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After the original Mortal Kombat, a flood of fighting games trying to capitalize on violence and gore filled the market and, according to the internet, Killer Instinct is one of those games. But it featured some unique elements which made it stand out from the pack. Developed by Rare and published by Midway, Killer Instinct was released as an arcade game in October, 1994. It was ported to the Super Nintendo and Game Boy in 1995. For this review, I played the arcade or classic version on Xbox One. If you purchase the Definitive Edition of the 2013 reboot you’ll receive copies of the first two games and they’re only available on Xbox One as of this review.
Set in the future, a megacorporation called Ultratech organizes a fighting tournament where competitors fight for anything they desire. Regular fighters and creatures with supernatural abilities enter the tournament including a convict whose body was turned into living flame, a human/raptor hybrid, and a humanoid werewolf.
The Xbox One version comes with some unlockable content and extras. You can change the difficulty and it includes two versions of the game; the Final Version which is version 1.5d and the Classic Version which is version 1.4 which features some fan-favorite glitches, among some other things. The Xbox One version also comes with a link to a manual which tells you jack shit about anything important like how to play properly. It goes over the controls and how to perform certain moves but that’s it. I would highly suggest you look up a guide and mess around in the training mode for a little bit to get a feel for the characters.
Killer Instinct is a combo-focused fighting game. If you just mash buttons, you’re probably going to lose, even on the easiest difficulty, and especially if up against another player who knows what they’re doing. There’s two things you should know about Killer Instinct. One; it’s an arcade game so it’s designed to eat your money. In other words; it’s hard. And two; if you don’t understand the combo system, you’re going to lose unless you’re up against someone who also lacks the understanding. You need to know how to perform combo starters, linkers, auto-doubles, finishing moves, and combo breakers. For the longest time, I struggled trying to wrap my head around it all because reading a description of the mechanics and actually trying to understand and execute them during a match are different things. It requires practice and because this is an arcade game, it’s very unforgiving so it’s wise to spend some time in the practice mode or learn from somebody who knows how to play.
All characters can perform the same basic functions. They can move forward, back, crouch, jump, and block. They can perform quick, medium, and fierce high and low attacks and charge them up. Each character has their own set of special moves and finishers. Performing combos is where things get a little more complex. If up against the AI, trying to rely on small or standard moves will usually result in defeat. You’re going to need to be aggressive and go for combos. You start with a combo starter. During a combo, you can perform linkers and auto-doubles which are multi-hit attacks. Auto-doubles are basically automated combos that are enabled by pressing a button or performing a special move. Then there’s different types of finishing moves which have their own button combinations and requirements. Ultimates and Ultras can be performed at the end of combos and Humiliations are when you force your opponent to dance. The finishing moves are cool and you can even knock opponents off stages. I would say the most rewarding aspect of the gameplay is successfully destroying your opponent with a long combo, resulting in the announcer shouting.
If caught in a combo, you can break out of it by performing a combo breaker during the linker or auto stages. You can break the auto stage of a combo by performing a move at a strength lower than the combo, itself. For example, quick moves will break medium combos. Performing combo breakers can be quite difficult. It’s all about proper timing and each character requires a different set of inputs to perform one. If you’re a newcomer, there’s a good chance you’ll be caught in a lot of them so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to practice.
If playing solo, Killer Instinct plays out in a ladder format. You choose your character and then proceed to fight a series of opponents, ending with a fight against Eyedol who is a bullshit final boss that can replenish his own health. Instead of playing out in rounds, you need to deplete your opponents health or energy bars. You get two and once both are depleted, that character loses. You are scored during a match based on your performance and if you lose, you can spend a credit to continue and your score is reset. Killer Instinct is a challenging game. The AI is relentless and newcomers should expect to get their asses handed to them repeatedly. If you manage to kick Eyedol’s ass you win and each character has a different ending.
In 1994, Killer Instinct was a good looking game. The digitized characters are animated well, the stages are detailed, the presentation is colorful, and the future setting and variety of characters and stages gives the game a unique personality. Strikes will result in blood flying through the air and while the game is not as bloody as the Mortal Kombat games of the time, some of the finishing moves do look pretty awesome and brutal. The stages are set in a variety of locations like a temple, industrial warehouse, canyon, castle, and rooftops among others. Killer Instinct features some kickass music and from what I read, the first one hundred thousand copies of the Super Nintendo version came with the soundtrack. Not only is “The Instinct” one of the best songs in the game, it’s one of the greatest songs ever composed for a video game in my opinion. The sounds of strikes are satisfying and the characters will grunt, groan, and scream when they take damage. On the technical side, I have no complaints.
Killer Instinct is a fun game but I would be lying if I said it’s not frustrating. It’s frustrating if you don’t know what you’re doing. I expect arcade games like this to be hard. I’m just disappointed that this port doesn’t provide any information on how to play the game properly. Luckily, there’s plenty of resources online that cover the mechanics and to be good at the game will require practice. If you don’t look up a guide of any kind, you can just try performing different moves and hope to get the hang of things and that’s what might be frustrating for some. If you don’t have the patience, it’s easy to say “fuck it” and give up. There’s more to the fighting than just trying to land standard or special moves. The combo system is what makes this game unique and that’s what you need to learn. It can become addictive once you get the hang of it. Landing a long combo is rewarding and listening to the announcer scream “ultra combo” at the top of his lungs only makes it more enjoyable. If playing solo, the AI can be challenging but, luckily, you can continue to play even after being defeated without spending any real money.
I would only recommend this version of Killer Instinct if it was to become available on its own for a decent price. As of this review, you can only get it by purchasing the reboot but spending around forty dollars just to play it is a bit steep. However, the reboot is certainly worth it. Killer Instinct is where it all started but the sequels are more accessible which is why I would say check those out and avoid this one if you’re looking to get into the series for the first time. Killer Instinct can be very frustrating for newcomers and the mechanics were expanded for the better in the sequels. Regardless, if you do want to give it shot, just know it’s an arcade game so if you’re going in solo, be prepared for a challenge. It can be a fun, addictive, and rewarding experience when you understand the mechanics but it will require practice and a lot of patience.