Fighting games have been split into two distinct camps on mobile. On one side there’s the traditional fighting game that offers free movement of characters and pretty much behaves like a fighting game on other platforms by using a bunch of virtual buttons to approximate physical controls. Then there’s what I’ve come to call “swipe fighters" which take most of the mechanics of a normal fighting game but streamline them to be conducive to taps and swiping gestures on the touchscreen. The traditional-style fighting games have found a small but passionate audience on mobile, with Street Fighter IV CE being the best example of that version done right. However, the swipe fighters have been the ones to break into the mainstream of the mobile market, with games like Marvel: Contest of Champions and Injustice 2, among many others, amassing millions of active players and raking in money hand over fist.
There’s a problem though. While lots of fighting game fans may appreciate something like Street Fighter IV CE, they may not get on too well with virtual buttons, or may not care for having to buy an expensive controller to get the physical controls they desire. Those same people might get along much better with the swipe-based controls of the streamlined fighters, but in most instances all of those games leave out a lot of the elements of a regular fighting game that makes people love fighters in the first place, and so they can’t quite scratch the same sort of itch. I’m sort of in the middle. I get along with virtual buttons in fighters well enough to enjoy myself but it’ll never match the feeling of playing with physical controls. The swipe fighters I feel are fun in a more brainless kind of way but they still don’t give me my full fighting game fix. As with the Goldilocks fairy tale though, there’s one porridge that’s just right, and that is Skullgirls Mobile (Free).
Skullgirls has had a strange life on mobile so far. Originally announced in the summer of 2016 and planned for release that same year, Skullgirls remained in soft-launch beta until February 2017 when developer Hidden Variable also announced that they’d be partnering with social media giant LINE to distribute the game digitally. In early April they expanded that soft launch, and towards the end of May the game finally officially launched. That additional testing and polishing phase was worth it though, as I absolutely loved the final version of Skullgirls and laid out many of the reasons why when I picked it for our Game of the Week when it released.
Unfortunately, more hiccups were about to plague the game. After officially launching, it was clear that Hidden Variable’s partnership with LINE was impeding on their ability to adapt and change the game based on the player feedback they were receiving, and that was tough as they had A LOT of big plans for Skullgirls on mobile. In November of last year, Hidden Variable and LINE decided to part ways amicably so that the developers could really create and shape the mobile Skullgirls experience that they wanted without any barriers. This mutual breakup sadly meant that a brand new app needed to be released as well as migrating all previous player progress over to that new app. That sort of thing has disaster written all over it, but impressively Hidden Variable pulled it all off without a hitch. The newly-released app was labeled version 2.0 and brought with it all sorts of great tweaks, fixes, and new features which Hidden Variable had been holding onto for quite some time, including full screen iPhone X support.
So why this exhaustive history lesson? Well, due to everything that’s gone down, it feels like that the launch of version 2.0 of Skullgirls back in January was the REAL release of the game. With the game now in their full control and data migration issues behind them (not to mention a SEVERE server crash in February that ate up a ton of time that would have otherwise been spent on content updates), Hidden Variable can now really start chugging along with the roadmap they have planned for Skullgirls on mobile. The first couple of months of the year were dedicated to optimizing the game so that things were running smoothly and loading quickly, and the fighting mechanics were also tightened up and many characters were balanced. With the base game now fit as a fiddle, version 2.1 in early March brought the new Accursed Experiments weekly challenges and version 2.2 earlier this month brought in-game chat to the game as well as the ability to create a custom Defense Team for the Prize Fights mode.
And that brings us to the version 2.3 update which should go live in the next couple of weeks. The main attraction here is the long, LONG awaited arrival of a brand new character, the zombie girl Squigly! Hidden Variable has already announced her impending arrival on the official Skullgirls Mobile Twitter account earlier this week, showcasing some of her various animations. However, Squigly is a VERY special character for a number of reasons that are worth noting. Once you’ve unlocked her Character Ability which is called Wyrm’s Tail, you’ll see an additional button on the left side of the screen. Holding this down will allow Squigly to build up something called Dragon Charges, and you can see how many you’ve built up (maximum of 2) in the icon just below her health bar. These Dragon Charges augment Squigly’s abilities providing her with a huge variety of special moves, as you can see in the below gif.
The real fun, though, is using Squigly’s incredible arsenal of regular moves and Dragon Charged versions of moves to string together some pretty crazy combos. You can even recharge some more Dragon Charges while in the middle of a combo without actually breaking the combo counter, as you can see in the below gif which shows off a more advanced Squigly combo and use of her moves.
I can’t really describe how cool this all is and how much I’m looking forward to Squigly, but it also drives home the point I wanted to ultimately make in this post and what I alluded to earlier. Skullgirls on mobile is a straight up “real" fighting game. It’s built on the same engine as the console version of Skullgirls, and while it’s been adapted and streamlined for the touchscreen, this is far and away the most varied and strategic swipe fighter on mobile. I mean it’s not even close. With the right timing and execution, you can string together some incredibly complex and lengthy custom combos, just as you can in the console version and just as you could in Skullgirls‘ main inspiration Marvel Vs. Capcom 2. For example, Hidden Variable recently put out a challenge on Twitter to see who could put together the gnarliest combo using the character Double. A player named OozyGamer came through with this befuddling 105(!) hit combo using an entire team of Doubles and an array of special moves. Check it out.
The Double combo contest is now OVER, a huge thank you to everyone who participated! Our first winner is OozyGamer, with the most incredible over the top combo we've seen so far! Congratulations on your 3x Double Relics. pic.twitter.com/O3GQTDBxcB
— Skullgirls Mobile (@sgmobile) April 25, 2018
I seriously still can’t wrap my head around that one, but that’s just ONE example of what’s possible in Skullgirls on mobile. Some of these things Hidden Variable themselves didn’t even realize were possible until players actually did them, and they freaking MADE this game! If you compare that to games like Contest of Champions or Injustice, their combos and fighting systems are much more canned and don’t offer the ability to create new combos or chain certain moves together. And don’t get me wrong, I love those games and played them faithfully for years, but once you figured out what your most devastating combo was, you’d just hammer away at that over and over and over as you’d grind your way through the game. Which is fine and entertaining to a certain extent, but there’s a reason I would always end up dropping those once daily-played games. At a certain point it all just blends together and gets boring. With the dynamic fighting systems in Skullgirls and its much better AI opponents, I don’t see that happening.
Originally I just wanted to talk about Squigly and the forthcoming 2.3 update, but here we are more than 1300 words later. I can’t help it, Skullgirls is SO good and I worry that too many people who have been let down by other swipe fighters on the App Store would just dismiss this as another one of those. What this really is though is the perfect blend of traditional fighting game and simplified mobile fighter. If you ever head over to the official Skullgirls Mobile forums, you can really see how true this is. The dedicated fanbase there has broken down the game in all sorts of ways with detailed breakdowns of characters and combos. There’s a ton of great info there. It’s just such an impressively deep game, but it definitely demands that you put in the time to really learn its mechanics. But once you do the payoff is worth it. If you’ve been craving a mobile fighting game without a clumsy virtual control system or one that doesn’t make you feel like you’re just going through the motions, I implore you to give Skullgirls an open-minded shake.