David vs Goliath is a 7-3 Matchup

Mike Zaimont and Reverge Labs show the big boys how to make a real fighting game.
Author: Vincent Ingenito
Published: April 15, 2012
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If you've attended a fighting game tournament or video game convention in the last 3 years, it's likely that you've already played Reverge Lab's Skullgirls in some form or another. For project lead Mike Zaimont, the game has been a labor of love – a magnum opus whose balancing he could only trust to the only other folks he knows besides himself that are qualified to do so: tournament level fighting game players. He's spent years showing the game off to fight enthusiasts, explaining his design decisions and asking for feedback. This bird has been in the oven for what seems like forever, but its time has finally come and the wait was most definitely worth it. Skullgirls is an intelligently designed and impeccably balanced fighting game that stands out from the pack in terms of both style and substance.

Let me get something out of the way right from the start here. Mike Zaimont (known in the fighting game community as Mike Z) is a respected, tournament caliber fighting game player. His vision for Skullgirls was to create the most tightly balanced fighting game possible for competitive players. That isn't to say the game alienates the casual player. Not at all. In fact, the game does an excellent job of teaching the basics of real, competitive play to the uninitiated with its excellent tutorial mode. That said, if you are a person who is solely interested in pressing buttons and seeing cool shit happen, you are going to be missing out on a lot of what makes this game special. Don't get me wrong, I can see casual players getting together with some friends and beers and having a grand old time. But the true beauty of Skullgirls is in the details, which may be lost on certain types of players.

The bulk of these details are in the fighting system itself, a system which Mike Z has clearly poured all of his competitive experience into designing. The basic gist of it is such: opponents select between one and three characters to form their fighting team and have at it until one player has had all their characters wiped out. Teams with multiple characters also pick assist attacks for each, moves that they will come in to aid the active character with when called. While it sounds like choosing three characters would always be the way to go, this isn't at all the case. The fewer characters you have on your team, the more health they have and the more damage they deal. This setup harkens back to Capcom vs SNK 2, a hardcore fan favorite. It's great because it allows character specialists who want to focus on one character to stay competitive with people who like building complex teams with complementary assists.

And the assist system is another thing that really stands out about Skullgirls. Similar games like Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 have you choose between three different predetermined attacks for your character to use as an assist. Skullgirls also gives you three different options, but while the first two are preset, the third is user defined. Selecting this “custom assist” lets you perform any ground based normal or special move and set it as your character's assist. The number of strategic opportunities this opens up is immense. With the ability to essentially call any move in the game as an assist, the number of different setups one could come up with is virtually limitless. Overall, with the ability to create squads of various sizes and set custom assists for each of them, the game boasts substantial long term replayability, despite its small selection of characters.

While we're at it, lets talk about that 8 lady roster. While such a small cast may seem like a bummer to casual players who are constantly looking for a new set of moves to keep them entertained, it's actually a boon for tourney players. It ensures that they will always have match experience against whatever character they face in a tournament, and fewer characters also makes the game a lot easier to balance. I'd forgotten how fun it was to play a fighting game that isn't riddled with clearly overpowered characters and near undefendable gimmicks. It's also great to play with such a well diversified, unique bunch of pugilists. Every major style of play is represented from zoning and keep away, to rush down and grappling. Despite their small numbers, the character's unique mechanics make each of them an absolute joy to play.

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