Killer Instinct is the much awaited revival of a popular old school fighting franchise by Double Helix. Exclusive for the Xbox One, Killer Instinct was the killer (you see what I did there?), app that sold the Xbox One to many fighting gamers. Much of the hardcore fighting game community believes that this might be the next great tournament fighter, and that may be true, but its bare-bones suite of modes may turn much of the casual community off.
Killer Instinct’s gameplay is easily its strongest point. It’s a six button fighter, with three kicks and three punches, much like Street Fighter. Moves are pulled off with quarter circles and a button, and special shadow moves are pulled off with quarter circles and two buttons. Your goal is to reduce the opponent’s life to zero. All-in-all it sounds a lot like a standard fighting game, right?
To a certain degree it is. The neutral game of Killer Instinct feels a lot like Street Fighter or King of Fighters or any other popular 2D fighter. However, once a hit is landed the combo system kicks in which is what makes Killer Instinct very unique. Many of you remember the complex system of openers, linkers, and enders in previous Killer Instincts, but that has been streamlined here. Any linker can now follow any attack and any attack (called an auto-double) can follow any linker. So you can safely produce long combos just by pressing a button, then quarter circling, then a button, then quarter circling, over and over again.
The newbie friendly combo system is a great way to get new people into the game, but there is still a huge gap between newbies and pros when it comes to combo effectiveness. The combo system works on “potential damage” that is built up for your ender move when you stop the combo. This grows faster if you vary your moves and perform complex combos. There are also c-c-c-combo breakers and counter combo breakers but newbie button mashers likely won’t be able to perform them, and when combo breakers fail they set you up for even more damage -- sometimes half of your life bar! There are also combos that lead into very ambiguous mix-ups that then lead into other combos! As a result, newbies very often eat absurdly long combos that they can do nothing about and the match is over in just a couple hits. So don’t think you’ll be instantly good at Killer Instinct just because you know a combo or two.
If you want to get better at Killer Instinct, then check out the incredible Dojo Tutorial mode, which has one-upped Skullgirls as one of the best tutorial modes in fighting games. The tutorial goes over everything from basic movement, to normal and special moves, to hit-confirming, to combo mechanics. You’ll learn how to mix-up and cross-up your opponent, perform manual links, and there are even audio cues to help you with your combo timing. It’s a great tool for learning Killer Instinct (or any fighting game for that matter).
Killer Instinct’s training mode allows you to turn on a multitude of options to see exactly what is happening behind the scenes while practicing your combos and setups. This includes hit-boxes, attack data, frame data, and more. It even allows you to see what “combo state” the opponent is in. Everything is completely transparent, meaning you don’t have to go online or buy the player’s guide in order to become a seasoned pro.
Unfortunately, these two modes are about all you will get when you purchase Killer Instinct. There’s no Story mode to speak of. Heck, there’s barely even an single player arcade mode. You can fight against A.I. opponents in survival mode, but there’s no final boss to speak of and no game ending screen. You just fight until you die which loses its appeal very quickly. There’s also an online suite which also has limited capability. There aren’t lobbies or anything, just ranked and unranked matches. Thankfully, the netcode is smooth as silk, and button delay is nearly non-existent with a good connection.
In fact, it’s appropriate that we brought up Skullgirls earlier because Killer Instinct will face many of the same challenges that the indie game did. Its roster is only six characters large, which will make fans of Marvel vs. Capcom 3’s 50 character roster balk. It has no community building features like online tournaments. It has no extra offline modes beyond the basics and it barely even has that considering the lack of an arcade/story mode. What it does have is a solid gameplay system, a fantastic tutorial, and a near perfect netcode. It excels at the fighting game essentials but it doesn’t have much else.
Everyone should at least try Killer Instinct. You can pick up a free version featuring just Jago and then expand your roster for five dollars a character, but really you are better off dropping $20 for the character bundle which gives you all six starting characters and two more downloadable characters when they come out down the line. You can also drop $40 if you are a die-hard fan to pick up every character’s extra costume pieces as well, but it seems a bit outlandish to pay twice the cost of the full game just for a costume pack. The biggest cost that you will have to eat is the cost of a brand new Xbox One fighting stick in order to truly play competitively. Unfortunately, a four button controller just does not do this game justice.
Overall, Killer Instinct has a lot of potential to become one of the most played fighting games on the market. Unfortunately, if it wasn’t already hindered by its Xbox One exclusivity it will certainly be hindered by its small roster and sparse offering of modes. Personally we would like to see Killer Instinct blow up into a fan favorite, but with the fighting game community’s short attention span and short sighted tendency to judge a fighting game by the size of roster, this Killer Instinct may be fated to be nothing more than a flavor-of-the-week.
This review is based on a publisher supplied copy of Killer Instinct for the Xbox One.