Lab Zero Games[a]
Hidden Variable Studios[b]
|Arcade system||Taito Type X2|
Skullgirls is a 2D fighting game independently developed by Reverge Labs and co-published by Autumn Games and Konami. The game was released through the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade in North America, Europe, and Australia from April to May 2012, and later received a Japanese release by CyberFront for the PlayStation Network in February 2013. A Microsoft Windows version, developed by Lab Zero Games and co-published by Autumn Games and Marvelous, was released in August 2013. A mobile version of the game, developed by Hidden Variable Studios, will be released for Android and iOS devices in late 2016.
In Skullgirls, players engage in combat against one another with teams of one, two, or three characters, attempting to knock out their opponents or have the most cumulative health when time runs out. The setting of the game revolves around the "Skull Heart", an artifact which grants wishes for women. If a wisher with an impure soul uses the Skull Heart, she is transformed into the next "Skullgirl", a monster bent on destruction. Skullgirls received generally positive reviews from critics, who praised the animation and gameplay mechanics, while criticizing its limited roster size and online multiplayer features.
Development of post-release content faced numerous setbacks. In May 2012, publisher Autumn Games was sued over allegations of fraud regarding an unrelated property, Def Jam Rapstar, cutting off Skullgirls' financial support and forcing developer Reverge Labs to lay off the entire development team. The core team would eventually reform as Lab Zero Games in November 2012, launching a successful crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to continue their work. After Autumn Games severed ties with co-publisher Konami in December 2013, the latter formally requested to have the game removed from the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade. The game was later re-released on both platforms as Skullgirls Encore.
The engine and playstyle for Skullgirls were intentionally modeled after Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes, incorporating several similar game mechanics such as tag team-based combat, character assists, snapbacks, and delayed hyper combos. The game can be played using different ratios of characters, with each player able to select up to three fighters on their team. The teams are then balanced based on the number of team members. A single character possesses more health and deals more damage, while larger teams gain the ability to perform character assists and recover health when tagged out. Players can also customize their character assist attacks.
The game includes a story mode, arcade mode, versus mode, training room, tutorial mode, and online play using the GGPO networking library. Skullgirls includes various unique features to address system and balance problems, such as infinite combo detection. When the game detects a looping combo through monitoring the players' attacks, the other player can break free of the infinite by hitting any button. In addition, Skullgirls offers protection against "unblockable attacks", which occur when a player, for example, uses a low-hitting move and a high-hitting assist attack at the same time, making it nearly impossible for the opponent to block. The game attempts to remedy the issue by offering a brief period of unblockable protection after successfully blocking any attack.
At release, Skullgirls Encore saw numerous gameplay adjustments and additions, including character balance tweaks, faster gameplay, an online training mode, and a stun meter designed to limit lengthy combos without compromising creativity. A new local game mode called "Typing of the Skullgirls", a mode inspired by games like The Typing of the Dead, was also added. When enabled, teams automatically generate meter and all attacks deal negligible damage. Super moves give typing prompts to the player, awarding damage for typing accuracy. In addition to fully voiced story modes and cross-platform play across the entire PlayStation family, Skullgirls 2nd Encore introduced challenges, where players fight against opponents under unique battle conditions; trials, which test players' skills by having them perform combos; and survival mode, which pits players against endless waves of enemies. The mobile version of Skullgirls will incorporate RPG-like progression, customization, and deck-building mechanics.
Skullgirls takes place in the fictional Canopy Kingdom, a country reminiscent of 1940s postwar America. In a corrupt and war-torn world, several individuals and organizations seek to obtain an artifact known as the Skull Heart. Once every seven years, the Skull Heart grants one woman's wish. However, if a woman with an impure soul attempts to use the Heart, her wish will be corrupted and she will be transformed into a monster known as the Skullgirl. Hundreds have sought after the Skull Heart, yet none of its wielders have been deemed worthy and spared of its curse.
Seven years following the Grand War, a battle fought between three nations, the newest Skullgirl, Marie, has emerged and begun to terrorize the Canopy Kingdom. The game follows several fighters and their journeys to confront Marie and claim the Skull Heart. Each character has their own motive for seeking the Heart, whether to destroy the artifact or use its power for their own interests.
The Skullgirls roster initially consisted of eight playable characters: Filia, Cerebella, Peacock, Parasoul, Ms. Fortune, Painwheel, Valentine, and Double. Following the conclusion of the game's Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, an additional five downloadable characters were developed: Squigly, Big Band, Eliza, Beowulf, and Robo-Fortune. On April 1, 2014, a clone of Filia, named Fukua, was added to the game. The character was intended to be a temporary inclusion for April Fools' Day, but was kept in response to fan feedback.
Skullgirls was originally conceived as several stray character designs that illustrator Alex "o_8" Ahad had been creating since high school. While attending college, Ahad had the hypothetical idea to use the characters concepts for a fighting game roster. The idea would later become a reality when Ahad was introduced to fighting game enthusiast and tournament-goer Mike "Mike Z" Zaimont, who had been working on a fighting game engine during his own spare time. Early work on their new Skullgirls project began in 2008. Engine development and pre-production began in 2009. Ahad and Zaimont pitched Skullgirls to several companies, eventually teaming up with recently founded independent developer Reverge Labs in 2010. They later went on to sign with publisher Autumn Games. At the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2011, Japanese developer and publisher Konami announced that they would help distribute the game.
Following the game's release, the Skullgirls team began teasing future content for the game, including new voice packs, color palettes, and downloadable characters. However, shortly thereafter, Autumn Games was hit with a series of lawsuits regarding Def Jam Rapstar, which "gummed up everything related to Autumn's funding." The entire Skullgirls development team was laid off by Reverge Labs in June 2012 after Autumn Games and Reverge Labs allowed their contract to expire without agreeing upon a new one. This prompted the team to reform under a new moniker, Lab Zero Games, to continue work on the PC release and downloadable content. Autumn Games, revealed to be in full possession of the IP, claimed it was "fully behind the new studio" and promised to "continue to work with [Lab Zero Games] in the future on all Skullgirls-related endeavors."
From January through February 2013, fighting game website Shoryuken hosted a charity donation drive to determine the final game to be featured in the 2013 Evolution Championship Series' tournament lineup, with all proceeds sent to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. The Skullgirls community raised over US$78,000, placing second to eventual winner Super Smash Bros. Melee, which raised over $94,000. Although the game did not win, Shoryuken announced that EVO 2013 event organizers would support the Skullgirls side tournament by providing prize money and exhibition support due to their effort in the fundraiser.
Crowdfunding and publisher transition
Despite Autumn Games' support and desire to expand Skullgirls, their continued litigation prevented the publisher from providing any financial backing. Attempting to pick up where they left off, Lab Zero Games decided to ask its fanbase for help once more, following the success of the EVO 2013 charity drive. On February 25, 2013, Lab Zero Games set up an Indiegogo page for Skullgirls, in an effort to raise $150,000 for the development of the game's first DLC character, Squigly. Contributors received various rewards, including desktop wallpapers, a digital copy of the official soundtrack, Steam keys for the PC release, Steam keys for Half-Minute Hero, and the chance to add a background character to the game, among others. The campaign reached its initial goal in less than 24 hours, while the stretch goal of a second DLC character, Big Band, secured funding in just over 2 weeks. A third DLC character, determined by fan vote, was funded during the final two days, along with a playable robotic version of Ms. Fortune named Robo-Fortune. An additional stretch goal that would provide a free license for the game's engine, Z-Engine, to the developers of Them's Fightin' Herds (at the time called Fighting is Magic) was also funded. With minutes left before the end of the drive, the last stretch goal was met, securing funding for another fan-selected DLC character. The Indiegogo campaign raised nearly $830,000 of its original $150,000 goal. Several alternate character and announcer voice packs were also funded. All downloadable characters and voice packs were free to download on all platforms within the first three months of their release.
On November 7, 2013, Lab Zero Games announced that Autumn Games had severed ties with Konami, citing Konami's unresponsiveness as a major hurdle to the release of further console patches. Following the dissolution of the partnership, Konami requested the removal of Skullgirls from the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade by the end of 2013. In response, Lab Zero Games announced on December 17, 2013 that Skullgirls would be re-released on consoles as Skullgirls Encore, a new build including up-to-date changes and additions, in January 2014. Encore marked the transition of the console versions to its new publishers, Marvelous and CyberFront, and coincided with the console releases of Squigly and the "Character Color Bundle" DLC. While Encore was released as a title update for the Xbox 360 version, the PlayStation 3 version required owners to re-download the game at no cost; leaderboard rankings, save data, and trophies were not carried over. The PC version was later patched to reflect the new title.
|Skullgirls Original Soundtrack|
|Soundtrack album by Various artists|
|Released||April 24, 2012|
|Genre||Video game soundtrack|
The Skullgirls Original Soundtrack consists of 28 original compositions. The album features music by Michiru Yamane, Vincent Diamante, Blaine McGurty, and Brenton Kossak. The soundtrack was released on April 24, 2012 on iTunes. People who donated at least $10 to the Skullgirls Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign received a digital copy of the soundtrack. An exclusive, physical CD release of the Skullgirls Original Soundtrack was offered, among other rewards, to those who donated $150 or more to the drive.
On April 20, 2011, Reverge Labs officially announced that they had enlisted Yamane, primarily known for her work on Konami's Castlevania series, to help create the soundtrack for Skullgirls. According to Richard Wyckoff, CEO of Reverge Labs, the developers sought out Yamane because "[they] knew her mixture of haunting gothic themes, jazz and rock would lend itself perfectly to Skullgirls' 'Dark Deco' style." When Reverge Labs requested Yamane to write "jazzy" music, she "played a bit with the rhythm and different sounds to try and heighten the impact and almost primal nature of the unique graphics."
Skullgirls was released on the PlayStation Network in North America on April 10, 2012, and the Xbox Live Arcade on April 11, 2012. Europe and Australia later received the PlayStation Network version on May 2, 2012. The game was released in Japan by CyberFront on the PlayStation Network in February 14, 2013, and was also brought to Japanese arcades through the NESiCAxLive digital distribution system. The public beta test for the Microsoft Windows version of Skullgirls began on July 4, 2013. The official Microsoft Windows version was released by Marvelous on August 22, 2013.
Skullgirls Encore launched on the PlayStation Network in North America on February 11, 2014, and Europe on March 19, 2014. The Xbox Live Arcade version of Skullgirls received an update for Encore on April 22, 2014. On July 10, 2014, Lab Zero Games announced that Skullgirls Encore would be released on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita sometime in 2014. The PlayStation 4 and Vita port, later titled Skullgirls 2nd Encore, would eventually be delayed until 2015. 2nd Encore was released for the PlayStation 4 on July 7, 2015. The Android and iOS versions will be released in late 2016.
In May 2013, when Lab Zero Games was asked on their official Twitter account about a potential release for Nintendo's Wii U console, the developer replied that while it was possible, it "[wasn't] looking likely", citing the console's low sales and not having an established "digital presence" at the time.
Several reviewers praised the presentation and animation. Ryan Clements of IGN praised the graphics, claiming that the game created "some of the best hand-drawn character sprites ever used in gaming." Clements also gave the game an Editor's Choice award. John Learned of GamesRadar also praised the art style, stating that the art deco design gave playable characters and backgrounds added flair. However, some reviewers criticized the art style and overtly sexualized all-female cast, including accusations of sexism. Dan Ryckert of Game Informer stated that while Skullgirls was beautifully animated, some animations were "juvenile and unnecessary". Ryckert expressed disappointment with the artistic focus on "anatomy and fetishistic outfits."
Reviewers also praised the gameplay and system mechanics. Maxwell McGee of GameSpot credited the ability to adjust team sizes, adding that the trade-off between strength and versatility helped to accommodate a wider skill range of players. Neidel Crisan of 1UP praised the tutorial system for teaching beginner players about the fundamentals of the fighting game genre. Daniel Maniago of G4 complimented the custom assists, anti-infinite system, and online play, praising Reverge Labs for utilizing feedback from the fighting game community during development.
Skullgirls received its share of criticism. IGN's Ryan Clements criticized the small selection of gameplay modes, missing character move lists, and overly aggressive AI. GameTrailers criticized the limited roster size, stating that the tag-based battling felt underdeveloped as a result. Simon Parkin of Eurogamer pointed out the lack of online features, such as a spectator mode, replays, and endless lobbies. Jordan Mallory of Joystiq reprimanded the game for its "goofy and immature" premise, sexualized art style, and unoriginal character movesets. Mallory concluded that the series would have been better off spending another year in development.
Skullgirls received Best Fighting Game nominations from IGN, 1UP, and the Official E3 Game Critics Awards. The game was nominated for 2012 Best Animated Video Game at the 40th Annual Annie Awards. Skullgirls was also recognized in the 2013 Guinness World Records Gamer's Edition for the most frames of animation per character, reaching 11,515 total frames for its initial eight characters and averaging 1,439 frames per fighter.
The game sold over 50,000 copies across both platforms within the first ten days of its release date. Skullgirls became the highest selling game on the Xbox Live Arcade upon its release. It was also listed as the third best-selling title on the PlayStation Network for April 2012. The game saw a similar performance in Japan, climbing to the top spot on the PlayStation Network’s list of best-selling downloadable PlayStation 3 titles within a week of its release. According to Peter Bartholow, CEO of Lab Zero Games, Skullgirls met Japanese publisher CyberFront's lifetime sales estimates in the first two weeks of its release.
- Lab Zero Games was responsible for developing post-release content.
- Hidden Variable Studios developed the mobile version of the game.
- Marvelous co-published the Microsoft Windows version of the game with Autumn Games.
- CyberFront published the PlayStation version of the game in Japan.
- Arc System Works published 2nd Encore in Japan.
- M2 handled the port of 2nd Encore for Japanese arcades.
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