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Killer Instinct Review

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Killer Instinct shows you the ropes quite well and has a combo system that's fun to execute, though slightly less fun to defend against.

Killer Instinct is a fighting franchise that has always been fighting for respect... which it never got, because it doesn't deserve any. Until now.

You'd have to have an awfully foggy memory of the mid-'90s to be the sort of person who was clamoring for a new Killer Instinct game. The old fighting game always felt like an also-ran, combining muddy, pre-rendered graphics with a ridiculous combo system and a set of finishing moves that made the whole thing feel like it was occasionally biting from Mortal Kombat. It was flashy and had a weird sense of style, but I always thought it was a terrible game, and the sequel was only marginally better. So when word started swirling around last year that Microsoft was finally going to dig into more of the Rare back-catalog and produce a new Killer Instinct game, I wasn't exactly jumping out of my seat. But the team behind this new KI reboot has kept the charming things about the franchise intact and placed them into a better, more modern-feeling fighting game. It's still ridiculous, the announcer still screams his head off, and the combos are wild... but actually executing KI's combos is a good time, too, making this download-only fighting game an exciting turnaround for the series.

The smartest thing Killer Instinct does is teach you how to play the game. The dojo mode walks you through extremely basic fighting game tutorial stuff, like "walking" and "punching people." But then it starts getting into the game's specific brand of madness and talks about its combo system. It has a bit more in common with KI2 than the original game, but the system of openers to linkers to autos to more linkers to more autos to a shadow linker to a manual to one more linker to instinct cancel to another shadow linker to more autos and, finally, an ender is easier to understand once you're walked through it. A helpful meter shows up on-screen during fights to let you know when your combo is about to get too long and blow up on its own, giving you a good warning that it's time to actually finish your combo and cash in all the damage it's been building up. The combo system feels like it gives you a lot of options, which is nice because you're going to need to provide some real variety to keep your combos from getting broken.

Combo breakers require players to guess the strength of attack being used during the normal auto or manual attacks that connect your special attacks (linkers) and pressing the corresponding strength of attack to break out of the combo. The best players will probably learn exactly how each normal attack looks in a combo and react accordingly, making them very rough opponents. For the rest of us, it's sort of a mind game where you attempt to outthink your opponent and guess at the right strength. I'm not great at it, and though this process seems fair, it does provide the one thing that will probably turn people off from KI. It's a lot of fun to perform the combos, but if you're not a skilled combo breaker, getting taken for a ride for a few seconds and somewhere between 40- and 60-percent of your life bar isn't exactly a good time. Also, to keep people from mashing their way out of combos, the game will temporarily lock you out of breaking if you guess incorrectly. The three-second lockout is a long time when you're getting repeatedly punched in the face. So try to be on the dishing end, rather than the receiving one.

When it comes to modes and options, there isn't a lot to Killer Instinct right now. There are a total of six characters, a survival mode, a practice mode, and a local versus mode. You can, of course, also get online and play ranked or unranked games. There's currently no story mode, no end boss, and only one of the six characters is new to the franchise. Why is any of this OK? Well, Killer Instinct has a few different payment options.

Sabrewulf has come a long way since his ZX Spectrum days.

If you just want to download KI and try it out, it's free. But you'll only get access to Jago (he's the most Ryu-like, in case you haven't heard of him), and the developers may be rotating that free character out from time to time, League of Legends-style. If you like, you can buy any one character for five bucks. That's fine, and if you know you're only interested in playing as one character, it's a passable way to go. But for $20 you'll get a pack with all six characters right now, with two more coming at a later date along with some sort of story mode. These eight fighters comprise the "season one" lineup, implying that TJ Combo, Cinder, and some of the other old fighters may eventually make their way back into the fight as part of a second season. If you're really into that free version, you can drop $40 on a pack that contains all of those characters, a set of accessory and costume options for each character, and Killer Instinct Classic, an emulated version of the original Killer Instinct that runs just fine on the Xbox One, though it doesn't have any online multiplayer (and is sort of terrible, anyway).

Visually, KI is full of great-looking effects, like the burst of sparks that blast off of Jago's fireball when it lands or the rain that increasingly pounds down in one of the backgrounds as the fight progresses. If you end a fight in that stage with an Ultra Combo--the game's fight-ending finishing move--the rain goes even crazier. You see it hitting the characters and running down their bodies, which is a pretty cool little touch. The costume designs are a little flat, though. It's got good music and a great announcer, and if you earn enough in-game currency to unlock it, you can get access to some of the original "Killer Cuts" soundtrack to use in the game' s practice mode. I'm fairly certain that we can all agree that the best part about the original KI was the song "K.I. Feeling," so having it here effectively renders that game completely obsolete.

The great training offered by Killer Instinct will help you get your feet wet, and it might just introduce you to some concepts that'll make you understand all fighting games on a slightly deeper level. That's a great touch. The flexible pricing is nice, but even at the full $40, Killer Instinct feels like a solid addition to the genre. It's also one of the better games to hit the Xbox One at launch, so if you've ever been interested in a fighting game, you might want to give this one a shot.

Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
91 Comments
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Posted by Ozzer

Booyah

Posted by csl316

Of course, this starts with a dig at original KI. I expected no less!

Posted by PorkLord

Game isn't bad, dunno if it's deep enough to hold on in competitive play though.

Posted by SmiteOfHand

You just gave Killer Instinct 4 stars! WHAT WORLD IS THIS?

Posted by Nightriff

Why wasn't Fulgore the first character in the game? Isn't he the mascot of the franchise?

Posted by Hamst3r

Yo Check This Out!

Posted by Solh0und

Killer Instinct might be the best launch game out of both next gen consoles. Quite awesome I might add....

Posted by Ramstein

And people were worried about Double Helix. Pfft. I knew the moment I saw the first Developer diary video blog thing that the franchise was in better hands with them than with Rare, that's how passionate they were. I remember when people would ask 'Do you know what Double Helix's last two games were?' I would ask; 'Have you seen the last handful of games Rare has made!?'

I'm glad my top 3 favorite fighters are all back and doing well. Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and now, Killer Instinct.

Posted by NelsonKaiton

I'm enjoying KI so far.

Posted by MrGtD

if the 5th ultra street fighter character isn't strider (it's totally strider) they should put him in KI

Posted by Even

I beat everyone in my local area on X-Band with Cinder in the original KI for the SNES. I ended up enabling nationwide matching and did pretty well, until I racked up a huge long distance bill and my parents made me do extra work around the house for a month.

Combo breakers were harder to pull off in the original, and Cinder had an air opener that was hard to defend against, which lead to a lot of opponents dancing.

Posted by yakov456

ULTRA MICROTRANSACTION!!!

Edited by Tireyo

Looks like Killer Instinct has come a long ways. I've only played the one that was on the N64.

Edited by steelerzfan101

It seems like this is the one game that looks like a must-play (or at least a must-try) on the Xbox One. Interesting stuff...

Posted by Hailinel

This reads less like a review and more like a commercial at points. Especially when Jeff starts talking about the various payment options for what amounts to so little content and calling it OK.

Posted by GnaTSoL

So Jeff didn't give it 5 stars cause he can't combo-break properly and hates getting punished thereafter..... Doesn't sound like the game's fault to me.....

Posted by Dooley

600th review eh?

Posted by TychoX

These comments suck.

Posted by Vuud

I don't know about you guys but I think this is CRAZY. Whodathunk that a F2P Killer Instinct reboot would be one of the best launch titles for this gerneation??

Posted by Fram

Nice to see both MK and KI relevant again in 2013. Who'd have thought?

Edited by Trilogy

@ramstein said:

And people were worried about Double Helix. Pfft.

I guess you could say, they really know how to CODE!

Edited by Xeirus

@gnatsol said:

So Jeff didn't give it 5 stars cause he can't combo-break properly and hates getting punished thereafter..... Doesn't sound like the game's fault to me.....

I find it hilarious you're bitching about a 4-star review.

You are what's wrong with the world.

Posted by Kersplackle

@mrgtd: It was already confirmed to be a character that has not been in a prior fighting game but lives in the street fighter universe.

Posted by WarlordPayne

The game and combo system seem awfully similar to the original games. I don't know how he can hate the old ones so much yet like this one as much as he does.

Posted by Cybexx

If the other two characters don't completely break the game and the story mode is decent then $20 is a pretty good deal. For reference, Skullgirls launched with 8 characters, training, lessons, versus, story and online for $20.

Posted by IzunaDrop

Orchid's theme is awesome (her stage was even more of a highlight - so shiny), but the best part is that it always reminds me of this gem of a fighting game musical accompaniment.

Edited by Iceland

Why wasn't Fulgore the first character in the game? Isn't he the mascot of the franchise?

He was much more prevalent in the first game and just another character in the second game. Orchid was the victor of the original tournament according to Killer Instinct 2.

Posted by GnaTSoL

@xeirus: it ain't bitchin. I'm speaking the truth. That was his only gripe.

I don't give a fuck if its 5 stars but I will comment on him finding a negative in the learning curve of combo breakers and punishment there after.

4 stars is a great score and fine by me. I just didn't like his reasoning. Opinions buddy so stop bitchin about shit that ain't bitchin but fair feedback.

Posted by LarryDavis

This is the most positive review I've read. Most say that while the mechanics are good, there just isn't enough there to make it worthwhile.

Edited by l4wd0g

Thanks for the review Jeff. I've been playing with Jano and I think I'll grab the full season.

It seems like the best games on both the PS4 and Xbox One are $15 and $20 games.

Posted by TheSouthernDandy

@hailinel said:

This reads less like a review and more like a commercial at points. Especially when Jeff starts talking about the various payment options for what amounts to so little content and calling it OK.

Or he could just...I dunno...think that it's actually ok. I know, right? Opinions in a review. Crazy!

Posted by UncleThursday

@gnatsol: I think the lack of offline single player modes is really what hurts the score more than Jeff not being able to reliably combo break. No arcade or story mode really hurts the title at launch for the casual fighting game fan, especially after what NetherRealm did with the story modes for Injustice and Mortal Kombat, or the arcade options in Injustice. Also, the lack of spectator mode or a King of the Hill type mode and lobbies in online is really a let down. That's the whole reason I didn't score it above what I did in my own review: simply not enough content (online and offline) here to keep anyone but hardcore old school KI fans or hardcore fighting game players interested.

@larrydavis: My review on youTube says similar, actually. Mechanics are great, but might not be enough to keep non-fans of the series or casual fighting game players.

@hailinel: It might sound like a commercial when talking about the price points... but price has to be a factor. If this was a $60 fighting game with so little single player content and so few characters, then this game would probably be a 1-2 star game. At $20, it's a bit easier to swallow and the score should reflect that. There's still not enough here for really casual or non- fighting game fans, truthfully, but even for a casual fighting game player, like me, $20 is easy to think about spending. In fact, since I am an old school KI fan, I bought the $40 version for the classic skins coming later, and for KI Classic (which hasn't aged all that well). I've played this game far longer than I have played BF4, so I feel I have my money's worth from it.

Edited by HistoryInRust

I'm enjoying the game, but finding the combo system a bit cumbersome, especially in comparison to something like Injustice.

Z-motions on a controller joystick or d-pad are pure hell.

In local play the game tends to feel a bit mashy, but it's a good enough time regardless.

Posted by Ramstein

@vuud: Anyone who followed the game's announcement from the very beginning? Derp.

Posted by Scotto

@hailinel said:

This reads less like a review and more like a commercial at points. Especially when Jeff starts talking about the various payment options for what amounts to so little content and calling it OK.

He points out that the lack of fleshed out modes and massive roster, is offset by the fact that the absolute most you'll pay for this game is $40 - or $20 if all you want is the new game in it's entirety.

I think it's completely fair to say that the amount of content on offer, is reasonable for the price. Especially when the core mechanics of the game are so enjoyable.

Good on Jeff for not going the route some other reviewers have gone, comparing this game's feature set and roster to full-priced competitors -- a contest it has no chance of winning.

Edited by ripelivejam

UUUULLLLTTTTRRRRRRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

Posted by lacke

@gnatsol: Just because he pointed out one negative thing doesn't mean that it would have been a 5-star game otherwise. By your argument (counting positives and negatives), have you considered that maybe all the good things about the game don't amount to 5 stars either?

And yeah, what the other guy said at the end was uncalled for..


Posted by GnaTSoL

@lacke said:

@gnatsol: Just because he pointed out one negative thing doesn't mean that it would have been a 5-star game otherwise. By your argument (counting positives and negatives), have you considered that maybe all the good things about the game don't amount to 5 stars either?

And yeah, what the other guy said at the end was uncalled for..

Fair enough and true. :)

Posted by PinkFloydPLA

@smiteofhand: Well, Gamespot gave Killer Instinct Gold (for N64) a 7.4 so,that's higher then 4, right?

Posted by GaspoweR

That opening description for the review is awfully reminiscent of another fighting game...where more often than not blocking too much can be a death sentence and it's better to avoid that situation or be the aggressor.

*cough* MAHVEL

Posted by KenpachiRamaSama

@nightriff: Actually no. Jago is the Mascot and main protagonist of the Killer Instincts games and Fulgore is the main antagonist.

Edited by GaspoweR

@gnatsol said:

So Jeff didn't give it 5 stars cause he can't combo-break properly and hates getting punished thereafter..... Doesn't sound like the game's fault to me.....

I don't think not being able to pull off the combo breakers consistently and getting punished for it was the reason @jeff gave this game 4 stars. In fact, he did mention that better players will be able to pull it off. He just mentioned that as a comparison point in terms of his personal skill compared to others. Ofcourse, nobody likes to see the character get combo'd to oblivion, it's true in every fighting game and I'm sure Jeff, of all people, knows that. He was just sharing his experiences and did not read as a slight against the game.

Edited by DoomHK

I'd honestly rather play Injustice: Gods Among Us - Ultimate Edition, but I'm glad the Xbox One also launches with a quality fighting game.

Posted by bigjeffrey

Fithy RICH

Posted by NoelVeiga

I'm a bit concerned about pricing here. Let's see, it's a $40 game with what? 8 characters, when all is said and done, 6 right now. So if season two runs you another 40 for 8 more... well, that's really expensive. Even by Capcom standards, their revisions and DLC tend to be a bit bigger on content.

Of course season two could be twenty bucks, Capcom-style, for those who own season one, but I don't know that. I think I'll wait for the full game to be out and see what Story mode is like before I jump in. Of course by then it's entirely possible that the only people online will land a single hit on you and crush 75% of your health reliably, but hey.

Also, six button games on a controller tend to suck, and even with the better d-pad, that's still true here. But there aren't enough games to justify trying to hunt down the only stick that is available right now... it's wait and see for me right now.

Posted by Zanetsu

@noelveiga:

Actually, from what I can tell, you get all of season 1 for 20$, not 40$. The more expensive one is just for the extra customization and KI Classic. So it would be 40$ for two seasons, which I feel is at least okay.

Edited by Dberg

The combo system in the first KI was deceptively easy and more of a finger puzzle than anything else. It was tic-tac-toe with your SNES controller. I loved it. I have no idea how this worked out in multiplayer where someone had to defend against it, because KI was a game best played alone to pull off combos and see fatalities, ultras, ultimates and endings.

Posted by SuperSambo

I'm a bit concerned about pricing here. Let's see, it's a $40 game with what? 8 characters, when all is said and done, 6 right now. So if season two runs you another 40 for 8 more... well, that's really expensive. Even by Capcom standards, their revisions and DLC tend to be a bit bigger on content.

Of course season two could be twenty bucks, Capcom-style, for those who own season one, but I don't know that. I think I'll wait for the full game to be out and see what Story mode is like before I jump in. Of course by then it's entirely possible that the only people online will land a single hit on you and crush 75% of your health reliably, but hey.

Also, six button games on a controller tend to suck, and even with the better d-pad, that's still true here. But there aren't enough games to justify trying to hunt down the only stick that is available right now... it's wait and see for me right now.

It is a $20 game, with the likelihood that the next one will be $20.

How can you claim that the game controls badly if you have not played it?

You sound like such a negative person...

Posted by Dogma

Are we ready to give Double Helix the benefit of the doubt when it comes to take care of Strider?

I actually always thought that Double Helix would be able to deliver. I don't know why really. They just seemed to be really passionate and sincere in their interviews and dev videos. It felt like they really liked working on this game or with a fighting game.

Double Helix have mainly worked on license (as in NOT videogame license) product before and how motivating is it to work with Saw the Game, G.I. Joe. Green Lantern or Battleship that has to be shipped in a span of 9 months each?

I would not call Homecoming a disaster but a failure. That's a hard IP to tackle. The studio was probably not ready. I have this feeling that the studio reformed since then. Either they have new leadership or new developers...or they finally got routine or motivation.

Something seems to have changed at Duble Helix so I'm interested in what they will be doing in the future. How about you guys? What do you think?

Also...Killer Instinct looks great. Really want to play this.

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