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The original Killer Instinct was a stand out fighting game for its time because of its advanced combo system. It was followed up by Killer Instinct 2, an arcade game released in 1996. Much like its predecessor, the combo system is the real highlight of the game but some changes were made to make it a little more accessible. It was developed by Rare and published by Midway Games and an updated version called Killer Instinct Gold was released for the Nintendo 64 in November, 1996. It was one of the games included in the Rare Replay collection for Xbox One and that’s the version I played for this review.
The story continues where the first game left off. Eyedol’s death results in a time warp where some characters are transported back time and the demon lord Gargos escapes from limbo. Characters fight to face and defeat Gargos because he’s evil. There are several new characters and several return from the previous game but three of them didn’t make the cut – Chief Thunder, Riptor, and Cinder. I was disappointed because my favorite characters in that game were Riptor, Cinder, and Sabrewulf.
If you’ve played the first game, the gameplay will be very familiar. Killer Instinct Gold is a fighting game that revolves around combos. You can move forwards and backwards, perform quick, medium, and fierce punches and kicks, jump, crouch, block, perform combo breakers, and now you can throw opponents. Every character has a unique set of moves or special moves and can chain attacks together to form combos and mastering a move set is all about practice and memorization. You might get lucky if you mash buttons but if up against a skilled player, you can easily get destroyed.
As I was playing Killer Instinct Gold, I came to really appreciate one feature of many modern fighting games. The ability to pause the game and consult your character’s move list during a match. Regardless, Killer Instinct Gold is a product of its time and it also has some of the best training I’ve ever seen in a fighting game from its time. The regular Training mode takes you through various lessons on the different mechanics and the Focused Training mode lets you pick and choose what you want to work on. It’s really great. There’s also a nice Practice mode which shows you your inputs as you fight and you can bring up a list of your character’s moves at the press of a button. If only that was carried over into the other game modes.
Just like the previous game, to be good or at least competent, you need to understand the mechanics and know your character’s moves. A standard match doesn’t play out in typical rounds. Each character has two energy or health bars and a character is defeated when both are depleted. You need to know about combo starters, auto doubles, linkers, combo enders, and combo breakers. There’s more to know but those are just the core mechanics of the combo system. And of course each character can end their opponents with stylish and violent finishing moves. How to perform a long or complex combo hasn’t changed much from the first game but now it’s easier to start combos and super moves can be placed in combos. Every character has a super meter that fills when they take damage or their attack is blocked and when filled to certain points, they can perform multi-hit super moves. To defend yourself, you can block and counter and combo breakers are easier to perform now. Punches break kicks and kicks break punches. You can also perform Ultra Breakers which will consume a portion of your super meter.
There are multiple difficulty modes and plenty of options you can mess around with but most need to be unlocked first. You can also unlock various costume colors for the characters. The Arcade mode plays out in a typical ladder format. You fight a series of opponents ending with a fight against Gargos and each character has a different ending. Your score for a match is based on your performance and if you lose, you can still continue but your score is reset. Like Eyedol in the previous game, Gargos is tough and can regenerate his own health. To defeat him, you have to knock him off the stage. The AI in the arcade mode can be relentless but Jago in particular is noticeably more difficult than any other AI opponent with the exception of Gargos. He’s aggressive and blocks everything and if you’re still trying to get the hang of things, he’ll destroy you. It can be frustrating because sometimes it feels like you can never get a move in. Basically, you need to know what you’re doing. Every time I had to fight him in the Arcade mode, I think it took me around twenty minutes to defeat him each time. To be clear, I am not even close to being good at the game but I was able to beat the Arcade mode with several characters on the Normal difficulty. Jago stands out because for some reason, he can be very hard to take down as opposed to the other game modes where he’s not nearly as tough.
One of the reasons I chose to play Killer Instinct Gold over 2 is because Gold has more content like additional game modes. There’s a Tournament mode for multiple players and Team and Team Elimination modes. Both of these modes let you select up to eleven team members. In the Team mode, whichever team defeats all of the opponents on the other team wins. In Team Elimination, you must finish off each opponent with an ultra, ultimate, finishing move, or knock them off the stage. It’s my favorite mode in the game because it can just keeps going and even though I usually lost, it can go on for a while and it allowed me to try out all the different characters without having to go back to a menu or “continue” screen. It’s just non-stop until a team wins. I found it to be really fun and addictive and I noticed myself getting better and better with Sabrewulf, Maya, and Orchid over time.
Despite Killer Instinct Gold being an updated version of Killer Instinct 2, some cutbacks were made to get it on a 64 cartridge. Videos, some animations frames, and the multiple endings were removed. The Rare Replay version of the game does amplify how dated the game looks. Nevertheless, I like the character designs and each stage is unique. It should be noted that the backgrounds were re-created in 3D for Gold. You’ll fight on a bridge, ship, helipad, in a jungle, and on the streets, among some others and parts of certain stages can be destroyed. You’ll see some interesting things in the backgrounds like skeletons rowing the ship in the ship stage and waterfalls in the bridge stage. With blood enabled, characters will bleed a little when they take damage but more satisfying is the visual effects that appear when hits land. When it comes to the audio, the soundtrack is phenomenal. It features some rocking tunes including a variation of “The Instinct” and I’m a big fan of the Glacius song. Characters will shout, grunt, and groan during fights and who doesn’t enjoy listening to the announcer shout during matches? On the technical side, I encountered no issues.
I do like Killer Instinct Gold more than the first game. Mainly because it’s more accessible. The Training modes were excellent for the time this released (and are still pretty good) and the new mechanics add more strategy to the fighting. One of the reasons I like this series is because of its cool factor. The music, the atmosphere, the unique characters – it’s all very cool and gives the series a unique personality. I also like these games because they’re different than other fighting games. Instead of focusing on small moves, you’re encouraged to be aggressive and perform long and awesome-looking combos. And when you start to get the hang of a character’s move set, it can be addictive trying for long combos because it feels so rewarding when you pull one off. From what I understand, Killer Instinct Gold did not sell as well as the Super Nintendo port of the original game and I agree with many others that say the game was underrated for its time. Once you master the combo system, Killer Instinct Gold may show its true colors and expose its lack of depth compared to others in the genre, but it’s still fun and I think the extra content not featured in the arcade game is a big plus. It’s got training, additional game modes, and there’s a lot of stuff to unlock.
I would absolutely recommend Killer Instinct Gold to fans of the series and fighting genre. I think this and the 2013 game are great for those looking to get into the series and I think Killer Instinct 2/Gold is a big improvement over the first game. It retains the advanced combo system and rewarding gameplay but it’s more accessible and Gold does a great job at showing you how things work. If you’re looking for a fun fighting game on the 64, definitely check out Killer Instinct Gold.