Skullgirls

Skullgirls is a 2D fighting game available on Xbox Live and Playstation Network by Reverge Labs. It's a 2D fighting game similar to other sprite based fighting games such as the Street Fighter 2 and Blazblue. What makes this project so special however is the amount of detail that went into it and the fact that it's an indie project. This isn't a huge company like Capcom making this game, this is just a dedicated team of a dozen or more people working to make the best game possible. Indie games deserve their time in the spotlight and as a fan of fighting games, I could see that Skullgirls shouldn't be missed.


Skullgirls uses the same basic elements that most 2D fighters have. Reduce opponent's life bar to 0, have special meter for Super Attacks, a timer that counts to 0, etc. However most fighting games like these specialize in having either one vs one battles or having teams of players against each other. Skullgirls changes this up by allowing you to choose from either one character or up to three characters to fight as a team. Having one character means this character is overall a lot stronger, having a lot more life and dealing more damage than other characters. If you have three characters, each one is weaker, however you are allowed to call in partners to assist you in battle like in Marvel vs Capcom 3, or tag a partner in when the character in the front lines is weak so they can recover portions of their health.

Skullgirls features 1 on 1 battles or up to 3 on 3 on each team

This system is somewhat similar to Capcom vs Snk 2, where you could choose either one character or up to three and assign each character a ratio to determine how much stronger they would be. But the game also mixes in elements from Marvel vs Capcom where you can call in assists, tag out and perform supers with your team. The game overall uses elements of both these to make Skullgirls significantly different to play.

Ninja Nurse "Valentine" (on the right) performing a combo

Every fighting game has a different kind of “combo system” and Skullgirls is no different. Getting into a combo system can be complex because it represents different ways of performing combos and some games only allow limited variations of combos such as in Capcom vs Snk 2, whereas Marvel vs Capcom 3 could allow for much more varied and crazy combos. Skullgirls is in essence more along the lines of Marvel vs Capcom 3 where combos can be much larger and more complex.

Half of the cast of Skullgirls

Character selection in Skullgirls in somewhat limited compared to the other games I have mentioned. There are a total of 8 characters to choose from, with a unplayable final boss and more potential DLC characters to come as well. What Skullgirls lacks in character selection makes sure to make every character unique in terms of play style and look. There are no clones the likes of Street Fighter where there would be 4 characters all with a Hadouken and a Shoryuken. Every character plays with a completely different mindset and playstyle but they can all perform combos quite well. From the staple Schoolgirl Filia, to the grappling Circus Performer Cerebella, to the robotic war Orphan Peacock with a boatload of internet meme and references, all of them have unique playstyles.


Each has character has over 2000+ frames of animation

Now the highlight of the game besides the gameplay system is the effort into the world of Skullgirls itself. Namely, the animation. These may be 2D sprites but these are the most incredible looking 2D animated sprites I have ever seen. These characters have over 2000+ frames of animation each, all of them hand drawn. If you look at any one of them, they pretty much look like a highly detailed character portrait rather than the typical sprite you might see in a fighting game. The characters animate so smoothly and look so great, they pretty much blow away any of the old fighting game sprites and even some of the newer ones from big companies.

Animation of Filia

The developpers themselves highlight the process of creating these sprites. They show the palettes they choose, cleaning up the sprites, and getting details into the sprites. Basically, they use a combination of clean up artists and animators. The animators will draw the sprite, a rough version and continue on to other sprite frames that need to be done. These people do not manipulate existing sprites and try to repose them, instead they hand drawn from scratch each new pose, using reference material to help them along the way. These artists need a fundamental understanding of proportions and how to draw characters in order to draw the new poses naturally. Since they have to spend so much time in doing this, the rough sketch is then sent to a clean up artist.

Early animation of Filia, without clean up

The clean up artist basically makes the sprite look pretty and look really great. Details on how these whole process is defined can be found here. Taking the rough sketch, they clean up the lines first of all then they add in shadows to define the 3D shape of the sprite. They have to have a very good understanding of the body and how shadows work, as well as knowing what the animator wanted to convey in the shape of the body for that sprite. After that shadow layer, they begin to add the color layer and that's pretty much done, for one single frame that is. This process will be repeated over and over for every frame and considering it's 2000+ frames per character, this is a massive undertaking.

Gameplay of Skullgirls

That's probably one of the main reasons the cast is at 8 characters, because there is so much detail and life put into these characters. Seeing them animated at the full 60 FPS that the engine runs on makes the old sprites of yore look feeble in comparison. Not only that but every frame you look at has the utmost detail as was explained in their process of making the sprites. It really breathes life into these characters and I feel like it's really great breakthrough in the quality of 2D sprite animation. It shows that this kind of animation can still compare in quality to a 3D game. The sprites animate so smoothly that it looks almost like a live cartoon show.


Trailer featuring the character "Cerebella" 

Besides the look of the characters, a lot of effort went into bringing the life of these characters alivethrough audio. Cristina Vee was one of main directors for voice over and she has had a lot of experience in voicing for anime and video games. She was in charge of getting the other voice actors/actresses in and readying them for their lines, as well as providing the voice for the character Cerebella as well. They managed to get a team of enthusiastic actors and actresses to voice the characters to help give life to the characters. Not only that but they filled the dialogue full of references to various memes. From Ms. Fortune's Purrserker Parrage (A homage to Wolverine's Berserker Barrage inMarvel vs Capcom), to Peacock's “Garbage Day” as she shoots a pistol (A homage to a scene from a 1980's movie Silent Night Deadly Night 2), the game makes sure to entertain with all these funny quirks.


As was noted in my tunes of the week, the Skullgirls team was able to get Michiru Yamane on board forSkullgirls. She composed a majority of the soundtrack and really helped to bring the quality of the game to even higher standards. The existing composers did a good job as well but having Michiru Yamane to help as well really made things even better. For a closer look at the music, check out my tunes of the week on Skullgirls.


The 'Skull Heart' is a central plot point in the story. An artifact that has the power to grant a young woman's wish.

Though fighting game stories usually aren't the focus or overall that interesting, Skullgirls puts a goodeffort into making a story for the characters. They may not be the best stories but they are pretty entertaining nonetheless and definitely a lot better than what I've seen in Street Fighter stories so far. To compare, we have Ryu in Street Fighter who's story usually consists of “I must be stronger, so I shall just fight everyone in my way”. That or it consists of “controlling the Satsui-No-Hadou”, which can turn him into Evil Ryu. We never really learn much about the character through his stories. Skullgirls on the other hand definitely tries to show us how the characters interact in the world and with other characters. You can definetely see a lot more interactivity and in the end of the stories, you still get a good feel of each character's personality.

Canopy Kingdom : The setting for Skullgirls

The basis of the story of Skullgirls is the presence of the Skull Heart. The Skull Heart grants any woman their wish, but if it's not pure, then the wish will become corrupted and they may become the Skullgirl, a immensely powerful being who becomes twisted by the very wish they wanted. This dynamic combined with the characters and their reasons for pursuing the Skull Heart to really show the personalities of each character. It may not fully tell us everything about each character, but they are a lot more fleshed out then a lot of other fighting games.

I'll quickly highlight one of the stories and what it managed to accomplish in a small time frame.

Parasoul : Princess of Canopy Kingdom and leader of it's Elite Military Squad, the Black Egrets

One story we have Parasoul, the Princess of the Canopy Kingdom (Where Skullgirls takes place) who's sister Umbrella is drawn to the presence of the Skull Heart.

We discover that Parasoul's mother was once the Skullgirl who wished for peace but her had wish corrupted and became the Skullgirl. At the time a war was raging on and with Parasoul's mother becoming the Skullgirl, they were forced to form an alliance and defeat the Skullgirl. The wish turned to peace but at the cost of Parasoul's mother. She doesn't want this happening to her sister again and so in the end after getting to the Skull heart she makes her wish to the Skull Heart before Umbrella can, which was to become the Skull Girl so that her sister does not.

Parasoul's Story pretty much reveals the importance of family to her and we get a good understanding of her character and what drives her. It's a much more personal and important story then what we see in a lot of fighting games.


With just an indie team, creating this level of quality for a game is impressive. Not only have they made some of the best looking 2D animated sprites, and gotten a famous japanese composer but they built the game specifically to be competitive as well. The designers had a tournament level Fighter Mike Zaimont working on the project to make the game a balanced and competitive game. This game is frequently featured on several notable fighting game streams and tournaments now.

Overall the game exudes polish and any fighting game fan shouldn't miss out on this excellent game.

No comments:

Post a Comment