Killer Instinct Review

Richard Walker

Killer Instinct was doing the crazy over-the-top combos thing before Marvel vs. Capcom was out of nappies. It was a brawler that carved its own neat little furrow between Street Fighter's meticulous technical nature and Mortal Kombat's bone-crunching, spine-tearing brutality on the SNES back in 1994, and today it effectively occupies the same space.

While Killer Instinct may not be arriving in exactly the way you might have hoped - it's a free-to-play title that spearheads Xbox One's fighter offerings with old-skool sensibilities and a pleasingly chunky aesthetic - it's something that still has a great deal of merit. Though as a package, the strictly free component of Killer Instinct doesn't have a whole lot to offer in the way of actual content. It's the $40 Ultra Edition that gives you everything in one package without the need for micro-transactions or any other nonsense.

Sadira turns Jago into her puppet.

If you're willing to fork out a bit of cash for the first wave of six characters as part of the Combo Breaker or Ultra Edition - with two additional fighters (Spinal and Fulgore) to come later down the line for Season 1 – then Killer Instinct's long-term appeal is extended somewhat, because you'll soon grow tired of having Jago as a single character. Even with the entire six character cast unlocked, there isn't a great deal of scope for experimentation, as you'll soon exhaust the sextet's potential.

Killer Instinct in its current free-to-play form is fairly bare bones, but the promise of an Arcade mode and more to come in a future update, and the fact that it's free make it entirely essential. Without the upcoming update, Killer Instinct's first port of call has to be the Dojo, where like Street Fighter IV, you're presented with a generic wireframe arena and a series of lessons to complete. It's here that you'll cut your teeth and become acquainted with the basics, before being presented with more advanced techniques and combos.

And as you'd expect, it's the combos that are at the very core of Killer Instinct's fighting experience. Combos are king. It's what sets it apart from Street Fighter, Tekken, Mortal Kombat and the like, giving you the opportunity to string together some ludicrous multi-hit assaults against your opponents. Each character is markedly different enough to warrant dalliances with each to learn their moves and unique nuances, although like any fighter you'll soon pick your favourites and learn their ins and outs.

AI or human opponents can be fought locally through the game's Versus mode, while Practice is a place where you can simply hone and sharpen your skills. Online and Survival is where the real meat of Killer Instinct lies, though again, the dearth of characters inevitably leads to repetition.

Next to fully-formed fighting game packages like Street Fighter IV, Injustice, DoA, Tekken and Mortal Kombat, Killer Instinct's character roster just seems incredibly miserly, and when you're paying $19.99 for the Combo Breaker Pack with eight characters or $39.99 for the Ultra Edition with eight fighters, each with extra costumes and the original Killer Instinct Classic, the value for money factor isn't quite there.


Yet there's something irresistibly retro about Killer Instinct that makes it hard not to like, despite its shortcomings. And there's no disputing how robust the core fighting experience is. It's simply the lack of content that holds the game back.

Mastering anything above 10-20 hit combos will take some real commitment and dexterity. The moment when the booming voice of the game's announcer exclaims that you've pulled off a 100-hit 'Ultra' combo, you'll be punching the air triumphantly.

With just Orchid, Jago, Sabrewulf, Glacius, Thunder and Sadira available right off the bat, Killer Instinct's longevity is primarily to be found in local or online Versus battles and Survival, where earning Killer Points (KP) to unlock new colours, costume parts, backgrounds, concept art and player card customisation options bolsters the suite of customisation options and content.

Online, you can choose from Exhibition or Ranked Matches, and the netcode is remarkably stable, ensuring a lag-free experience that practically feels like you're playing with someone on the couch right next to you. That'll be something to do with the Xbox One's cloud gubbins, no doubt. You'll be happy to throw down the gauntlet against online rivals. Killer Instinct works brilliantly across Xbox Live.

Taking Killer Instinct at face value in its free-to-play form, it has very little to offer. Part with $20 for the Combo Breaker Pack, and there's the makings of a genuinely solid and gratifying fighting game, but shelling out $40 or $60 for the Ultra Edition or boxed retail Pin Ultimate Edition, and you might feel shortchanged. Although having Killer Instinct Classic chucked in is a neat bonus for fans of the original 94 SNES game. Here's a breakdown of what each edition of Killer Instinct has to offer:

  • Killer Instinct Round One - All Game Modes, Rotating Free Character - Free
  • Killer Instinct Combo Breaker Pack - All Game Modes, All 8 Season 1 Characters - $19.99
  • Killer Instinct Ultra Edition - All Game Modes, All 8 Season 1 Characters, Costumes and Accessory Packs, Killer Instinct Classic - $39.99
  • Killer Instinct Pin Ultimate Edition - All Game Modes, All 8 Season 1 Characters, Costumes and Accessory Packs, Tri-Fold Case and two pins, Killer Instinct Classic - $59.99

"Quick! Call the electricity board!"

You won't feel quite so shortchanged by the achievements however, with the full 1000 Gamerscore on offer for completing a variety of tasks. Sadly, they're almost all of the grinding variety requiring you play 2000 matches with each character. That's two thousand. At the very least then, you'll have to play 12,000 matches with each of the six base characters. This is stupid. The rest of the list isn't much better, consisting of pedestrian tasks and goals. A real yawnsome grind-fest all round, entirely devoid of imagination or invention.

Killer Instinct Classic also has an equally crud achievement list with a full 1000 Gamerscore to earn. The bulk of the achievements involve playing a more realistic and manageable 40 matches with each character and completing the game, defeating Eyedol with each character. The less said about it, the better. Furthermore, the 1994 original version of Killer Instinct has aged horribly, making Double Helix's achievement in bringing Killer Instinct up to date for a modern audience all the more impressive.

Killer Instinct is an odd prospect. As a free-to-play title, a single character just isn't enough. $19.99 for eight characters represents far better value, but $39.99 for the Ultra Edition with characters, DLC and the rather dreadful Killer Instinct Classic is asking a little too much. Ultra? Not quite, but Killer Instinct is a fine comeback for the SNES classic that successfully retains the essence of the series.

Killer Instinct

Killer Instinct is by and large a more than satisfying return for a fighting series that's been left on the shelf for far too long. As a modern fighting game, it manages to hold its own against more seasoned stablemates, thanks to its accessibility and hidden depths. Killer Instinct is a superb fighting game that's currently lacking in content. Please sir, can we have some more?

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Killer Instinct's exuberant announcer returns with a vengeance, and the music is suitably epic, if rather generic. Sound effects are meaty, conveying a real sense of heft and impact.


Remarkably chunky and appealing, Killer Instinct looks the part. It loves particle effects too, throwing around sparks, smoke and other glowing floaty bits like they're going out of fashion. Backgrounds are nicely animated, but don't react to the action all that much, if at all.


Immediately accessible, even button mashers will be pulling off low-level combos with aplomb. It's a game that's remarkably easy to dip into, but brutally difficult to master. A decent balance, Killer Instinct is something you'll find yourself going back to again and again.


Given how robust and accomplished Killer Instinct is as a fighting game, you can't help but wish the game had been offered as a fully-fledged retail title with all of the content present and correct. Instead the paltry roster of Season 1 fighters and lack of modes let the side down. Go for the $19.99 version and you'll get your money's worth, but only just. The $39.99 Ultra Edition doesn't justify paying an extra $20.


An utterly dire achievement list that is almost solely concerned with grinding out an interminable number of matches. Both Killer Instinct and Killer Instinct Classic (bundled with the $39.99 Ultra Edition) have a full 1000G to earn, but it's 1000G of crap in both instances. Don't play for the achievements, and you'll do fine.

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