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Killer Instinct Review: Welcome Back Combo Breakers & Ultra Combos!

The return of Killer Instinct has been a long time coming now and it is finally here alongside the launch of Microsoft’s Xbox One. I played an early build of it months ago and enjoyed what I experienced, so I was curious if my thoughts will change when the final version came out. Turns out that Killer Instinct is my favorite Xbox One launch game despite the limited options and modes. Double Helix Games did a great job bringing back this franchise from the dead and also making a legit competitive fighting game that genre aficionados will also enjoy if they are going to play it seriously at tournaments. Some of your favorite characters from the last two Killer Instinct games are back in this new one and more are coming in a few months. Jago, Sabrewulf, Glacius, Thunder, and Orchid have returned looking better than ever on Microsoft’s next-gen console. There is also one newcomer into the fold, which is the spider lady Sadira. She has an unique fighting style that is new to the series as she likes fighting from the air to get combos going. Speaking of fighting styles, the new Killer Instinct does fill the fighting archetypes for their characters exceptionally well. Jago is your balanced character that is easy to learn, Sabrewulf likes to be in your face at all times with high/low mixups, Glacius prefers zoning and fighting from a distance, Thunder is your slow grappler-like character, and Orchid lastly is dangerous up close. Franchise favorites Spinal and Fulgore are coming in January and March respectively, so the roster that is currently at six is not a lot, but it is something not to worry about assuming Double Helix will rolling out more characters a year from now. Microsoft and Double Helix released three buying options for this new game. A free to play version is available with all the modes unlocked, online play, and a rotating free character on a regular basis. Characters can be bought separately if you’re not to play as the whole cast. The base version of Killer Instinct costs $20 and has six playable characters with the upcoming two when they’re available. Then there’s the $40 “Combo Breaker” pack that has everything the $20 version has, accessories for your characters that I will talk about later on, and the original game in its arcade glory. The classic Killer Instinct is a separate download and its own thing with Code Mystics developing the port. Even though no online options are in the port, but going back to the original (both the initial and final versions are available from the get go) is only worth it for nostalgia alone as the new one is leagues better. The amount of modes for both single player and online are bare bones compared to other fighting games that came out recently. There is no story mode to play now, but Double Helix has said it will come out when the roster is at eight. In the meantime, only versus, survival, practice, and dojo modes are available to play alone for now. The versus and survival modes are pretty straightforward if you’re used to fighting games by now, but the training and dojo options are really impressive especially for those wanting to learn the ins and outs of Killer Instinct’s gameplay mechanics. Training not only has the standard options seen in most fighting games, but also frame data and hitboxes for more serious players experimenting around. The dojo mode is arguably the best tutorial I played through in a fighting game yet because it teaches the mechanics and systems really well. It also explains them good enough you can understand what you’re doing and how they can implemented into your game. The replay value is not there for those that love single player options in its current state, but there is enough for players to get started beating down your opponents both locally and online. Killer Instinct is a six-button fighting game with three punch and three kick buttons. While it may play a Street Fighter game at first, the combo system that is the franchise’s staple is where things get deeper. Combo breakers are back in a big way as normal attacks and special moves can broken easily depending on the button press. For instance, if your opponent keeps comboing with heavy punches, you can break the combo by timing heavy punch and heavy kick correctly. This encourages players to mix up their normal attacks when pulling off combos because you will be easily combo broken if you get too predictable with them. Failing to combo break causes a “lockout” and you can’t attempt to break again for three seconds. However, there is actually a counter breaker mechanic that breaks combo breakers allowing you to continue the combo for more damage. The risk/reward type of combo system is great for those that are good reading their opponents and knowing all of the characters’ attack animations so they can initiate counter breaking into their game. These combos can go over 50% damage easily with lockouts and counter breakers, so one mistake can cost you a fight. Besides the combo system, a plethora of gameplay mechanics are also present in the new Killer Instinct. Shadow moves are basically this game’s version of EX special moves as some can beat go over projectiles and also extend combos longer. Shadow counters are useful if you’re in a hairy situation blocking attacks. Instinct Mode is basically a special ability for each character. For example, Jago can deal more damage while in Instinct Mode and heal back lost health. The activation can also be used to keep combos going by restarting the combo meter over for you to deal more damage. Ending your combo effectively with special moves also matters because opponents can heal back health if it wasn't finished properly. Of course it ain't a Killer Instinct game without the infamous ultra combos and they’re easy to execute t o finish off fights. There are however no fatality-like finishers or humiliations like the original game. All of these gameplay systems may sound like this game might be complicated for casual players, but if you’re still looking just to fight and mash buttons, Killer Instinct is a great fighter. Just like how light on the single player options are, online play is only exhibition and ranked matches. The netcode has been pretty good with my playtime so far and I rarely had a match that was really laggy to the point it was unplayable. Shockingly, I haven’t encountered a lot of ragequits either especially with ultra combos that can last a long time ending fights, so I guess players don’t mind seeing themselves getting hit by 100+ hit combos online. There is a level up system for ranked matches as you can even level down if you consistently lose fights. In a nutshell, Killer Instinct’s online performs exceptionally well and better than most fighting games out today. Killer Instinct also has customization options, but it is mostly cosmetic stuff. Characters can be dressed up with a variety of accessories such a bigger sword for Jago, a bear head for Thunder, steampunk glasses for Sabrewulf, etc. More colors can be unlocked by playing the game a lot with a character by accumulating KP (Killer Points) performing certain tasks and trials. Player cards can also be customized just like the recent Capcom fighting games with a background, taunt, and an icon. Even the original game’s soundtrack can be bought for KP from the game’s shop if you’re nostalgic for those tunes. Since this game is on a next-gen console, how does the new Killer Instinct look visually? While it doesn't scream next-gen graphics like most of the launch lineups on both the Xbox One and Playstation 4, the game still looks great running at a consistent 60 frames per second. The particle effects do look impressive whenever fireballs clash or blocking other projectiles. Also, the stages (so refreshing to have character-based stages in a fighting game again) look varied and not as static with other stuff going on in the background. Helicopters come in during Orchid’s stage firing at the characters even though it doesn't affect gameplay as an example and it rains during the end of a fight at Thunder’s stage. The Killer Instinct series have been also infamously known for their memorable soundtracks and the new entry on Xbox One continues the streak with one of the best fighting game soundtracks in recent memory. It is pretty crazy to hear an announcer saying “C-C-C-Combo Breaker” or “U-U-Ultra Combo” in 2013, but the new one lives up to the series. The hits also sound really impactful and ferocious during combos, which also shows how much a great job Double Helix did on the audio department. After being gone for years to the point there was no hope it would return because Rare moved away from their classic IPs, it is amazing to see Killer Instinct come back in a big way. It is a great fighting game and with the genre experience the team of Double Helix Games had, you can tell they wanted this game to be played well both casually and competitively at tournaments. The amount of content available now is not much with a lack of modes and a small roster, but the foundation with the gameplay mechanics is definitely there for the game to last months and even years assuming more content will be available in the future. It is also free if you’re on the fence before upgrading to the paid versions. Who would of thought the Xbox One’s best launch game is a new Killer Instinct, but it definitely is for me.
  • Deep combo system with the addition of counter breakers, shadow counters, & more
  • Dojo mode is the best fighting game tutorial yet explaining the systems and mechanics exceptionally well
  • Great netcode & it is rare to play a laggy match
  • Memorable soundtrack that lives up to the franchise's pedigree
  • Fun fighting game both on casual and competitive levels
  • Lack of single player and online modes/options
  • Roster is only six characters for now, but two more are coming in a few months


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