Sitting amongst thousands of fans and fellow gaming media, I was one of many cheering and clapping when the announcement trailer for the new Killer Instinct debuted at Microsoft’s 2013 Media Briefing. After eighteen years of consistent pestering and sometimes outright begging, a new game for the beloved fighter was finally becoming a reality and no one could have been happier. And then it happened… It was discovered that Double Helix Games would be developing the game, not Rare, and the majority of that initial excitement was exhausted from almost everyone, including myself. But let me tell you… After spending a few hours with the game throughout the day yesterday, I can say with full confidence that Killer Instinct is back, and Double Helix Games has maintained the franchise’s beauty and essence that fans of the brand would expect from a new entry in the acclaimed series.
When I first approached the Killer Instinct E3 booth and saw people playing the game, I knew I was in for a treat. Watching the classic combos that has defined the iconic franchise lighting up the television screens and hearing the familiar, resonating sounds of awesome, brutal, and combo breakers was a pure and satisfying rush of nostalgia; but watching and playing are two very different things. My turn to battle quickly arose and I placed my hands on the new Killer Instinct branded Mad Catz fight stick to relive an experience that I didn’t think I would ever have the opportunity to relive in the modern age of gaming. I selected my preferred character of the two available, Sabrewulf, and it was time to fight. The battle that ensued and the many, many more that followed after was just absolutely unbelievable.
Killer Instinct for Xbox One is just as much the same Killer Instinct as you would remember it to be. The combos and their ever resonating sounds such as ‘awesome’ ‘brutal’ ‘ultra’ and, yes, ‘c-c-c-combo breaker’ are back in full force and just as satisfying as ever. The movesets of both Jago and Sabrewulf are nearly identical to their previous incarnations with a few subtle changes here and there. Even the traditional double health bar has returned, maintaining that same feel of keeping the match running quickly and smoothly without ever interrupting the gameplay by splitting it into “rounds”. Those familiar with the series will also remember that it relied on both manual and automatic combos. Well those are back as well, but this time they are bit easier and more “streamlined” according to the developers so that even novice players would have the opportunity to achieve a big combo. Now while the game is very reminiscent of the older titles, it does include some new things as well.
Some of the new features that adds to the gameplay is the inclusion of meters. At the bottom of the screen, there are two segmented meters that are filled as your character takes damage. Once one on of them has reached full capacity, tapping any two buttons together at the same time would activate a special move. How that move played out would also be determined on the direction in which you’re moving the stick. When playing as Sabrewulf, for instance, I noticed that he would attack with a fearsome barrage of relentless claw swipes in one scenario and in another he would swipe upward at his opponent. In Jago’s case, he would attack with a multitude of his traditional long kicks. There is also one other meter just beneath the health bar. This particular meter–once filled–allows for a special trait of the character to be used and if achieved correctly, your character will commence to glow brightly. For Jago, he would repeatedly regain health until the meter ran dry (as Ken Lobb was clear to point out to me). I’m not quite sure what it did for Sabrewulf as I was always a bit too busy trying to survive.
In the previous titles, there were times when you could beat your opponent into oblivion so badly that they would become stunned and unable to temporarily move. That is back in this game as well but it’s handled a bit differently. This time, there are two different times of “stunning” that are defined by the color of an exclamation mark that appears above a characters head. There are brown and red. If I’m not mistaken, a brown exclamation mark means that you’re capable of breaking out of the inevitable beat down while red means you kind of have to just watch your fighter get pummeled into oblivion. I’ll have to speak with the developers today for verification on this, however.
Of course, the characters have also been redesigned as well. Jago, for example, has a more muscular build with clothing that appears more ‘worn and torn’ than in the earlier games and he is more “Tibetan” in nature. It takes a bit to get used to this particular design, but it certainly grew on me rather quickly. Sabrewulf on the other hand is fairly similar to his old design but with some obvious new changes, such as his flowing, braided mane and more vicious nature. Glacius wasn’t playable on the showfloor, but his reveal in the trailer showed that he is also extremely similar to his older design as well. With more characters to be announced soon, I expect the designers will take the same approach with them as they have the aforementioned three characters.
One other thing that is definitely different is the art style. In the first game for the arcade and SNES, it featured the same 3D pre-rendered technology found in Donkey Kong Country to give it a more unique feel in comparison to other fighters on the market. The new Killer Instinct features a more “claymation” artistic approach that is–and I’ll be honest here–extremely similar to Street Figher IV’s. That tends to apply specifically to the characters, though, as the models and backdrops seem as if they were pulled straight from the older games and updated with today’s technology (even thought they are brand new). One other thing is the inclusion of an immense amount of particle effects. From every punch, kick, bite and swipe, particles light up the screen indicating a hit has been made. It’s actually very interesting to view while playing and certainly isn’t distracting as many would have you believe. There are several other fine details as well such as the 2.5D models of your characters head next to the health bars (that will also occasionally glow).
So let me say this: if you have had any doubts about this game whatsoever, then set them aside. I don’t care if you disagree with its free-to-play model or are concerned that No Mercy’s may not return, if you’re a fan of Killer Instinct (and even if you’re not!) then you owe it to yourself to acquire this game when it launches later this year. It is Killer Instinct as you’ve always remembered it and then some more. And that, my fellow gamers, is a good thing.