Review: Killer Instinct

This review is based on the Xbox One version of Killer Instinct.

The original Killer Instinct came out at a time when the fighting game genre was flooded with entries that were either burdened with generic design like Eternal Champions, or limited in appeal due to an overarching gimmick such as Clay Fighter. Rare broke through into the second tier of fighting games alongside Virtua Fighter by combining unique character designs and ideas with a mature setting that only Mortal Kombat could compete with in the 16-bit and 32-bit console eras.

Double Helix has captured the essence of the original entry while making a lot of smart, modern updates to its unique formula of fast striking and macro initiated combos. The six included fighters in the season pass version of the game are all distinct characters that focus on speed, power or range control that are accentuated with a variety of special moves and variations on the animations of their standard attacks. It borrows a lot from Street Fighter IV in the implementations of damage boosted shadow moves and a special mode bar that builds up from damage with the Instinct Mode, while reserving the ULTRA COMBO!!!!! for the end of matches as a final touch. I do miss the environmental finishing moves from the original game (such as knocking someone over the roof of Orchid’s stage), but only the most hardcore fans will miss those touches.

The revamped Killer Instinct brings back all of the defining original moves such as chaining together combos and combo breakers, but add some new touches for an increase in sophistication. Combo breakers are now limited in attempts by eventually locking out a defender from continuing to attempt them after a few tries, and counter breakers serve as an escape from a combo breaker if implemented at exactly the right moment. The addition of shadow enhanced moves allow fighters to cover a wider range of horizontal and vertical space for greater control of the level, as well as adding increasing options to continue juggles and chain additional damage.

The game does contain a ton of shout outs to the earlier entries by offering unlockable concept art, audio tracks, stages, skins and more with the in-game KI Points currency that can be accrued by playing the game: if you’ve misplaced your SNES bundled copy of Killer Cuts and long to hear the original tracks, Double Helix has your back. The unlockables are nice rewards for playing the standard Versus and Survival modes by yourself or the online Ranked and Player Match modes, and supplemented by Trials rewards which incentivize you to try out the various modes as well as the Training Dojo to improve your skills.

With its combination of fast combat, counter moves (and counters to those), the rebooted Killer Instinct is one of the best games on the Xbox One. The team at Double Helix has captured the perfect blend of respecting the past and reinventing for the future, and it lives up to the promise shown in the demo made available at PAX Prime 2013. Priced affordably and with the promise of a rapidly evolving experience in the months to come (Spinal arrives in January 2014 and Fulgore a couple of months afterwards), the first new fighting game on a next generation console sets the bar high for combat games for years to come.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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