While I was chipping away at more of the world map in Kingdoms of Amalur, I took the time to download three new XBLA demos for games that came out within the last few days. All three were games I’ve known about to a varying degree, but I honestly hadn’t been keeping up with the release dates. With the summer coming up, we’ll probably be seeing more Arcade releases in the coming months. But the three games in question were Skullgirls, The Splatters, & Fez.
Skullgirls is a 2D fighting game that harkens back to the olden days of fighting games. It’s selling points are its unique animation design & control scheme. The animation is all hand-drawn, with everything possessing a unique & lively design. Characters are colorful, & I don’t just mean their color schemes. Although the fighting roster is pretty limited with only eight characters to choose from (developers have announced two upcoming DLC characters), each has a unique look, personality, backstory & move set. Some of the characters include a school girl whose hair has become possessed by a demon that helps her fight, a robotic girl who fights using cartoon antics, an undead catgirl thief who can dismember herself & a mutated girl who uses a giant pinwheel attached to her back.
The story, for all its lack of importance in most fighting games, involves a country called Canopy Kingdom & an artifact called the Skull Heart. The Skull Heart is said to grant a woman’s wish if she finds it, but only if she is of pure heart. If not, the Skull Heart transforms the girl into a Skullgirl, a monster who seeks nothing more than destruction. The plot of the game is the various women’s attempts to find the Skullgirl & retrieve the Skull Heart for their own reasons.
The demo only gives access to Filia & Cerebella as playable characters. I only went through what was available in the tutorial & training arena. Combat is fast & simple to pick up, but the variety of moves suggests a deep combat system for hardcore gamers to learn. It’s a very different fighting system than what I’m used to with games like Soul Calibur or Dead or Alive. It reminds me a lot of the Guilty Gear series, but with more cartoonish characters. What I didn’t like about the controls was having to double-tap to run (why would I want to walk in a fighting game?) & not having a proper block button (you have to hold Back). Again, this is probably more related to the style of fighting games I’m used to & not the game mechanics itself.
You may also recall that Skullgirls received some flack a few months ago during a convention about the female characters being too sexualized. Although the developers stupidly responded that this couldn’t be the case since most of the designers were female themselves (as if saying women can’t perpetrate the same stereotypes as men), I don’t see this as the case. Fighting games are notorious for having scantily dressed women, so I can see how someone might think this with Skullgirls’ all-female roster. But that would only be the case if every single character was sexualized. Sure, you’ve got characters in short skirts & cleavage so deep you could get lost in it, but you’ve also got characters who look like children or are even emaciated. If they all looked like sex bombs, I’d be concerned. But as it stands, I just think developers made characters they liked.
The Splatters is a physics-based puzzle game. It’s a little difficult to explain, so I’d recommend watching some videos on it if you’re interested. But basically, the object of the game is to make blobs of goo explode in stylish ways over bombs. Each level is an enclosed space that lends itself to ramping, spiking & exploding in spectacular ways. The controls are pretty simple. You aim your blobs with the left analog & use A to launch them. There are a variety of different techniques to help the blobs achieve their explosive ends, such as Air Strikes & Warps.
I only played through the first few tutorial levels, but I was impressed by the physics in the game. The blobs behave somewhere between water & gel, still maintaining some cohesion even after being blasted against the wall. They move in realistic ways when you fling them around. I don’t think I’m very good at it, but I think if you take the time to learn the mechanics it would be a fun game. It’s more fast-paced & action-oriented than standard puzzle games, which I think could be a draw for those who find most puzzle games tedious.
I think Fez could best be described as an adventure-puzzle-platformer game. In it you play as Gomez, a white creature who lives in a 2D world until one day he discovers that he can switch the world into 3D. Now he has to collect a bunch of gold blocks to somehow save the world. The gimmick for this game is that you can switch your perceptions. Although the game world you can move around in is always 2D, you can rotate the world around, thereby changing the area you can move around on. This mechanic is necessary because the world Gomez lives in seems to be made almost exclusively of floating islands. Rotating the world reveals hidden secrets, platforms & ledges to help you traverse the landscape.
Although the graphics are close to 8-bit, the use of shadows helps add depth to the world. I also think it looks pretty cool when the world rotates around. The platforming isn’t anything groundbreaking, & Gomez is no Lara Croft. His actions are limited to walking, climbing & jumping. He can pull himself up if he’s dangling on the side of a platform, but that’s about it. But at least if you fall to your death, the game respawns you where you fell off.
Of the three demos I played, I’ll probably only buy Fez. As much as I love fighting games, I don’t usually have anyone to play with, & I still refuse to pay for online. And as I said before, I didn’t do too good at The Splatters.