Hell Hath No Fury Like Eight Women Scorned
Amidst the vast ocean of proverbial love affairs that exist between gamers and their favorite past-time, my brief relationship with the fighting game genre can best be classified as nothing more than a summer fling, superficial and inconsequential upon two decades worth of retrospection. Nonetheless, some dormant spark of affection must have survived within me, because, as the gears of Konami’s surgically precise and deathly efficient PR machine have slowly but surely ground into motion to apprise Reverge Labs’ upcoming Skullgirls, long-slumbering desires have sprung into flame within me once again. (Don’t worry: despite the game’s all-female cast of characters, it’s not nearly as creepy as it sounds.)
Skullgirls is a 2D fighter developed by Reverge Labs for Autumn Games and Konami, and is being released in the midst of a busy playing field for the fighting game. After last year’s revival of the Mortal Kombat brand and Capcom’s Marvel vs Capcom 3, and with the franchise crossovers not looking to stop anytime soon (Street Fighter X Tekken, Tekken X Street Fighter), Skullgirls needs something quite distinctive to make it stand out from the crowd of big-name fighters that have all been around for years, and feature rosters packed to the brim with veritable Who’s Who lists of video game star power. I would argue that Skullgirls has all of this and more. But ere we bow and touch gloves, here’s a brief personal history concerning myself and fighting games; every long-time rivalry has its roots in ancient hatreds, and my story is no different… (Or, if you’re saying to yourself “I don’t care about your life story, Pascal. Just show me the money!”, feel free to proceed past the next section.)
My short-lived infatuation began sometime in late 1991, when Street Fighter II was ruling arcade halls everywhere. This period is best-remembered to me as the first (and so far only) time I would line up and place my quarter onto the arcade cabinet, calling next game against the winner of the current match. Overall, this was quite a foolish way to lose much of my quite limited allowance, as I had absolutely no clue how to play the game, and couldn’t pull off any moves apart from Chun Li’s Thousand-Leg attack or Blanka’s electricity charge. Nevertheless, the experience rather than the game was something I just had to be a part of, notwithstanding my bruised and bloodied ego after each match – in many ways similar to my fighter’s on-screen ‘Game Over’ portrait.
At some point, some months later, I pooled together ten dollars’ worth and invested in buying the game’s strategy guide – another first for me! – which I then religiously studied. I read and re-read every word, from the character bios to the captions underneath the guide’s screenshots. Every combatant’s stats, strategies, strengths and weaknesses were religiously memorized in turn. I knew I was preparing for the day I would own the game myself on my SNES console. Ironically, and perhaps tragically as well, it would still be years and years before I actually purchased a used copy of the game, grabbing it over a decade later as nothing more than a curious reminder of a feverish obsession I’d once had. But, back in 1992, my twelve-year old self still had more rookie mistakes to make, trying to gain some foot-hold in the fighting game genre.
That same year, Midway’s Mortal Kombat quite literally exploded onto the fighting game scene in sprays of gore and viscera. To be honest, I missed much of the arcade craze the game enjoyed initially, as my only access to arcade games was at the local 7-11 and coin-op laundromat (don’t ask, and I won’t tell you any tales of the depressing little Texas town I spent these years living in…). But when a SNES port of the game was in-bound, I had heard enough by way of word-of-mouth to know I couldn’t, under any circumstances, sit on the sidelines and let this one slip me by! But my limited savings were still freshly wiped out from the $200 purchase of the SNES itself a year earlier (Merry Christmas to myself!), and there was no way I could afford a brand-spanking-new video game. Unless… Oh, how I still rue the day I made the questionable choice of selling my original faded gray brick of a Game Boy, along with my entire dozen-plus collection of game cartridges, just to get together the required amount of scratch for MK. Yeah, the one with toned-down finishes (not Fatalities!) and sweat instead of blood; my Game Boy’s sacrifice made it possible for me to own this unworthy port. But it was all good, I was cool, I could participate in the MK-related conversations at school at last!
With disappointments galore, I eventually lost all interest and enthusiasm in the fighting game genre. Notwithstanding a few token attempts to find something to catch my attention with Tekken 3 on the original PlayStation, and later with PS2 and 360 games Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance and Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe, I think it’s safe to say that my time with fighting games had well run its course. That is, until Skullgirls was announced…
5 Reasons Why Skullgirls Has Me Excited to Get Back Into the Fighting Genre
1. Finally, a Brand New IP!
This is not intended to generate lots of hate-mail from fans of existing fighting franchises, but if we take an honest look back over recent releases in the genre, it’s easy to spot complacency winning out over creativity. Normally, this is where I’d point out all the existing franchises receiving new installments, updates, and re-imaginings, but given the onslaught of Vs titles of late, I’ll go one further: Taking two established names in gaming, like Marvel and Capcom, and mashing them together with characters from each label teaming up to take on each other does not require a great deal of creative genius. And when it’s already the third numbered sequel in the crossover series, it might make some scratch their head and wonder if we’ve drained the well of creativity. Not to mention crossovers series with multiple releases within the same year, featuring the same franchises, essentially only changing who’s hosting whom. 2011’s Mortal Kombat, Marvel vs Capcom 3, Street Fighter X Tekken, Tekken X Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe…the list goes on.
If you’re a fan of any of the above, and I haven’t offended you enough to stop reading yet, let me just say that I am by no means saying that any crossover or sequel is automatically a bad game (except MK vs DC; man, what a stinker!). In fact, I’d like to play a few of the above games myself, given the right time and place. But I don’t think I’d be too amiss in pointing out that Skullgirls actually promises a brand new IP, with its own characters, style, and legs to stand on in a marketplace crowded with name-brand recognition everywhere you turn. Just for this reason alone, I feel it has the potential to be a breath of fresh air, because man could our fighting game dictionary use some new vocabulary!
2. Enticing, Risque Art Direction
OK, so let’s just address the giant bra-and-panty clad anime elephant in the room: Skullgirls is going to appeal to some simply on a visual level. The character roster includes some definite fan service for the somewhat voyeuristic/somewhat pervy set who enjoy the adult side of Japanese animation, in that many of its female characters sport unrealistic proportions, “bouncy” physics, and tight or revealing clothing. Personally, I don’t find the presentation overly troubling. While it certainly isn’t doing a whole lot to further the cause of women in gaming, or representing them in a realistic manner, it’s unapologetic in its approach. Sex, like violence, sells, and Skullgirls combines the two in pretty yet unsettling ways.
3. A Promise of Dark and Gritty Undertones Belied by Clean Aesthetics
In addition to its titillating appearance, Skullgirls offers up plenty of contrasting dark imagery in its character designs and movesets. Many of the characters sport designs featuring surgical mutilations and parasitic infestations. Painwheel has surgical nails sticking out of her legs, and a bladed spine extending from her back, while Filia’s hair consists of a malignant creature with a mouth full of razor-sharp fangs, attached to her head. The character of Ms. Fortune takes things one step further: because she is unable to die, she is capable of ripping off her head in combat and using it as her own weapon.
Skullgirls takes plenty of innocuous everyday themes and perverts them to prey on some of our most basic fears as well. Valentine infuses her training as a nurse into her fighting style, using scalpels to great effect in combat, and zipping up her opponents in body bags during some of her special moves. Ultimately, she’ll have her adversary on the operating table, ready to perform one final surgery. Or take Parasoul, who uses her elite squad of Black Egrets – reminiscent of World War II-esque German storm troopers – to back her up. Meanwhile, Double is a twisted alien entity who poses as a nun wearing an upside-down crucifix, then literally turns her body inside out to get into her fighting stance. Nothing is safe or off-limits in Skullgirls‘ twisted take on our world.
4. A Well-Executed PR Campaign
The team behind Konami’s Skullgirls PR campaign has done a commendable job slowly engrossing the game-playing public in the game’s characters. A constant drip-feed of character and animation trailers, along with a slow and gradual reveal of the fighter roster one combatant at a time has heightened anticipation of the game’s ultimate release. Being given plenty of glimpses and tidbits of information over the past months, it’s gotten difficult not to salivate at the thought of finally being able to play the game! Sadly, with a still-as-yet-unspecified release date of “early 2012”, we know it’ll be soon, but we don’t know yet when. It’s like being told Christmas has been moved up to a secret day sometime in December; waking up each day wondering if it’s time yet is heightening anticipation to a fever pitch!
5. A Tournament Player’s Dream-Come-True, Helmed By Mike Z.
While it’s likely that some will immediately decry the game for its animated exploitation, the character models aren’t all the game has to offer players. Tournament aficionado Mike “Mike Z.” Zaimont has had his hands in developing the game’s engine since the beginning, thus ensuring that serious players will get what they’re looking for when the game is finally released. Already, it looks like things are shaping up nicely for players who like to introduce a strategic element and team-building into their brawling style. When forming teams (though you can solo it with a single character as well), players will be able to dictate what type of assists they want to tap into from their supporting characters. The game will have preset moves to choose from, but should you want a character to come in and lay down an uppercut or crouching kick instead, perhaps setting you up for executing an unblockable throw or special move, you can set that up in a custom assist panel. This introduces a level of strategy that in-depth fighters will appreciate, and with Mike Z. at the controls, there’s sure to be more fine-tuned options when the game goes gold.