Game: Killer Instinct
Killer Instinct was originally a high end coin-op released as a hardware demo for the then in-development Nintendo 64. By its very nature a SNES conversion was going to be like squeezing an elephant into a shotglass without lube. The generational hardware upgrade between the 16-bit SNES and its 64-bit follow-up was a massively bigger one than we’d ever seen before, so to all intents and purposes the basic concept was similar to that of trying to get Burnout running on a Mega Drive. Donkey Kong Country might have already proved that the SNES could handle 3D rendered graphics, but Killer Instinct was a whole different state of affairs.
Yes, KI was deceptively 2D (as a lot of supposedly 3D fighters were back then), but it used hugely detailed, almost screen-filling characters that were nigh-constantly scaling, and had a complexity and pace of gameplay far in advance of Rare’s earlier Donkey Kong platformer. Getting all the characters, stages, music and sound effects running alongside that legendarily epic combo system while avoiding a frame-rate like a slide show under a strobe light was an unlikely prospect indeed. What we got however, was sublime.
The fact that Killer Instinct works on the SNES is a testament to the level of underlying fun at the core of the game, as well as Rare’s understanding of how to balance the technical downgrades needed with the preservation of that essence. KI on the SNES was never going to be able to provide all the 64-bit bells and whistles of the arcade game, but that was all just peripheral side-dressing anyway. By focusing it’s efforts on maintaining the combos, the pace, and the brutal humour of the game, Rare provided everything Killer Instinct was really about. It was like throwing away the salad but keeping the steak, and that sentiment is even more relevent when you consider that the eventual N64 game was nowhere near as good.