The Switch version has a few bugs at the moment, but Skullgirls is still one of the best fighting games ever made.
It feels weird to be talking about Skullgirls. Don’t get me wrong—there are plenty of nice things to say about it. In addition to being an absolute blast to play, it has a vibrant and crisp visual style unlike anything else, an infectious soundtrack, and some of the best character designs I’ve ever seen. Skullgirls 2nd Encore is an incredible game–one of the very best. I’m ecstatic that it has been ported to the Switch, and it has been my distinct pleasure to revisit it.
Singing Skullgirls’ praises is odd, though, because in 2019, its legacy is already well-established. Talking about the merits of Skullgirls is like trying to tell people that Super Mario World is good. Everybody knows that already, so what’s the point? There are newer games to pick apart and digest. Skullgirls is amazing, but there isn’t much cause to be banging on about it seven years after its initial release.
But then there’s the Nintendo Switch. Miyamoto’s machine has helped usher in the present 2D-gaming renaissance we are enjoying, and it is a great fit for any retro game with a legacy and any retro-styled game with a dream. Skullgirls is now the former, and formerly the latter, so of course it has found a new home on the Switch.
Like many other recent Switch ports, this release of Skullgirls’ invites a whole new group of people to pick up the game. This new audience, in turn, gives journalists like myself another reason to sing its praises. Please don’t let my initial hesitancy fool you—I’m happy to oblige.
What’s so great about Skullgirls?
In a word—personality. Skullgirls has a ton of it. While it does take mechanical cues from great fighting game franchises that came before it (most notably Marvel vs. Capcom), Skullgirls is fiercely devoted to carving out its own identity and its own peculiar way of doing things. Everything about this game–its hype but articulate announcer, its stylish menus, its detailed stages–feels unique and handcrafted. It was even doing the old-timey cartoon aesthetic long before Cuphead made it popular. Generally speaking, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more eclectic blend of ideas than that which is present in Skullgirls.
However, there’s nothing more important to a fighting game’s identity than its cast of playable characters. Even great mechanics can feel tiresome and hollow if they aren’t paired with characters that look and feel cool. Well, I’m happy to report that Skullgirls has some of the best characters of all time. Street Fighter may sport the most iconic characters, but Skullgirls has some of the most original and inventive designs I’ve ever seen in a fighting game.
Take Valentine for example. In addition to being a ninja, Valentine is also a registered (evil) nurse. As a result of this bizarre pairing, she wields hospital equipment as weapons: she throws syringes like kunai, swings an IV pole like a naginata, and even pulls out some medical calipers to assist her kicks. She’s really cool, but she’s hardly the best character in the game—they are all similarly quirky and idiosyncratic. You can play Zelda music with one character’s moveset, for example, and another shape-shifts in order to personify various components of ancient Egyptian mythology.
All of Skullgirls’ characters are a little weird, sure, but they’re also overflowing with personality. Give them half a chance, and they will charm the heck out of you.
Game Feel, Difficulty, and Music
Not only does every character have great design and personality, they each play markedly different from one another. That’s because Skullgirls’ spirit of inventiveness extends to each and every move in the game. Every dash, button, special move, and super is lovingly handcrafted and unique. The attention to detail is amazing. It’s especially amazing when you consider that this is a six-button fighter and that each character has a plethora of special attacks and super moves.
Every button press is a treat in Skullgirls, which is definitely a good thing–you’ll be hitting a lot of them. Combos are quite lengthy, and the game expects you to move at a frenetic pace. While you can play at lower levels and still have fun, of course, you’ll soon want to start optimizing and competing against the monsters that play online. That requires an intimate acquaintance with your character’s buttons, moves, and movement options.
And that’s probably the one downside to Skullgirls—it isn’t exactly easy on newcomers. Even if you bring a basic knowledge of “fighting game things” to the table, your first match online will not go well. Combos last a long time in Skullgirls, and resets can happen in the blink of an eye. If you don’t know what to look for and how to defend yourself when the opportunity presents itself, the round will be over before you’ve even had a chance to play. With a little time and effort, though, you’ll soon be terrorizing newbies yourself.
In the meantime, there are so many things to enjoy about Skullgirls. For instance, in addition to great characters and animations, Skullgirls also has a wonderful soundtrack. The game’s two primary composers are Vincent Diamante and Michiru Yamane. Diamante had previously composed the music for Flower (2010), and Yamane for Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997). Like everything else about Skullgirls, its music is unique, memorable, and wonderful.
Before I address how the Switch handles this monolith of a fighting game, I’d like to commemorate the quality of Skullgirls’ online play. When it first released in 2012, even marquee releases like Street Fighter IV and Marvel vs. Capcom 3 were painful to play online. Skullgirls, though, ran as smooth as silk. It was a revelation. Skullgirls was the game that showed everyone how good online play could be.
I know what you’re thinking: “What’s the big deal? Games have been online forever. Who cares if this one ran well?” Well, fighting games are trickier than most games when it comes to online play. Every moment of every second is crucially important, so every dropped frame can be the difference between winning and losing. Very few fighting games have nailed the online experience, and Skullgirls is one of them. In fact, aside from this year’s Mortal Kombat 11, no other fighting game has even come close to replicating the quality of Skullgirls’ online play.
So how about the Switch release?
Skullgirls is still Skullgirls. It’s awesome. However, is there enough in the Switch version to warrant a new purchase? If you’ve already got the game on other platforms—no. There isn’t anything new here. This is just a re-release of Skullgirls 2nd Encore.
On the other hand, if you’ve never played this game, then maybe the Switch version is the right one for you. The Switch’s native portability is always a plus—you can bring it to parties or play it in bed, I guess—and there aren’t many downsides to playing on the Switch. Skullgirls still looks great here, and for the most part, it still runs great.
That said, there are—at present—a few bugs plaguing the Switch version of the game. Getting into online matches, for instance, is a problem. If you’re able to get into a match, it’ll run great—same old (fantastic) Skullgirls netplay, even on a Wifi connection. However, at present, there seems to be some kind of glitch that prevents people from connecting with one another.
There are also a couple of bugs that affect the game’s sound. The first of these regards the game’s story mode. Other versions of the game have a “fully-voiced” story mode—voice actors deliver every line. The Switch version, at the moment, offers no such voice acting. The other sound bug messes with the game’s background music. Some stages will occasionally load without a backing soundtrack, which is super odd and eerie. I’ve also heard others complain about stages playing two songs at once, but I haven’t experienced this issue directly.
Finally, 12 of the game’s 23 stages are currently “locked” on the Switch version of the game. 2nd Encore is intended as the definitive edition of Skullgirls, and that means it should come complete with every character, color, and stage. That’s how it works on other platforms, and I’m sure this is just an unfortunate oversight that will soon be corrected.
So the Switch version has some issues. However, the good news is that all of these problems are likely going to be fixed. The team behind the port (Skybound Games) is “aware” of the bugs, and they are trying to make things right. Soon, this game will be (almost) as good as it is on other platforms.
Moving forward, there’s only one issue that will continue to be a problem with this version of Skullgirls: load times. Load screens on the Switch linger for just a bit too long. They aren’t terrible, of course, but when it comes to fighting games, getting in and out of matches in a snappy manner is very important to me. In this regard, the Switch definitely lags things up a tad. That’s the price we pay for increased portability, I suppose.
I’ve already called Skullgirls one of the best fighting games ever, and I think that’s all you need to know. If you like the genre but have somehow missed out, I urge you to pick up 2nd Encore immediately. The Switch version is a little buggy at the moment, but it’ll be perfectly fine in a hot minute. You can also find 2nd Encore (for cheap) on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.