Nostalgia is a huge selling point in the video game industry as of late, and Killer Instinct is one of the games that has taken full advantage of the gaming community’s deep desire to play their old games on their new systems.
As a bit of a backstory for the Killer Instinct series, for those of you who are not familiar with it, the game was first developed by Rare, a British company that started off creating games for Nintendo’s NES and Game Boy. The first installment of the game, simply called “Killer Instinct,” was ported onto the SNES back in 1994, after a couple years of being an arcade exclusive. It was a beautiful mismatch of random characters pitted against each other in combat. The 2-dimentional fighter undoubtedly borrowed themes from other renowned titles such as Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, but was still able to bring some new elements to the table. The more notable of these elements was the new system for creating combos, and the “combo breaker,” both of which were improved upon in the latest release on the Xbox One. As time went on, Rare continued its partnership with Nintendo and produced a second installment of the Killer Instinct series, and even went on to port that game over to the Nintendo 64 shortly after the console’s release. In 2002 Rare was acquired by Microsoft for a cool $375 million. The Killer Instinct series remained untouched for many years, but in 2013 during Microsoft’s E3 press event, a new installment of Killer Instinct was officially announced – and as a free-to-play title!
The new Killer Instinct, released on November 22nd, 2013, with the launch of Microsoft’s newest console, the Xbox One, is a remake that does not fail to please the gaming community. Titled “Killer Instinct: Season One,” the new installment brings back a number of classic characters, though not all were available at the game’s release. Microsoft successfully avoided the issue of free-to-play equating with pay-to-win, an undesirable trait that gamers across the globe rage about frequently. The way they did this was by releasing the game with one character (Jago) that was free to use, while all the remaining characters required purchasing the “Ultimate” edition. The full roster includes 9 playable characters, each with special equipment and color variations. As a bonus treat, these characters also come with a customization option that allows you to use a more “retro” style skin. The character available to those who have not purchased the Ultimate edition rotates so that those who opt not to pay still have the opportunity to experience the different moves each character brings to the table.
When you first load up the game the controls feel very much like the original, but at 60 fps, and with updated graphics, it has never been more beautiful. There is a bit of a learning curve with the controls, but it’s not impossible to master. The best way to describe it is that your “top” buttons (X, Y, and RB) are your punches in ascending order from least to most powerful. Likewise, the “bottom” buttons (A, B, and RT) are your kicks. This isn’t the hard part to grasp. The difficulty in controlling your character is more so due to the directions one needs to input in order to perform combos. Where most people would resort to using the analog stick, I found that using the D-pad resulted in much more successful attacks. I unfortunately still do have a tendency to accidentally bump into the analog while in the middle of a large string of combos, thus negating all the work done to get to that point. Because there are “Combo Openers,” “Combo Linkers,” and “Combo Enders,” it is crucial that you are able to fluidly move from one into the other so that you deal the maximum amount of damage to your opponent. Each attack you do will damage the enemy, but will also build up a certain amount of damage that only gets applied if you successfully end your combo with an appropriate Combo Ender.
Each character has a unique set of moves available, but because there are a limited number of buttons, you will find that they share similar strings of button pressing in order to launch a move. For example, Glacius’ “Puddle Punch” move requires the same input as Spinal’s “Searing Skull.” Even though many characters do share these button combinations, they still maintain a unique feel. This is because the timing of each move is not the same for each character. In my opinion, Glacius’ Puddle Punch strikes the enemy much faster than Spinal’s searing skull. Additionally, what constitutes as a Combo Opener for one character might be a Combo Linker for another. All this to say that even though there is a very similar style of play for each character, they are all very unique.
No matter who you prefer to play as, you will be given two health bars at the start of each match. The goal is clear: deplete your opponent’s health before yours gets depleted. An additional goal for some would be to deplete both of the opponents health bars before they deplete even one of yours, resulting in a “Supreme Victory.” To help you accomplish your goal, in addition to the obvious attacks and combos, you have your unique “Instinct Mode” and your shadow moves. A shadow move is really quite simple. Your bar dictating whether or not you can do a shadow move becomes filled as you land attacks on your opponent. Performing a shadow move is as simple as pressing two buttons in the same category (Y and RB, both being punches, for example) when executing a special move of your character’s. In some cases the shadow move is simply a more powerful version of the move you already are using, but other times the move actually changes in the way it is performed (in addition to being more powerful). The bar dictating whether you may enter Instinct Mode gets filled when your character is stuck. When the bar is full you need only press on the heavy punch (RB) and heavy kick (RT) buttons at the same time. Each character has their own special attributes in instinct mode. Jago, for example, will be granted extra strength while simultaneously regenerating a small portion of his health. Going into Instinct Mode also grants you the ability to extend your current combo, allowing you the opportunity to inflict a far greater amount of damage to your enemy.
Graphically the game is amazing. Because this is a reboot of a classic, it’s hard to not be satisfied with any enhancements made visually. From character-specific stages to the accessories equipable to each character, Killer Instinct is a beauty. Of course, much of this enhanced view is hard to notice when you’re in the heat of battle. Unfortunately, UI of the game is not nearly as exquisite as the actual gameplay. I found the menu system to be rather boring, and it doesn’t help that you’re kicked back to said menu every time you swap controllers with a nearby friend. This of course triggers the game to check for any DLC you may have purchased, which is not a quick process. Another online inconvenience presented by the game is the matchmaking system for multiplayer. Due to the low volume of people playing online, you are likely to be paired up against players of a much higher ranking, resulting in a tremendous loss for you, and possibly a tear or two dripping down the side of your cheek. Multiplayer with a friend sitting next to you on a couch, however, is a very fun experience. Some of my best moments on my Xbox One were spent playing Killer Instinct with one of my good friends. The rush felt when both players are down to the last millimeter of health on the bar is huge, and it leads to either a loud victory cheer or an even louder proclamation of “are you kidding me?!” But no matter what side of the match’s conclusion you’re on, you’re sure to enjoy the time.
When it comes to the game’s morality, I advise that it is approached with caution. While it may not elude to sexual themes as much as the original, the graphically enhanced feminine features, mixed with provocative clothing, makes this “T” rated game appear to be more appropriate for a mature audience. Unfortunately, the low-cut, tight, and scandalous clothing are not eluded to in the rating with any kind of “partial nudity” warning. In terms of violence, the game is quite obviously one that does not hold back. The sole purpose of the game is to beat the sense out of your opponent. If you’re not prepared for a little bit of blood from the human characters, and non-stop butt-whooping action, then this is not the game for you. Language, however, is not a problem in Killer Instinct. The only words you hear during the game are intro and outro phrases unique to each character, and not a single one of them is suggestive or crude in any way.
All in all, this is a marvelous game. For anyone that has been grasped by the nostalgia of the game, I would recommend purchasing the “Ultimate” edition, which includes all Season 1 characters as well as a free copy of the original Killer Instinct. For those that are new to the series, you can’t go wrong getting the free version and exploring each character as they rotate in! Even with the sexual content presented by the game, I would say it is still suitable for anyone 16 or older. Though I can’t say for sure where I’m pulling that age from, it just feels right. Besides, to the average gamer that’s looking to quickly get into the action of the game, that sexual content is no true distraction. If you’re dying for a fun new way to add some pizazz to sitting on a couch with your best friend, then look no further - this is the game for you.