Welcome to Mechanically Beautiful, where we look into the widely debated topic, “Are Video Games Art?” I am here to say that yes, I do believe video games are a form of art and I’m going to give you readers amazing examples of why I believe this. If you are not a believer of this idea, then maybe these articles will change your mind. But even if they don’t, you will get a chance to hear about and maybe look into some beautiful games in the industry. Today we looking at the fantastic 2-D fighting game made by Lab Zero Games known as “Skullgirls.”
“Skullgirls” is a classic style 2-D in the style of the original fighting game legends like “Street Fighter.” The game follows the story of several different, very interesting female characters with odd fighting powers all in the search of the famous Skull Heart. The Skull Heart has the great power to grant any wish to any person who can acquire it. To get the Skull Heart, you must defeat the powerful Skull Girl and take it from her. This game is a visual masterpiece filled with some very cool female characters, great looking, high-quality backgrounds, and absolutely stunning animation quality. Before getting into things, though, I must throw out a warning about this games’ characters. This game was drawn by an internet famous artist on Newgrounds known as Zone. She is a female artist who is known for drawing porn parodies of cartoons. Due to the artist, if you have an issue with sexy, big breasted women beating the crap out of each other, than this is an article you may want to avoid.
The characters in this game, although some may argue are over-sexualized, are very cool-looking and have some great design concepts. A few of them gain their powers from a creature called a parasite that is attached to their body, like the character Filia. Filia, at first glance, looks like a simple school girl, but her hair is a living parasite named Samson. When fighting, Samson transforms into various different forms and helps Filia battle. In one of her attacks, he turns into a large butterfly and has her charge the enemy head first with great force. When doing a jump-heavy, punch attack Samson turns into various hair cutting supplies and strikes the enemy. Filia (and her crazy hair) though is one of the more simple characters. One of the very weird characters, however, is Double. Double is a reanimated blob of strange, corpse-like forms that flow and move constantly. When attacking, Double changes her form into the different characters of the game, copying their attacks. She constantly morphs into various disgusting shapes when moving around and oozes in a creepy way when standing still. When she jumps, she turns into a strange mass of goo flying through the air. When crawling on the ground, she turns into a blob that shoots out tentacles that pull her along like a spider. Doubles is an ever changing form that if you pay attention to, you can see some odd forms within; sometimes you can even see the other characters take shape within her. Another of the characters, Painwheel, is very evil-looking, but also very sad at the same time. She was a small girl that was kidnapped and transformed into a Frankenstein-like weapon made for the sole purpose of finding the Skull Heart. Her face is covered with a brown mask that has stitches coming across and over her mouth with large, cut-out holes added for her deep, red glowing eyes. She has multiple large bolts pounding through her flesh in spots, like her hips and shoulders. The most fearsome part of her, though, is where her namesake comes from. Painwheel has a huge, four-bladed wheel protruding from her back that spins and shreds flesh. She can even grow strange looking, spider-like legs from her hands and feet to skewer her opponent with. All of these great looking characters are even better accented by the gorgeous backgrounds of the game.
You come across several odd but beautiful areas in this strangely built world. All of the backgrounds are hand drawn, most likely in Photoshop by a masterful hand. The style, I would say, is kind of in the vain of comic books if you were too take out the black outlines. The colors are very vibrant and bold, but they do not have the black thick marks or outlines of something like Marvel comics. There also seems to be some art nouveau influence with some of the shapes and contours to the backgrounds being over exaggerated. It isn’t to the extent that art nouveau does it, though. Something that also works well is that the characters contrast in a rather strong way to the style of the backgrounds. The characters have a very pseudo-anime look and feel to them, but up against the high detail, well-shaded backdrops they stand out very well, which is a very important aspect to fighting games. You never want your characters to get confused with the stages; it could mess with the gameplay. Not only are the stages fantastic, but the characters they insert in the stage settings are also great. The characters are so unique and intriguing that all of the DLC characters that were added to the game are in fact from the stages. They were just standing around and were so cool that people were like “Yo, put that girl in. She looks awesome!” That really says something about the interesting quality and aesthetic of your character when the guys in the background are so cool they get made into full fighters. Now, lastly of course, I must talk about the great quality of the animation; as an animation major, I’m always happy when a game does its animation well.
The animation quality of “Skullgirls” is on par with the kind of quality you see from the highest skilled developers of the fighting game genre like Capcom. The sweeping strikes and great visuals when the hits connect make the game feel like it has power and weight to it. The feel of a fighting game hinges a lot on the animations not feeling stunted or awkward, and “Skullgirls” doesn’t fall into any of those traps. Even moves like fast jabs that usually feel weak in other fighting games feel fast and powerful in “Skullgirls” because of the sounds, speed, effects, and fluidity of the animations. The characters move in a fast and appealing way so that you feel their strength. Even something simple like jumping looks good. Someone had to animate the way Doubles oozes around in the air when she jumps, or the way Filia’s parasite Samson transforms in the blink of an eye when attacking. Quality animation is a linchpin to the fighting game genre, and “Skullgirls” is an excellent example of talent that other games should take notes from.
I could go on forever talking about how much I love the visual style of this game and the game itself overall. I highly recommend this game to any fans of the fighting game genre. For people who are just getting into it, it has a fairly thorough tutorial. If the overly sexualized, big-breasted women don’t bother you, then this game is a great feast for the eyes and the fights look really awesome. It has become one of my favorite fighting games ever, leave to the indies to make that true labor of love.