Skullgirls 2nd Encore is an Arcade/Fighting game, so if you’re expecting innovation in gameplay, you will not find it here. The standard mechanics have already been set in this genre, and Skullgirls follows it quite accurately. This of course isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just means the game has to exceed in other aspects to prove that it’s remarkable and unique. Luckily, Skullgirls manages to set itself apart with its overwhelming sense of style.
Simply from a perspective on style, this game is clearly brimming with it. Its film noir aesthetics paired with its smooth jazz original soundtrack give life to even the menu design. Of course, where Skullgirls really excels in personality, is in its characters. Each character feels like their own complete, unadulterated package, and all 14 of them fall under the same surprisingly delightful visual design of what I like to call “cutesy-grotesque”. Ms. Fortune is probably the best representation of this, be it the way she plays with her own severed head like a cat tossing around a ball of yarn. Every character has their own storyline that often connects with the other characters, creating this feeling of a much more established world. And to top it off, the dialogue and voice acting positively superb (especially Peacock’s anime voices).
It’s actually quite remarkable just how fleshed out the story of Skullgirls is. The fighters all connect through the common pursuit of the Skullheart, and each character comes from their own specific place in the world with their own interesting and unique upbringings. While I could go into detail explaining the lore, I believe it to be more enjoyable and rewarding when experiencing it firsthand. Part of the fun of Skullgirls is playing through these storylines and learning more about this very diverse cast. That being said, I really like how even the side characters leave a lasting impression, and definitely feel like they have a well-deserved place in the world. Be it the Dagonians, the Medicis, Peacock’s gang, or anyone else; they all feel just as important as the main playable cast.
Every mode in the game is pretty entertaining, albeit rather basic. Story mode takes you through a handful of rounds with visual novel style cutscenes in between to give a bit of context for the fights you’ll be partaking in. Arcade mode is that, minus the cutscenes. And Survival mode is just an endless amount of arcade fighting goodness.
Onto the actual gameplay, Skullgirls is a pretty competent fighter. There’s kicks and punches and specials and combos; everything you’d probably expect a fighting game to have. What the game doesn’t have however, is a decent unlockables system. There is a myriad of concept art to unlock through a variety of tasks, but if you haven’t checked out the Extras tab from the Main Menu, you would never know it exists. There are also no directions on how to obtain any of the art. While this doesn’t affect the core gameplay in any way, shape or form, it definitely feels like a missed opportunity for a more rewarding way to track progression.
If you’re new to fighting games, prepare to be mildly confused at the beginning. The button labelling is what really tripped me up when trying to learn the game. Instead of just simply labelling its commands with the traditional face and shoulder buttons of the PS Vita, Skullgirls expects you to understand the light punch, medium punch, heavy/hard punch, light kick, medium kick, and heavy/hard kick (that’s LP, MP, HP, LK, MK, and HK for short) buttons for when reading any character’s move list. It’s annoying at first, but once you memorize it you should be good to go.
Now, as far as the PS Vita specifications are concerned, it’s very clear that there were some sacrifices made for overall performance. Backgrounds for arenas are 2-dimensional and have significantly lower resolution than the characters fighting in front of it. Menus suffer from the same lack of crisp visuals, and the blurred letters can make smaller writing much harder to read. Also it can take upwards of 20 seconds just to load a quick match. All these sacrifices are not in vain however, as the most important part of the game seems to remain intact: the characters. Their models are gorgeous and their animations are fluid, so at least there’s that.
Skullgirls 2nd Encore is crammed full of style and allure. It has a cool film noir vibe and its charming yet fearsome cast makes for a very well-rounded roster. The game feels as polished as it can be, but technical limitations seem to weigh it down a bit. Its variety of modes should leave you with plenty of hours of entertainment, and the story mode in particular shows just how incredibly thought-out the world and every character in it is. Altogether, Skullgirls 2nd Encore is a pretty impressive package, and it’s one that I don’t think I’ll stop playing any time soon.
Oh, and if you’re bad at fighting games like I am, stay far away Online mode. The player base is merciless and they scare me.