Skullgirls and the challenge of indie fighters
As mainstream games grow more expensive, indie games are gaining more of a presence. Indie games have always steered towards singleplayer experiences though with multiplayer rarely in mind. Even when playing with others in mind it’s usually not about being competitive. There are rare exceptions such as Nidhogg, but those are few and far in between. With the indie 2D fighting game Skullgirls there’s a chance for change in the future, not just for competitive multiplayer indie games, but the for the fighting game genre itself.
Skullgirls is an indie fighting game, the first of its kind to gain such mainstream appeal. It managed to stack up half a million sales in only 10 days. That may not seem like a lot compared to mainstream games making several million dollars, but for an indie game it’s fantastic. Skullgirls sold well despite the competition, showing that there is a market for small indie fighters. On the surface Skullgirls lacks the content of mainstream, big cast fighters, having only eight combatants, but it’s the mechanics and variety behind them that matters.
These sales also mean that Skullgirls will continue to be supported over time with downloadable content. There’s nothing set in stone right now, but Reverge Labs, the developers behind Skullgirls, wants to make the game grow over time. They don’t want it to die, like so many fighting games today, released and then set aside in favor of a newer version. This tradition has been going on ever since Street Fighter II which received a total of five iterations in its lifetime. Fast forward to today and see games like Marvel vs Capcom 3 quickly become irrelevant as Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 releases 8 months later. Skullgirls works to take advantage of the opportunities for expansion we have today and use it to prevent this. Skullgirls wants to build on what it has now, rather than abandoning it.
Another thing that makes Skullgirls so great is accessibility in price point and playability. Unlike retail games, Skullgirls is a mere $15. That price point makes it more open for people who don’t usually play fighting games to take a risk and go for it. Even after buying, Skullgirls tries to make the game accessible to those who don’t know fighting game lingo. Mike Zaimont, the Project Lead behind Skullgirls, made accessibility one of the primary goals when making Skullgirls.
Rather than just being told to read the manual, figure things out, or assume you know what to do like most fighting games, Skullgirls has an in depth tutorial system. It starts off with basics like moving around, jumping, and blocking and moves on to more complicated techniques such as hit stun, block stun, defending against mixups, canceling, etc. Along with the tutorials, Skullgirls has a system made to prevent infinites, infinites being an endless series of attacks in which there is no way to escape. This way more skilled players can’t just pull out the “touch of death” by starting some combo in which there is no way out of. There’s always going to be a difference in skill between players in Skullgirls, but preventing infinites puts less of an emphasis on combos. Just because a player can pull out a 99-hit combo doesn’t automatically make them better.
Skullgirls wants to introduce new people to fighting games. It wants to bridge the casual and hardcore crowd without making any sacrifices. That’s understandable. Simplifying a fighting game and still trying to attract core players is no easy task, though.
Skullgirls is a six button fighting game with a plethora of complicated mechanics. The infinite prevention system makes sure less skilled players don’t feel outmatched, but it can only do so much. The barrier of entry, while easier to climb if one is willing to learn, is still pretty high for those not in their element. That’s where Divekick comes in.
Divekick is probably the most basic fighting game in existence. There are only two buttons: dive and kick. Divekick isn’t about pressing buttons really fast and pulling off 99 hit combos: it’s about mind games and judgement. That’s what makes it so amazing. It’s more of a thinking game, a test of brains rather than reflexes. It’s a battle between two players to see who can outwit who first. That aspect along with its simplicity is what makes it so much more accessible to people.
The fighting game genre could use changes that improve upon nonsensical standards that are set in place. That’s what the indie market represents: new ideas that go against the current standard. That’s what Skullgirls and Divekick do. They show that you don’t need to be some huge, expensive product with tons of characters to succeed. They show that we can find a decent middle ground rather than siding with players in or outside the fighting game circle. They don’t rely on dozens of characters backed by million dollar budgets, it’s the mechanics behind these games that make them special. That’s what will make indie fighters stand out more than their mainstream counterparts.