It’s a wonderful thing to think of almost any genre and see how well it’s represented on Nintendo Switch. Take the ever-competitive arena of modern fighting games; as the console continues to roll through its third year we’ve got full-fat ports of the biggest names in virtual hand-throwing, including Mortal Kombat 11, Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection and, of course, the city-sized roster of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. And that’s not counting more obscure entries such as Blade Strangers, Brawlout and SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy. It’s an eclectic bunch and one that's made all the more strong by the fashionably-late arrival of Skullgirls 2nd Encore.
Despite the development and legal troubles that would have sunk most other games, Skullgirls has weathered the storm since its original launch in 2012, offering a Western-made 2D fighter that manages to take just enough inspiration from its peers without feeling wholly derivative. And those inspirations and are easy to see, too. The colourful 2D character models and their cartoonish sketch aesthetic bring to mind the Darkstalkers series (and even a splash of ClayFighter); the team-based mechanic smacks of the early Capcom vs. SNK games, and the speed of combat is BlazBlue to a tee.
What Skullgirls brings to Switch so well is how it combines these elements into its own chaotic form of battle. You can choose up to three characters for your team, with the sacrifice/benefit coming in the form of your health bars. More characters provide greater variety in your move set and the ability to pull off team-based assists, but the more you use, the weaker their health bar becomes. Opt for a single fighter and you’ll have less offensive tactics at your disposal, but your combatant will possess a far hardier constitution. It’s not a particularly new system (even if you ignore the fact the series is seven years old itself), but it still effectively urges you to change up your tactics depending on the DNA of your opponent.
The version of Skullgirls released on Switch is actually notably faster in terms of gameplay speed than original Skullgirls release (by about 2%, which might not seem like a lot, but it makes a real difference when you’re counting frames), but the developer has added in an extensive tutorial mode that breaks down each mechanic into bite-size chunks. There’s a lot to take in – such as how best to use Dramatic Tension meter (which levels up as a fight progresses, unlocking more powerful Blockbuster attacks as you land and take damage), how to preemptively and re-actively use certain types of blocks and when to chain certain strong, medium and hard attacks into an effective combo – but it leaves you completely informed how and when to utilise these elements in battle.
The level of detail developer Reverge Labs has hand-crafted into each fighter is astounding. With an art style that borrows heavily from the cartoonish end of the anime spectrum and classic American animation from the early 20th century (and a soundtrack from Michiru Yamane that splices arcadey synths with jazzy saxophone solos), Skullgirls oozes character and charisma at every turn. There’s perhaps a little too many characters practically spilling out of their undersized costumes, but if you’re going to take such heavy inspiration from Japanese animation, it’s hardly a surprising byproduct.
Skullgirls’ roster is still a little thin by modern standards with only 14 fighters to choose from, especially when compared to the likes of Mortal Kombat 11, BlazBlue Centralfiction Special Edition and the latest Smash (which is so big it’s more of a population than a roster) – even when you consider this version includes the five DLC characters that were released post-launch to help bulk out an even sparser roster at the time. Thankfully, there’s enough variety in the fighters on offer to help negate this feeling somewhat, especially in regards to the new additions. Big Band – with his bio-mechanical instrument move set – is a real highlight, as is Squigly, an undead opera singer with some nifty stance cancels.
In terms of content, this version of 2nd Encore doesn’t differ from the ones that have been available on PC and other consoles for years now, but there’s still a fair few modes to keep you playing. For solo players, there’s the Story mode, a gauntlet-style Survival mode and your usual arcade mode offering. There’s also support for local and online play, including both tournament and lobby-based play. It’s not particularly eye-catching in terms of its modes, but then again, this is a game produced by a small indie team so it’s pointless to expect the kind of rolling content support you get from the likes of NetherRealm. Being able to select an online opponent based on their ping is a nice touch, but we did encounter a few matches affected by serious lag or freezes that kicked us back to the menus. Hopefully, these are just launch-window teething problems for the netcode.
If you’re looking for a new fighting game experience and you’ve somehow managed to avoid Skullgirls over the last seven years, then Skullgirls 2nd Encore is as good as any opportunity to do so. It doesn’t bring anything new to the table to distinguish it from the other iterations of the update that dropped back in 2016 – and some new characters would have really helped sell its arrival on Switch – but with its catchy jazzy soundtrack and memorable character animations, it’s still one of the most underrated fighters to emerge in recent generations.