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.
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
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
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
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…
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.
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.
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