Skullgirls 2nd Encore Review

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Title: Skullgirls 2nd Encore
Developer: Autumn Games, Lab Zero Games
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Type: Vita
Download: 2.6 GB
NA Availability: 
Digital Download 

EU Availability: Digital Download
PSTV Support: 
Yes

Fighting games have been an increasing pleasure for me in the handheld world.  I’ve played nearly every fighter there is to play on the Vita, and have enjoyed almost every single one of them, especially Injustice and Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3.  More fighters keep coming to the gaming world, and the Vita has recently gotten another fighter in its arsenal, of the Skullgirls franchise.

Skullgirls is what I’d like to call a great example of the current fighter business model, but also of how to do it right.  The game, just called Skullgirls, released on PC.  When they added content to make “Skullgirls Encore”, they added updates to the original game for that content, rather than packaging it as another fully-priced game.  Finally, they made 2nd Encore, for the PlayStation world for Encore with all of the DLC bundled in.

PS4 players have been able to enjoy this game for some time now, PS Vita players waiting a bit for them to finish optimizing the game for the handheld console.  Now that it is here, we can all see if the wait was worth it.  This is my official review of Skullgirls 2nd Encore!

Story

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Legends speak of an ancient artifact known as the Skull Heart.  If obtained, it can grant any woman’s wish.  However, if she is impure of heart, it will transform her into a powerful, evil entity known as the Skullgirl.  We fall into the world as a new Skullgirl is born and at large.  There are many others out to defeat her, some seeking the Skull Heart while others trying to protect the civilian population from the destruction.

The story of this game I find to be very unique as it melds a lot of different feels.  The general art style really has a “Noire” feel to the setting but also a very retro cartoon and anime theme to it.  The VN cutscenes really help the anime and cartoon feel of it, and it is fully voiced, which also helps.

Gameplay

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Skullgirls is a 2D fighting game, much like most fighters.  If you imagine games that are 2D in art and environment, like BlazBlue, this is the kind of fighter you’re looking at.  As you play through the game, you’ll be participating in 2D one-on-one battles in 2D arenas like any 2D fighting game.

As far as game modes are concerned, there’s a good number of things to do.  These are divided into Single Player, Versus, Training, Help & Options, Leaderboards, and Extras.  Each of these has several different things you can do, be it playing a game mode or looking at unlocked artwork.

Single Player is divided into Story Mode, Arcade Mode, Quick Match, Survival Mode, and a toggle one of the six difficulty settings.  Story Mode allows you to choose any of the 14 characters’ story arcs for you to play, while Arcade Mode lets you just fight through a gauntlet of battles.  CPU Quick Battle lets you set up a single fight against the opponent of your choosing and Survival lets you endlessly fight enemies until you finally loses.

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Story Mode in this game is one of the strangest story modes I’ve seen in games.  Some characters’ story arcs have practically no story and are like Arcade Mode, but with a scene at the beginning at the end.  Others, however, have extensive plot scenes between each and every battle.  It’s like combining BlazBlue’s way of handling story with Tekken’s, depending on who you decide to play as.

Versus is for multiplayer.  This lets you participate in online or local battles in Tournament Mode, Local Mode for local multiplayer, Quick Match, and then being able to create or join unranked online matches.  There is also a section for Invites, where you can check on invites you’ve sent to PSN Friends to play with you.

Training has a Training Room where you can practice moves and combos, and then there’s Tutorial Mode to go through each of the 37 tutorial lessons for learning how combat works.  Finally, you have Challenges and Trials, which are meant to put you in specific conditions, forcing you to fight and learn from certain situations to better prepare you for both Story Mode and Multiplayer.

Finally are Help & Options, Leaderboards, and Extras.    Options lets you change button configuration, settings, and see how to play.  Leaderboards lets you check the online leaderboard rankings.  Then, Extras lets you view artwork and other unlocked media for the game.

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Combat is pretty typical for a fighter of this type.  You have various types of punches and kicks that you use for fighting.  You also have some special attacks that are dependent on your character.  Some characters can turn their hair into weapons while others can summon undead warriors to fight for them.  Each of these have their own attack types and combos that you can set up.

What I will say is that Skullgirls has a very heavy focus on blocking and knowing how to get around a blocking opponent.  If you normally ignore blocking, this game will kick your butt, no matter what difficulty you’re on.  I tried all six difficulty settings and the boss-tier battles were tough as nails, even on the Sleepwalk Easiest difficulty setting.  You cannot simply button-mash to get through it.  You have to learn how to block and get around blocks or you will not be able to beat anyone’s story mode, let alone fend for yourself in multiplayer.

Outside of this is a surprisingly-deep combat system.  There are a lot of different options you have for combos and everyone feels different.  One character’s special combos could be for close combat while another may have different combos for close and mid-range, needing you to learn to keep your distance when you can.

Across all these game modes, there’s a lot to do.  The original Skullgirls took about 3 hours, give or take, to beat.  Accounting for all of the extra story content released since then, and the difficulty curve, I’d clock it more at 6-8 hours for Story Mode.

Controls

The controls for the game are pretty nice.  It was known a long time ago that not only was this game compatible with the PlayStation TV, but it supports multiple-controller local multiplayer on the PSTV.  Along with this, there are separate controls for the L2 and R2 buttons.  Two types of attacks can be used, one if you press R2 with L2 held down, and another by pressing L2 while R2 is held down.

For the standard controls, the D-Pad and Left Analog Stick can be used to move your character around the stage.  The Right Stick doesn’t do anything.  L and R are used for special attack combos as well as extensions of the Kick and Punch combo attacks you can use with the four face buttons.

I would say the controls work quite nicely.  The tutorial areas show you what everything does and everything responds with great accuracy.

Presentation

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Visually, the game’s environments and character models really bring out that “cartoon” feel of the artistic design.  Each of the models in battle look really well-done and just watching all the effects in the Training Room and standing still can show you just how much work was put into this game.

However, there are two things I’m going to nitpick about the presentation.  First of all, many of the menus and even a lot of the in-battle HUD is very blurry and hard to read.  Even on the PSTV with my 19” TV less than a foot from my face, I find it very hard to read many of the menus.

The other is the lag present in multiplayer matches.  Whenever I play online with someone, the battles have a considerable amount of slow-down.  It is all consistent and feels like a balanced frame-rate drop, but a drop, nonetheless.  The game performs much less smoothly in multiplayer than it does offline.

Summary

Skullgirls 2nd Encore is a new fighter that’s hit the Vita with cross-buy and cross-play with the PS4 release.  It has a couple issues with blurred menus and multiplayer lag, but if you’re a hardcore fighting fan, this has got the difficulty and depth to give you a run for your money. 

8/10

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