From the hours of footage I've seen of the game on Wednesday Night Fights and elsewhere, Skullgirls looks like a game I'd enjoy. Its promise of teaching novice players how to actually handle themselves in a fight instead of just combos they'll never learn to implement means a scrub like me could learn to block mix-ups, see openings, and wean myself off poor tactics like jumping in constantly with the intent of using the strongest attack at my disposal. The midpoint it chooses to play at (the methodicalness of Street Fighter crossed with the more absurd tactics of the Vs. series) sounds right up my alley. It's a smarter kind of fighter, learning from both community feedback and the genre's history to create something that just might be approachable and tournament-worthy at the same time.
One look at the overly-endowed and fetishized characters that populate the game, however, and it's likely that some of the people that looked at the game as an entry point in the fighting genre will turn away. Alex Ahad, creator of Skullgirls' world and characters, doesn't mind:
“I totally understand that my style is not for everyone. The art style is more of a cartoon exaggeration, both in proportions and poses, with several inspirations mixed in. I would be pretty content if Skullgirls was a small project and had a niche following. If you enjoy the style of this game, I can never thank you enough for your support and welcome you to our world with open arms. If you have too much of a problem with Skullgirls, then this game isn't for you. To each their own. I'm ok with that notion, and would generally prefer to stay out of public discussions.”
The art style Ahad has chosen for the game isn't the problem. It's that the breast-physics are exaggerated, panty flashes are prevalent and intentional, and not a single member of the all-female cast wears pants, instead opting for dresses, skirts, or whatever Ms. Fortune's wearing. When a character's super move involves her flipping upside down and revealing her underwear, it's a problem. Skullgirls' lead designer, Peter Bartholow, defended the panty flashes by mentioning that “if a woman dressed like this were to fight, there would be some panty flashes.”
Ahad distances himself from the Eurogamer piece that previous quote originated from in his DeviantArt post, but regardless, Bartholow's point clearly doesn't hold up. Citing that the style of the characters is ”just where Alex's interests lie,” doesn't fix the problem; if the characters you designed have skirts that are too short to properly hide their underwear (Parasoul), or fight in such a way that they'll show their underwear during a super (Cerebella), the solution is to design more practically-dressed characters, not to say that it's a byproduct of the character's outrageous designs.
Sounds like the cries of a censor seeking to maximize a game's appeal, and to some degree, it is. But I'm looking for more subdued fighter designs in order to play with more people, not to increase my earnings. With the possible exception of Peacock, I don't know that there's a character in Skullgirls that I'd feel comfortable playing as by myself, let alone in a group of people*. Am I not confident around groups of people? Probably. Do I stand a better chance getting more people to play with me if at least half the cast doesn't make eyes roll? Most definitely.
Ahad says that characters' behavior within the game makes them empowered women, not sex objects, and that that's “the difference between something being sexy and being sexist.” Whether that actually bears out is unclear, but when Parasoul's upside-down cross is closer to 90° than even 45° relative to her body, taking her seriously as an empowered woman becomes difficult. Ahad also cites that none of the characters use their sexuality as weapons, that none of the characters are as bad as Cammy from Street Fighter, and that people don't complain about muscular men, but those points have been countered elsewhere recently, so I'll keep it succinct: simply because Cammy is poorly designed and people don't complain about the male characters in fighting games doesn't mean you can get away with it. Not only should Reverge have the perspective to not repeat those same mistakes, but they also don't have a legacy to bind them to characters like Cammy – they're free to correct those errors, but are choosing not to in favor or indulging an artist and a niche audience.
The Shoryuken piece regarding the topic considers the matter closed. By simply stating his view and denying the allegations against him, Ahad has made it okay for people who enjoy these characters to not worry about enjoying them. That, again, is a problem. Whether or not the game is sexist, the designs are perverted and creepy. But unfortunately, I'm a fighting game fan and a hypocrite, which means I'll buy Skullgirls – the systems at work behind the fan service look fun, and I'd love to learn to be a better player. But I'll mostly play the game alone, and instead of possibly teaching people at casual gatherings how to play a genre I'm currently enamored with, I'll either sweep the whole mess under the rug or teach them using a different game. A shame, really, because the fighting genre could use another game like Street Fighter IV to get a new group of people into playing it, and expand the genre. It's too bad Ahad's ambition is limited to keeping an insular group satisfied, because Skullgirls has the potential to do more than that.
*A quick anecdote: I play Juri in Super Street Fighter IV because I like how she plays, not because I endorse how she looks. I don't loathe her design entirely – she at least wears pants – but I play her despite her design, which I imagine I'll have to do with most of Skullgirls' cast. Peacock, again, might be the lone exception here, but when only one character appeals to me superficially in a game where you can select up to three at a time...