Eighty one. That is the amount of hours that I have sunk into my new favorite game lately. A game that surprised me, in that I got it for free. Not a single cent, thanks to the generosity of a very cool dude. Of course that man is….some dude from my work. And the game is DOTA. Sike! However, this isn’t a DOTA blog, much to my own surprise. I have sunk hour upon hour into DOTA and it is a crazy deep game. I have a 40 game Steam backlog, and that’s just whats installed, yet nothing could break me away - wandering through Skyrim, killing giant insects, whapping people in the face with a big purple dildo or punching irradiated scorpions. Then on the main site, our wonderful community manager handed out some codes to Skullgirls, and well...I have pretty much traded games now. Eight hours. That is how much time I have spent in Skullgirls so far. So I wanted to talk about the game a bit.
Monkey Steals the Peach: Taterchimp’s Background in Fighting Games
I initially felt really bad taking one of the codes, considering the minor controversy that followed soon after. I felt like I had deprived someone who would have really enjoyed the game a code. But clearly, I like the game, right, so it wasn’t a waste? Well, that’s where things get tricky. See...I like fighting games in theory. I have watched a bunch of videos online of Poongko, Daigo and uh...Marvel vs Capcom 3 guys. Sorry, I’m not on a handle basis with them yet. But my adoration from these games comes from the mastery of the technical aspect of the game. Way way way back (like...8 or 9 years...so sort of far back) I used to do super crappy amateur swordfighting either with bamboo swords or with a foil depending on the day. We played a game with the bamboo ones called ‘lose a limb’ where if you get hit in any appendage, then you can’t use it for the rest of the fight and if you get hit in the body, you were ‘dead’. We held tournaments, and did it outside of school for recreation. Oh yeah, this was for school. For choir. Yeah. Anyway, it didn’t matter how in shape anyone was when fighting, because the physical piece of it was only about a quarter of the total skill required. The other skills were reading your opponents movements, looking at their eyes to see what they might be looking for, watching your footing in case you need to quickly move back. It was all incredibly fun, and when you got someone who was actually good at it, it was awe inspiring. We once held an impromptu party at someone’s graduation only to learn their uncle was versed in kendo. Needless to say, he could often ‘kill’ someone in a single motion. It was beautiful. This love of technique really ignited my love for watching fighting games. Looking at Poongko play, you can tell when he is in control and out of control of the match. With Seth, he could be missing every opportunity he has, then he would land one spinning piledriver and suddenly the fight would reset - that moment to collect himself, the reset in positioning, the opportunity to start up again always seemed to energize the way that he played.
As for me? Well, I never could break into the scene. Growing up, I had the Street Fighter 2 cart, but was never really good at it. I could usually make it to M. Bison with Blanka, but would crumple soon after. My ability to perform the dragon punch movement on the d-pad was non existant. And combos? Those weren’t a thing. I still had a lot of fun though, as I got to play with my brother which was always good times. He would always beat me pretty soundly because he actually understood the mechanics at work with the game. Also during this age, I played a lot of King of the Monsters for the SNES, but that doesn’t really count.
Included for my own nostalgia....move along
The next major venture in my tournament fighting career was Clay FIgher 63 ⅓. I had a lot of fun playing as the amorphous blob of clay in that one...wait, that description helps approximately none. I generally liked Blob, but I remember the halloween one being fun, but overall, my favorite was the last boss. I recall (its been a loooooong time since I played) that he had the longest combo in the game, and I would work on the execution over and over again. Against the computer, against my brother, against any of my friends who played it. See, I have a disorder with gaming: I like big numbers. Big numbers turn me on. In EDF, the armageddon cannon makes me giggle, getting a post pended K in Borderlands 2 as the sniper made me jump for joy, and executing a 100 hit combo makes me rock hard. Either that or the art, but I haven’t even gotten to Skullgirls proper, so Ill say its the combo.
There was also a brief infatuation with Soul Calibur, as Raphael (so many attacks...so many), often just using the poke strategy. My favorite tournament fighter though was hands down Marvel vs Capcom 2. The movie theatre where I lived had a working cabinet for it, so I would often go to movies just to play the darn thing. Any guess who my favorite character was? Cable. Double tap a punch for a gun, and a super that is easy to pull off that does a ton of hits? Yes please. Not sure if I knew how to cancel into anyone else’s super at that point, but it may have happened just to up that score and damage numbers. I actually had a pretty solid 3 man going, enough where I could beat the final boss and engrave my name into arcade history in the leaderboards. I believe that particular machine was set to a lower difficulty because I could not manage it years later with my same ‘strategy’ or lack thereof, but I had a blast with it. I tried to make MvC3 happen when I was depressed one day...I saw the demo in Best Buy and it got me out of my crappy mood that day, so I took it home, but the spark just wasn’t there. Plus, watching people online it was clear I was playing at the lowest possible tier in that game. However, I did have a lot of fun with a series of combos. Combos that always seemed to end with the raging demon.
Oh the raging demon. I remember where I first learned that one: Capcom vs SNK. Akuma and God Rugal could end just about any run I had in that game. I don’t even remember my mains for that game, I just remember painful, painful death when either showed their face. Especially with that feeling of utter loss as one of them would land a single hit into that damned ultimate. And yet, like with Megaman X, it just served as motivation. I want that. I want to be that annoying guy who uses that broken ass attack. I want to know what happens in that darkness that slaughters my opponent.
This is where we get into my penultimate venture in the fighting game genre (for the purpose of the blog) - SSF43D. It was one of the few launch titles for my day one 3DS that I would defend to the death for no real reason. I messed around with abilities that I could have never pulled off years ago by mapping them to the bottom, but I eventually grew tired of just spamming specials and decided to try and learn how to play. I actually got some of the super beginner combos down with Akuma, and generally had a blast playing with him. I still mapped his Super and Ultra to the bottom screen so I wouldn’t have to do the dance each time I wanted to use it, but I had the sequence memorized down pat. I eventually worked my way up to hard difficulty against the AI with Akuma, using my basic moves, decent reads, and crappily timed dragon punches. But really, my heart wasn’t in it. I was good at it, but it was an excuse to turn on the 3DS. See, you youngins, there was once a time when the 3DS was a failure, and buying one was considered a mark of deep, deep shame.
So finally, that takes us to….
I Really Like Skullgirls
I think David Carradine put it best right after he finished up his Superman speech in Kill Bill when he said “the point emerges”. I got Skullgirls from the codes given away, and I have been putting crazy amount of time into it. Why? Well, for the first time it feels like I ‘get’ a lot more of the genre than I had before. I started messing around in Arcade mode, picking the first characters that looked appealing (in more ways than one, I suppose) and just tried to see what I could do, and I really had a blast. Pretty much there are only a few commands that you could use in a fighting game - QCF, QCB, Dragon Punch, hold back then forward, hold down then forward, and then your bread and butter combo of light medium heavy punch/kick. Much to my surprise, I was able to figure out about half of Parasouls roster the first time I played as her, and made it to the last boss (on easy) without much of a fret. Then I went into training mode and discovered her Super moves, and thus the formula for all supermoves. See, in other fighting games, a super might be something like Half Circle Back, forward, and two buttons, or something like LP,LP, forward, LK, HP. In Skullgirls, most ultimates are quarter circle double punch/kick. That’s it. For almost every character. One has a full circle rotation, but the timing is super lenient as compared with other games (also, it does a ton of damage). But really, the game is just meant to be accessible for people like me, and that has really been my jam. After some experimenting though, I found my love of the game. Do you know who? Did you read the title, of course you did. Not pulling another DOTA fastball on you here.
Valentine. Valentine is awesome. Where to begin with my love for this girl? First of all, almost all of her light and medium attacks can be mashed to extend the combo. This increased the hit counter (mental checkbox is officially checked), which also gives you time to think out your plan more than having to immediately recall the button combination used to get to the next step of the combo. Its super nice. One of the first things that I learned is that if your opponent is turtling your combos, you have a command throw (a throw outside of the normal throw button combination, unique to that character) that can be semi-comboed into. If the opponent reacts quickly or pushes your combo back before you input it, it will miss, but against most of the opponents on normal difficulty, it just goes right on through. This command throw is balls to the walls amazing in that it deals a ton of damage. My bread and butter combo was three light punches, four medium punches, two heavy kicks, and then a command throw. Even if they blocked the combo, I put in the rest of it anyway. Its that good. By the way, that heavy kick that I mentioned? Also amazing. It has an enormous arc to it meaning it can swat people out of the air, and has a huge range meaning you can poke effectively with it. Note that is my definition of poke, not the games.
The only downside with the technical is that it gives you a large gap between you and your opponent, and if you want to apply pressure, you have to make up that gap. Valentine has an ability that more than does that: a full screen dash like move...basically a personal hadouken, if you will. This covers any gap, and can be done in mid air. Neat! The opposite of this is her actual hadouken input, which either throws a syringe if you charged it, or a shuriken if you did not. As my strategy was usually “jump in, mash mash mash, technical throw”, I didn’t see much a use for that move.
Then I went through the wonderful training - this game does a great job at explaining fighting game basics, and has a few neat twists. Like I mentioned before, you can push back opponents while you are blocking, and there is an infinite combo breaker move, and some other stuff. But the tutorial taught me two large lessons: you can cancel a button for a special attack, and you can cancel a special for an ultra. All of the sudden, the doors were open. I was seeing for the very first time. Instead of my technical….I could do something else...THEN I COULD TECHNICAL. WHOA. This started experimentation, both against AI and against training dummies. After learning her three ultimates (super full screen dash, super fireball, super technical), I was ready to start my chains. My favorite soon became the light punch, the bonesaw medium, the kicking medium, two heavies into a super fireball, followed by an OTG heavy kick - yeah, it has an OTG, too - followed by the super dash. Two meters is just the price to pay for some progress baby!
Then I watched some videos on people in tournaments playing Valentine, and oh my god...I was so close to glory, but so far away. You can chain her technical. Into her super. PHWOAR.
….thank you, Skullgirls….thank you….
That combo is devastating. Oh, are you blocking my chain? Well, there goes a third of your health. Deal with it. But that wasn’t even the biggest revelation. The shots that I mentioned before with her fireball can be charged three different colors, depending on how you punch when you charge them. One is poison, one is input lag, and the third is banana nutball awesomesauce: hit stun increase. So you do your combo all the way through, then before you break it was a move that separates you and your opponent, you hit them with a syringe….then open up a whole new combo. A combo that could include attacks that you could never chain with before. Heavy punch joined the combo fray. And just like that, I was setting off the infinite combo system alarms. As someone who doesn’t know a lot about fighting games, it felt good to have the game tell me that I am cheating because of how awesome my combos are.
So let’s talk about magical christmas land, shall we? Fully charged hitstun dart. Light punch, bonesaw times four, kick times four, hard kick times two, syringe. Light kicks and heavy, then light kicks into an uppercut into a flying bonesaw into a body bag into a super fireball (yeah, you can do that in the air too)....into an off the ground heavy, into her other super. Two meters burned, about 40% health removed, and between 40 and 50 hits, depending on how crap I executed it. The first time pulling it off in a match against AI, I felt like Trinity in the Matrix, watching myself Neo all over that poor computer bastard - I moved like they did. I have never seen myself move like that before. I have never invented my own combo that had diminishing returns so intense, where I was burning a bar of meter for another five to ten percent, instead of the full 20 that it should give me. God it feels good.
So at the end of the day, the game got me really excited about jumping in (which I now understand in practice, instead of just in theory), pulling off a combo, determining which way to take it :large dart, technical, technical into super, into air, into air plus super, into air plus two supers, etc. It feels good to know where my super will chip out the opponent. I love knowing which combo has what reach if I am or am not in the corner. I enjoy figuring out if I should use my super to get my opponent in the corner, or if I should just use my heavy attacks to knock them across the stage instead. I was able to make it to the last boss on the hardest difficulty today, something which I am very proud of considering how much I absolutely cannot block to save my character’s life.
Finally, I will admit, I like the way Valentine looks. I didn’t mention it, but she is a sexy nurse/ninja hybrid. Her shurikens are little bandages, her heavy kick uses an IV stand, her ultimate performs surgery, and she has a level 5 that is capable of reviving her teammates (if I ever played with any). She is a sexy killing machine, with outrageous combos, and I absolutely love her.
The rest of the game!
So I feel like I have gone on for a while about a single character, and that I should close with my thoughts on the rest of the game. Given recent events, the most prominent thing to be discussed in the game would be the art direction. It makes me uncomfortable. All of the cast is girls, most of which are hyper sexualized. Besides the ‘boosted’ proportions, there is also a large amount of panty flashing in the course of the game. Typically when in the middle of a combo, either you, your opponent, or both will be exposing some cooch covers. Now, it isn’t played up like Senran Kagura or anything like that, but it is rather front and center. I don’t find it overly offensive, or to be too much, and in fact I think it adds a certain something. On the other hand, I wouldn’t play this game in front of my parents, and I certainly wouldn’t want to bring it up to any of my coworkers. It just has a bit too much of a smut background for me to wholeheartedly say ‘you will like this game’. The hand drawn art is strikingly beautiful, however.
Pictured: My brain and my genitals, fighting for attention
Next, I wanted to say that I really appreciated a lot of the references that they make in the game. Many of the moves are either named something similar to existing moves, or the character makes a reference to a well known move. This covers Ken/Ryu, Wolverine ,and I believe Sagat, and probably a few others. The humor was appreciated. Much of the dialogue in the game is amusing as well, but is repeated ad infinitum (a problem which I don’t blame it for, but it is a bit grating to hear the same joke for the 17th time). The omnomnom attack will never got old, though.
The arcade mode is rather interesting, but can be frustrating at times. I feel like there is a high chance that I get paired against Filia or Cloberella (or whatever her name is) for the 1 on 1 fights over anyone else. Some of the AI seems much better than others, with Double’s being far and away one of the better ones, the Painwheel being one of the worst. Then there’s the last boss….I never fight her. There is never a reason. She is a super powerful character that has 3 equally annoying forms, which are overpowered to the point where she couldn’t reasonably appear as a playable character. I get that the last boss should feel powerful, but Rugal and Seth and Bison were all powerful but balanced. This is just ‘can you not get zoned out for 99 seconds?’. Then I realized that you can beat the forms with liberal use of spam - the first form can be super spammed, the second can be easily beaten with the kick fireball from valentine spammed, and the final form can be bodybagged without much problem. It doesn’t feel satisfying like all the other fights. But, I can just skip that fight when I get to it and go back to tier one of the arcade mode.
Finally, I am a big fan of the custom team idea - you can have anywhere between 1 and 3 characters on your team at once, and they basically split their power between the three of them. If you have one, you get double damage and double health (or something like that). If you have other characters you can call in assists. If you call in an assist, you can get that hero comboed into tomorrow (which is basically the best thing ever, especially with 2 bars up). You have the typical snapback available and the swap with regenerating health. It all feels good, but can be a little hectic. In 3 on 3 matches the action can get incredibly confusing, especially with multiples of a single hero. Even in a mirror match, I sometimes get confused as to which one is me, which matters for which super I am planning on belting out. I do really like the detail added in where fallen opponents leave something behind - a head, a tombstone, a wheel - wherever they fell. It is a really minor touch that adds a lot of ‘depth’ I guess.
Overall, this is a wonderful experience to get in to. Each character has a very unique style to them (no Ryu/Ken clones here, folks), some of which are more annoying than others. Whenever I see a Peacock, I know to save up some meter, thats for sure. It all feels established from other games (guess which girl is Zangeif?), but it makes it feel a bit more familiar. If you like fighters (even if you aren’t great at them), sexy ladies, and hand drawn art, this seems like a super cool game. I dont know if I can underline it enough, but this game pulled me away from DOTA, guys. That is something that hasn’t been accomplished for about a month.