Ladies and Gentlemen (?), it’s Showtime!

Gabriel Silvas, Columnist

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There exists an ancient wish-granting device that will grant the desire of any woman. This artifact is known as the Skull Heart. However, much like the Holy Grail from Fate/Stay Night, the Skull Heart hides a darker side to its power. Whosoever wishes upon the Skull Heart, but are impure of heart, will have their wish corrupted and twisted, transforming the woman into a creature of great power and destruction. From that point on, they become what’s known as The Skullgirl. After the demise of the most recent Skullgirl, the Skull Heart has finally reappeared once more, prompting a number of people to start hunting for the artifact, whether to make their own wishes come true or to destroy it.

What I like to call “the little fighting game that could”, Skullgirls, developed by Reverge Labs, published by Konami and Autumn Games, and currently maintained by Lab Zero Games, is a very quirky and charming fighting game that has a bunch of talent behind it, such as fighting game veteran Mike Zaimont, art by Alex Ahad, voice direction by Cristina Valenzuela, and music by Michiru Yamane. Despite having a bit of a troubled production after the first release of the game, something that continued to plague the team for a long time, they have been able to stay together and continue improving the game and provide additional content beyond its original scope.

The base game features eight playable characters, with six additional fighters added as DLC, though one of them was patched in for free. The original playable cast includes Filia, a young, amnesiac girl with a parasite named Samson stuck to her head; Cerebella, a performer and hitwoman for the Medici mafia family; Peacock, a young war orphan turned into a killing machine with a love for cartoons; Parasoul, the crown princess of the Canopy Kingdom and daughter of the previous Skullgirl; Ms. Fortune, a former cat burglar (heh) with a nigh-infinite healing factor; Painwheel, a young schoolgirl experimented on and made into a living weapon; Valentine, a secretive assassin working for the Skullgirl; and Double, the eldritch abomination that carries out the will of the Skull Heart. The final boss is the Skullgirl herself, Marie, who wishes for nothing more than bloody vengeance against the Medici family for what they did to her and her best friend. The DLC characters include Squigly, the reborn and currently undead opera singer and last member of the Contiello family aided by her own parasite, Leviathan; Big Band, a former police officer turned literal one man band designed to hunt down the Skull Heart; Fukua, a clone of Filia designed by Lab Zero director Brain Drain; Eliza, an ancient and powerful evil inhabited by the parasite Sekhmet; Beowulf, a former wrestling star looking to rekindle his career; and Robo-Fortune, a robotic copy of Ms. Fortune created by Brain Drain.

The game is unique in that all of the character sprites are drawn and animated by hand, but utilizes a 3D engine. What this achieves is that the engine automatically adds shading to the character sprites, removing the work of having to do that manually. Hand-drawn animation costs a LOT more than you would think, because the animators have to draw every frame of animation, code the hitboxes for those frames, make sure they make sense and aren’t too big or small, and make sure that the animation is smooth throughout. The automatic shading takes a lot of time and work off of the animator’s backs, allowing them to perfect other processes.

The Story Mode follows each character’s journey to find, control, or destroy the Skull Heart, focusing on the selected fighter’s scenario. As such, there is no canon route for the game. Rather, the canon info provided involves the world, what happened in the past, and the abilities and actions of the characters prior to the story. For example, Filia’s story follows her trying to rediscover her memories (that Samson may have had a hand in) and trying to free Painwheel, while Double’s has it eliminating the cast one by one to pave the way for the Skull Heart’s will. Originally, there were going to be alternating endings to each character’s story, but they were scrapped when the content was deemed too dark and grim, which is saying something considering some of the endings and the setting.

The art style of the game harkens back to the “Golden Age of Hollywood” with some noir thrown in, making it a very vibrant, colorful, and alive world. Each character reflects that colorfulness in their basic design and alternate colors, especially Double, though in its case, it goes from charming right down to nightmare fuel. The stages feature background characters of unique designs, with some in particular showcasing a rotating cast of people and other beings that are so intricate and original, you’d be forgiven if you think they could be playable at some point. Many of these characters were part of the game’s Indiegogo campaign, where donators had the chance to have them or their fan characters be put into the game as part of the scenery. Meanwhile, the original background characters or characters from the lore of the game would go on to have the chance to be promoted to playable character during the campaign. The characters that won went on to be the DLC characters mentioned above.

For as much effort the game has had put into it, it is notoriously screwed with by many things. From being dropped by Konami and the team being laid off, to which they formed Lab Zero Games to continue working on the title, to the company not even making money from the game being sold, the team have had a hard time, which is a reason the Indiegogo campaign was made. Eventually, Lab Zero finally started to make the money from the game, which came as a major relief to them and the fans. As of recently, they have released the next-gen variation of the game, Skullgirls: 2nd Encore. This version features a voiced story mode and alternate voice packs among other upgrades, and possibly more room for DLC characters.

I’ll admit, I didn’t think much about Skullgirls at first. Besides the interesting art style, it never really caught my attention. It wasn’t until I learned about the ongoing saga of poor Lab Zero and the game, which was around the time of the Indiegogo campaign, that I became interested, then heavily invested, and finally caving and buying Skullgirls: Encore when it released and absolutely loving the quirky and addictive fighter. If you have or plan on buying a PS4, I would suggest getting 2nd Encore, which is also on the PC as an update. Otherwise, I highly suggest this little gem for the last-gen consoles.