Classic game appreciation section: Killer Instinct

KI’s combo system was, of course, far simpler and more automatic that Street Fighter II’s battle with buffered frames and the shaving of milliseconds off button inputs. Building a combo in Killer Instinct was like building one out of Lego. You had various sets of move types which held certain properties within combos.

Openers would obviously start things up, then single-press Autos would string a few more hits on. Throw in a Linker (usually a low-level special move) in next and you’d have the keystone of your violence-bridge. Over the hump of that bridge you’d drop in another Auto, and then use the breathing space afforded by the extra hits to round off with a Finisher, a higher-level special which would round things off beautifully.

Above: Someone who wanted a crack at a 48-hitter

That was the basic combo theory, anyway. The real joy came in finding out which of the interlocking punch-bricks in your arsenal would click together most effectively, and just how many times you could attach new Linkers, Autos and Juggles until the whole thing collapsed under its own weight. Throw in a necessity to balance longer, more impressive showboating against damage-scaling, and the constant threat that the longer your combo, the more likely your opponent would be to gain an advantage by throwing in a successful Combo Breaker (Altogether now," C-C-C…"), and you had a rather playful back-and-forth, cat-and-mouse dynamic in what initially just seemed like silly spectacle for the sake of silly spectacle.

It was big, beautiful, bold, knowingly-silly, deliberately ostentatious, but really rather clever and friendly at its core. And as such it served as a perfect analogy for Killer Instinct as a whole.

Killer Instinct, you see, was a British fighting game. We hadn't had one of those for years, and sweet crap, did KI immediately show up what we'd been missing. For all the brutality, all the gore, all the wanton carnage and excessively elaborate murder (this was a game in which you could even tag a lethal finisher right onto the end of a 20-hit combo if you wanted to), everything was shot through with such a warm, eccentric sense of humour and sparkling wink of the eye as to be utterly, huggably inoffensive.

Above: Mortal Kombat meets Loony Tunes. That’s the Killer Instinct way

Orchid's breast-exposing finisher would have been entirely uncomfortable, where it not for the six-foot, Loony Tunes eyeball-pop that it elicited in some of its its victims, immediately before they clutched their chests and died of a cartoonish heart attack. Battle robot Fulgore might have shot his opponents to death with a machine gun, but he did so by unscrewing his own head and unfolding from his neck a comically-huge piece of hardware that could not possibly have fitted inside his body cavity.

And don’t forget Jago, the noble, stoid warrior monk, who could finish off his opponent by sitting down, meditating for a moment in deep concentration, and using his years of spiritual enlightenment and self-discipline to invoke a f*cking car from the sky and drop it on his quarry from a great height. For no good, logical reason other than that that sort of shit had been funny in Road Runner cartoons, so it would be funny now. And it was.

Yes, Killer Instinct was glitchy. Yes, it’s extravagant combo system was totally exploitable if you knew what you were doing and put the work in. But it didn’t matter. Killer Instinct was a big happy dog of a game, bounding up to you with a giddy, face-licking enthusiasm, goofing around as much as possible to ensure that you had fun. But like all the best dogs, its benevolent silliness belied a sharpness and intelligence that would ensure that it would look after you for a long time to come.

Above: Oh go on then, one more time…

In fact, that long time extends right up to now. That arcade cabinet seemed to turn up everywhere I went in Florida on that holiday. In every arcade, in every water park, in every shopping mall eatery, it seemed to pop up and say hello, my exciting new best friend quietly following me for the whole of my journey. And I played it every single time.

While the Nintendo 64 might never have actually got it in the end, instead receiving a slightly downgraded remix of the slightly disappointing Killer Instinct 2, the SNES port is a startling victory of the quart-into-a-pint-pot arts. If you can put up with the smaller sprites and the lack of the arcade version's visual zing-pop, the core game remains a stormingly fun fighter. It's just a damn shame that the series never got the opportunity to go further.

But regardless, as is obligatory, I’m ending this article with the traditional "The campaign for an XBLA release starts here" statement. It wouldn't be the first time, and it won’t be the last. But I don't care, because Killer Instinct is that good.

The campaign for an XBLA release starts here. 

06 Oct, 2011

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  • Hai-Shi - October 11, 2011 5:18 a.m.

    Didn't mean "combo", meant "finishing move"... :))
  • Hai-Shi - October 11, 2011 5:11 a.m.

    Thank you, David, AWESOME VICTORY! Oh how I loved the SNES port back in the days. I remember accidentally triggering my first combo ever with Fulgore. I was like "what the f**k just happend?!? Sweeeeet!!!"... :)) This game screams for a reboot or at least for a re-release in sweet hi-def!
  • kevbayliss - October 7, 2011 5:16 a.m.

    Wow...! Great review. I was lucky enough to have been heavily involved with development of this and Ki2. LOVED it. From the prancing around in the motion capture suit, modelling and animating the cutscenes, to recording some of the voices. That game was my (and a lot of others!) life for a few years. The whole development was fun, and I'm really proud of that game to this day... I am after a KI2 and KI1 machine, when I find them in the UK in good condition, they're going side by side in the garage! Thanks for the great review there... We worked hard. And played hard. As did KI. Kev Bayliss
  • AuthorityFigure - October 6, 2011 6:17 p.m.

    Hey! They music was also terrific. Some of the characters were a bit daggy though (Raptor and Thunder). But it was an excellent SNES game that I have in my collection to this day. Nice, black box and cartridge too.
  • jaynoyce - October 6, 2011 4:50 p.m.

    compared to the other fighters around at the time i thought it was a nice lookin load of balls. but that might just b me. did look amazin back then tho.
  • Baron164 - October 6, 2011 3:04 p.m.

    I loved Killer Instinct, it was the only real fighting game I liked. I would love for them to release an HD remake of the original or both. Plus a KI3 would be nice. I don't expect it anytime soon but I'd buy it for sure
  • HaVoK308 - October 6, 2011 2:43 p.m.

    Ah, this really takes me back! I was a mere 21 years old and having the time of my life in the Military. My buds and I use to play this at the club on base. Eventually got it for the SNES, I believe. But it wasn't the same. Be cool to see this get the recent MK treatment.
  • iluvpkmnmonday - October 6, 2011 1:25 p.m.

    Screw the XBLA campaign. I want a Killer Instinct 3 damn it.
  • LiaraLoveSlave - October 6, 2011 12:47 p.m.

    Fond memories of going to the pizza place in my hometown after school and depositing an obscene amount of quarters into this beast. So many epic Cinder vs. Glacius battles. DANGER! DANGER!
  • Vordhosbn - October 6, 2011 11:29 a.m.

    I absolutely loved the SNES version, but my only memory of the arcade version was being battered by someone who was much older and knew all of Cinders combos :(
  • FanofSaiyan - October 6, 2011 11:07 a.m.

    Killer Instinct was one hell of a game. Even the packaging (that sexy black cartridge that was addressed in a previous article) was a wash of color in a wave of mediocrity. I currently own KI for the SNES, which isn't as flashy in terms of graphics, but it really simplified the gameplay (2D fighters to me are much easier to play than 3D fighters). I've beaten Eyedol god knows how many times, and it's just as satisfying to do it today as it was back in 2002 (when I got KI). None of Rare's games will ever be as genre-defying as KI. To me, there is only one god of fighting games: Killer Instinct. Now lets hope Rare comes to their senses and releases KI3 (and it better be multi-platform!)
  • shawksta - October 6, 2011 12:35 p.m.

    Reminder: Nintendo used to own Rare, now their Microsofts, so no multiplatform.
  • Jrymanz - October 6, 2011 10:24 a.m.

  • IceBlueKirby - October 6, 2011 10:24 a.m.

    KI was an awesome game. Shamefully I never played the arcade version, but I love the SNES version. Glacius even replaced Sub-Zero as my favorite ice-based character in a fighting game (not that he had much competition, but still) so that's saying something, because I love Sub-Zero. I also remember being skeptical about Combo because I never liked Balrog, but damn if Combo didn't kick a little ass. And Spinal is still the coolest skeleton in any video game (sorry, Mr. Bones) by a huge stretch.
  • Boonehams - October 6, 2011 10:02 a.m.

    Isn't Killer Instinct in rights dispute limbo? I heard that there was some deal struck that since Nintendo distributed the arcade cabinets and published the ports, that they held the rights to the characters/property. With RARE now being owned by Microsoft, it's put a damper on any re-releases or sequels. Someone correct me if I'm wrong (and I hope I'm wrong, because I'd love to see a re-release/sequel as much as anyone else).
  • Bitchslapthehomeless - October 6, 2011 9:37 a.m.

    David, you magnificent man. I totally agree, and miss the KI franchise. With the fighting "renaissance" going on now with MK and SFIV, the time is now for Rare/Microsoft to make a KI3, but alas, I guess they are afraid of success and or money.
  • SonicX_89 - October 6, 2011 8:02 a.m.

    I really want to play KI now. You can consider me part of the campaign to get a release on XBLA.
  • Mooshon - October 6, 2011 7:41 a.m.

    Never really got into Killer Instinct. More than SF2 or MK it was so damned reliant on combos that you would be schooled and lost your money within 20 seconds. The days before the internet you only had that little panel on the cabinet to learn (while playing) a handful of moves too. You must have had an autistic memory to cram in the finishes as well. Think my 20p's all went to the Turtles and Simpsons back then. Guaranteed 5-10 minutes!
  • n00b - October 6, 2011 7:40 a.m.

    love this game. never played it in the arcades but played it a lot on the snes. oh and darkstalkers had a werewolf martial artist but we can save that for another appreciation section
  • fadedlinevigil - October 6, 2011 7:31 a.m.

    For the first time ever, I agree with something on this site. Garishly written and totally over-the-top? Yes. But I do remember the love I had for this game. The N64 version had better fatalities than the arcade. Fulgor's melting man finisher was gruesome/awesome.

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