Killer Instinct Returns: Why We Care


Killer Instinct is set for return, placed in the hands of developer Double Helix, an exclusive to Xbox One’s free-to-play line-up.

A Nintendo-born franchise, the series would see two games in arcades, a modified N64 port following in Killer Instinct Gold. Ports of the first Killer Instinct surfaced within a remembered SNES port, and illogically on Game Boy.

Rare’s franchise was an anomaly. Birthed from the fighting game craze with a penchant for irregular violence (from Nintendo!), the brutality and viciousness of its appealingly broad roster broke from expected design palettes. Cyborgs fought living skeletons, Indians fought ninjas, werewolves battled fire demons.

Built with pre-rendered shininess, Killer Instinct was sharp, bold, and saturated. Nothing else carried the flourishes, duds such as Rise of Robots taking similar technology and flattening gameplay. Killing Instinct dominated because it refused to go unnoticed, taking a cue from Midway arcade games, surfacing above competing cabinets with preposterous bass and a boomy narrator who took over the soundfield to announce the spectacular combos.

Die-hard fighting game circles will criticize Killer Instinct for its imposing memorization, genuine raw skill not required. Combos are bolted free with dancing button presses in precise sequences, leading to unstoppable Ultra combos, pushing hit counts into hundreds to flush out opponents. Killer Instinct was more dazzle than shock value, eschewing the rawness of decapitations for punishing failure as a dazed fighters could not work out of Ultras. Instead, they’re dropped off buildings or sent skyward into helicopter blades; outstandingly satisfying without dropping into outright gruesomeness.

Rare’s series shined because it was in the hands of Nintendo, and even in their days of technological, aggressive marketing with Silicon Graphics and gluttony of fighting as a genre, Killer Instinct was different. As sordid brawlers resorted to increasingly preposterous gore (Time Killers, Blood Storm) as their sole marketing hook, Rare bolstered visuals, clarity, and tightness to make beating people into a pulp fun outside of Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter. As an aside to hardcore SNK classics like Samurai Showdown, the third-tier fighting franchise was KI. That was no small feat, an accomplishment of design that crafted a tenacious competitor, fondly looked upon for its infectious enthusiasm in punching people.

Image: Polygon