It has been 19 years since the world last saw a Killer Instinct game. In that time, its developer Rare, was acquired by Microsoft and has gone on to create many un-Killer-Instinct like games such as Conker: Live & Reloaded, Viva PiƱata and Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts. Still, gamers clamored for a new KI and their prayers were answered at E3 2013, when Microsoft released the first footage for Killer Instinct, exclusively on Xbox One. With the relatively unknown development team at Double Helix Games taking over responsibilities for the title the question has to be asked – Does Killer Instinct land a “Supreme Victory”?

If you have no experience with Killer Instinct, it’s a famous fighting game franchise that emerged in the arcades in 1994 at what most consider to be the height of the fighting game craze. Seriously, this is when arcades were still prevalent in the United States and you would have your choice between Killer Instinct, Mortal Kombat II and Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers – Truly the good ol’ days. Where the other fighting games had their own trademark mechanics such as fatalities and super moves, Killer Instinct was known for its rabid combo system that yielded tons of hits and required great reflexes and timing on the part of the player.

At the heart of the new Killer Instinct, that’s still the case. The game wields an easy to approach combo system that will reward you for studying it in detail. As of this writing, a lot of familiar characters are back for this go around including Jago, Sabrewulf, Thunder and Orchid plus new comer Sadira with more characters to come around shortly including Spinal and Fulgore. That may be an odd concept to some, a fighting game releasing with only about 5 characters, but it’s all apart of KI’s free-to-play approach. Of course, “free-to-play” and “fighting game” usually don’t go hand in hand but despite the usual community uproar over anything DLC, surprisingly most don’t seem to mind this approach with characters costing $4.99 individually or in packs for at least $19.99 for all of season one’s characters.

If you have had experience with any of the previous Killer Instinct games, you won’t have much of a problem jumping into this one and getting down-and-dirty with some combos as it follows the usual pattern of special move, button, special move, etc. That’s basically how I looked at a KI combo from my old days of Sabrewulf and Orchid. But the new Killer Instinct does a great job of actually breaking that down into the more technical OPENER, AUTO, LINKER, AUTO, ENDER. If you don’t know what that means that’s fine for the sake of this review but if you spend any time when KI’s fantastic “Dojo” mode, you’ll be educated on exactly what those moves are and how it affects your combos. Further, that same “Dojo” mode also goes a long way to explain some of the other nuances of the system including Combo Breakers, Shadow Moves, Shadow Breakers, Shadow Linkers, Ultras and more.

Really, this is probably my favorite part of the new game as not only goes a long way to explain the new gameplay mechanics of KI, but also of fighting games in general, that have enjoyed a huge resurgence as of late. If you’ve heard some of the words while watching streams such as “meaty”, “hit boxes” and wondered how that played into an actual game – Killer Instinct has you covered. Truly, while most training sections in fighting games only have you do combos and special moves, Killer Instinct not only shows you how to do these moves, but explains to you what these moves actually are, and in what situations you would want to use it; truly top-notch work. Matches themselves are fantastic with lots of users reveling about what seems to be fantastic netcode with most reporting no noticeable lag in online matches.

So there you have it, Killer Instinct stays true to the franchise’s roots but introduces some new mechanics which make it a much deeper experience. Graphically, the game looks fantastic, it is decently balanced and online play is silky smooth. So you may be wondering, why the 8 out of 10 rating? Well even if you’re willing to pony up money right now, you can still only get about five characters so the experience still leaves something to be desired in that regard. But that said, let’s see where we are in another year because Double Helix’s Killer Instinct is off to a KILLER start!

This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox One version of Killer Instinct developed by Double Helix Games.

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One Fighting Game to Rule Them All | Killer Instinct Review
  • Fast and Hard Hitting
  • Dojo Mode is Great
  • Not Enough Characters
8Overall Score
Reader Rating: (0 Votes)

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The tower of power, too sweet to be sour, funky like a monkey, space is the place, the sky's the limit. OH YEA! DIG IT!

  • Edonus

    The biggest complaint I see about this game is the amount of characters and I honestly think its not a justified complaint. These reviewers are not showing respect for a new approach and basic value.
    Reviews should be focusing on the quality and mechanics of the game sense we already know there is more content being added. When all is said and done they will be adding 2 more characters and a story mode.
    Each character has a complete stock of 6 colors and 12 costume variations that you unlock and purchase as you fight. And all of this is for $20. That is a really good value especially when you look at the balance character development for each fighter. There is no generic universal moves like everyone has a projectile or super uppercut equivalent. The fighters are extremely unique. The fighting system is awesome the dojo is a fantastic addition.

    Then if you opt to get the $40 version you get all of the characters clothing options unlocked and the original Killer Instinct arcade game.

    • Joe Marchese, Editor in Chief

      While I see your point, I feel the reviewer took all that into consideration and gave the game an excellent score. When you look at a game when it first comes out you have to look at the whole package. When you look at KI at launch and compare it to other fighting games at launch, the character per cost ratio is extremely high for KI. For example, MvC3 gave you 36 character for $60 equaling $1.66 per character, same ratio for Street Fighter x Tekken, Mortal Kombat gave you 27 character for $60 dollars for a ratio of $2.22 a character and Injustice gave you 24 characters for $60 for a ratio of $2.50 a character. Meanwhile KI currently has a ratio of $3.33 per character at launch and will lower to $2.50 when the other characters get released. However, it is a very bare bones experience with big promises of content to come. I am sure down the line when we have a full game to reflect on the score may go up, but as it stands I think an 8 is a great score for what little we have to work with.

    • Bush Mackel

      Thanks for the read Edonus and I apologize as our pros and cons box doesn’t allow the most verbose of responses though I should’ve elaborated more in the review. I tend to agree with everything you said but unfortunately since we don’t have our hands on all the characters for Season 1 and 2, the fact is that we don’t know if all the characters are going to be balanced and/or unique enough for us to say that they’re good characters.

      That said, even if we say they’re totally balanced and awesome characters, if we buy both seasons for their 16 characters at $40, that still (IMO) puts the character count a lot less than its competitors, the latest incarnations of Street Fighter IV (43ish) and Mortal Kombat (32ish).

      I guess what I’m trying to say is, it’s hard to truly evaluate a fighting game when there’s only a handful of characters to pick through at moment, we don’t have a solid time table when the rest will come out, we don’t know how well they’re all going to play together etc etc. But even with all that and no story mode the game still gets an 8 for me which I think IS a testament to how good the mechanics, net code and everything else are.