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Review: Killer Instinct

As a young child, I remember constantly heading to the local arcade after school to drop quarters and play against my friends. Back then, it seemed that you belonged in one of two fighting camps – the Mortal Kombat crowd or the Killer Instinct one. I went for the former, and in all honestly, it was to try to seem edgy.

The claymation in Killer Instinct, though? It was always damn cool to watch.

Flash forward to 2013 and the launch of Xbox One, and Killer Instinct is back with a vengeance, sadly minus the distinct art style that the series was known for; whilst you can load up Killer Instinct Classic (for a price) it seems developer Double Helix wanted to go for a Street Fighter IV look rather than stick to the franchise’s roots in the game’s core form.


At any rate, Killer Instinct is a freemium title, so those who’ve spent too much on the console, extra games and peripherals can play as Jago for no cost, taking on any of the other 7 characters that can be accessed in the game via online or local matches. If you’re so inclined, you can purchase additional characters as one-off transactions or buy a bundle that gives you some or all of that extra content.

If I’d spent more time with Killer Instinct at the arcade, I have a feeling I would have known that the game is all about combos. After jumping straight into the local play’s “Survival” mode, I got bored very quickly, stringing together three- or four-hit combos courtesy my expert button mashing. It wasn’t until I backed out and hit up the game’s “Dojo” tutorial levels that I got a true understanding of what I was to do in the game.

Linking hits. Auto combos. Openers. Shadow moves.

Ultra combos.

Oh, those glorious Ultra combos.


Even if you’re a veteran fighter, head over and fly through those tutorials. I went from a four-hit combo fighter to a 36-hit one in about ten minutes flat. Then, I started to enjoy the game. After that, I started to ramp up the game’s difficulty settings to see how far I could get.

As a sometimes-fighter, I did have a little bit of trouble with heavy punches and kicks via the Xbox One controller; heavy kicks are accessible by the right trigger and heavy punches via the right bumper. Heavy kicks weren’t bad, but I still have a devil of a time trying to pull off heavy punches. Mid-play, it’s normally not a big deal — I tend to use light and medium attacks, all mapped to the controller’s face buttons, to avoid issues – but when you’re trying to pull off that supreme Ultra combo, it’s a bit hit-or-miss.

But man, when you do get that Ultra and each hit is chained to a musical note in the game’s soundtrack? And the announcer screams “Uuuuuuuullllltraaaaaaa cooooombooo” at the top of his lungs? Well, that feeling simply can’t be beat. It’s a great form of encouragement that also manages to stir something inside of you that wants to do it and hear it again.


Survival mode is probably the mode of choice when playing offline, though there are ranked and exhibition online modes that Double Helix clearly wants players to jump into. It’s disappointing that a story mode doesn’t exist from launch, but it will be added into the game at a later date.

For more advanced fighters, there’s a system of combo breakers (rather, “c-c-c-combo breakers”) and paper-rock-scissor type ‘this move overrides that move’ type stuff, but I’ve a feeling the majority of us will stick to combo linkers, shadow moves and that ever-so-awesome Ultra combo. What I’m trying to get at is that, to my uneducated eye, it seems like Killer Instinct will fit in well with the Esports type… though I’m happy to be corrected.

A fighter on a next-gen system, Killer Instinct’s only direct competition is Injustice: Gods Among Us on PS4. Even at budget pricing, Injustice’s cost doesn’t come near the low, low price of free, or around $20.00 AUD if you want to unlock the game’s full roster of characters. Whilst it would have been amazing to see Rare return to proper game development, Double Helix has done a fine job in recreating the Killer Instinct feel that I remember watching (and being intimidated by) in old-school arcades. I was unable to get Killer Instinct Classic to work on the Xbox One I was playing with, but I’ve been told it is very faithful to the arcade cabinet I remember as a boy, glitches and all.

The bottom line is that Killer Instinct is polished, free download. You’ve nothing to lose by downloading it and giving it a whirl and see if you want to keep playing. We won’t be surprised if you sink some cash into it afterward.

Our original Killer Instinct review was published in November 2013.

Update: Season Three content

The Killer Instinct Season Three update has graced our computers, providing the first chunk of KI’s new cross-play and cross-buy content on Windows 10. Updates include the obvious title screen changes and, more importantly, roster upgrades. This is done alongside a re-balancing of the entire roster of fighters, now as twenty-three; each gets a new ability. All this is bundled with new dynamic lighting effects that you’ll most prominently when performing shadow moves and combo finishers.

With the launch of Season Three, the base mode launched with four new characters and three new levels which tie in with the newbies Kim, Tusk and Arbiter.

I could only imagine Kim Wu as being Bruce Lee’s angst-filled teen daughter, with a quick wit and even quicker nun-chucks. Chosen by a dragon spirit to battle an unknown evil, Kim made her debut in the 1996’s Killer Instinct 2.

An absolute powerhouse of a man, Tusk is an ancient warrior with an beastly-sized sword. While he’s fastest compared to the game’s roster, the reach of his sword makes up for that in spades. Tusk also made his debut in the 1996’s Killer Instinct 2.


From the 1991 NES game Battletoads, Rash is a anthropomorphic human-sized toad who can morph his arms and legs into weapons or smash hits, allowing for some hilarious combos and clever shout-outs to his origins.

Finally, Arbiter from the Halo series of games joins the roster as a guest fighter and brings with him an arsenal of weapons from his pulse rifle to plasma grenades and energy sword. Using his shields, he’s all the harder to kill.

Those who own the “Combo Pack” DLC also have access to Mira, Maya’s twin sister who sacrificed herself to save Maya’s life. She’s since been brought back to life (or is that undeath?) as a vampire who sacrifices health to do more damage. She can also suck the life out of opponents to receive some of it back. She’s definitely a more advanced player’s character as you have to micromanage health or risk opening yourself up to your opponent. Mira makes her debut performance in this very iteration of Killer Instinct.

Killer Instinct was reviewed using a promotional code on Xbox One as provided by the publisherSeason Three content was reviewed using a promotional code on Windows PC, as provided by the publisher.


Review: Killer Instinct
7.5 out of 10

The good

  • Fun.
  • Classic.
  • With great variety.

The bad

  • Controller makes it hard to pull some moves off.

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Steve Wrighthttps://www.stevivor.com
Steve's the owner of this very site and an active games journalist for the past ten years. He's a Canadian-Australian gay gaming geek, ice hockey player and fan. Husband to Matt and cat dad to Wally and Quinn.