A modern revival of the 1990s fighting game series, 2013's Killer Instinct updates a classic for the modern era. The game includes a story-based arcade mode, but the main attraction is competitive play, either side-by-side with another player or online. New characters, single-player story content and mechanics updates are regularly added in new downloadable "Seasons." Each of the game's many character has a unique set of attacks and special abilities, making it a real challenge to master.
Learning the Ropes
Like many fighting games, the game uses a joystick to control movement and six buttons for attacks. Many players use arcade-style fightsticks, although it isn't necessary to have one in order to play. Success requires mastering your character's combos, chains of attacks that can add up to serious damage. Unlike many fighting games, you don't need to input each attack of the combo; simple combinations of inputs (well, simple relative to some games -- they can still be quite challenging) generate long strings of attacks.
In addition to the basic combos, characters have a variety of other resources: Instinct Mode, which triggers a power unique to each character, Shadow attacks, which have varying special properties, and Combo Breakers, which allow you to get out of a damaging combo. If that all sounds confusing, the game has a Dojo mode that lets you practice your skills.
Meeting the Competition
Killer Instinct launched with a cast of eight main characters (plus the bonus character, Shadow Jago), and new seasons have added similar numbers each time. Some characters, like the iconic hero Jago, the barbarian warrior Tusk or the tormented lycanthrope Sabrewulf, are returning characters from the original game, while others, like artificial intelligence ARIA, are playable here for the first time. The game also features characters from other game series, including General Raam from Gears of War, the Arbiter from the Halo series and Rash from 1990s Sega Mega Drive game Battletoads.
Like most fighting games, KI can be tricky to get acquainted with, but the game's tools are not bad. Online play suffers slightly from input lag, like all online play, but Killer Instinct performs well compared to many of its competitors in the genre.
The game has a relatively small following compared to larger fighting game franchises, but it's devoted, so you won't find it difficult to meet opponents or to discover helpful resources online for improving your skills.
Join the fight
With its dark, violently-cartoonish aesthetic, Killer Instinct uses modern technology to present a 90s-inspired setting and characters. It's fast-paced and exciting to watch, with surprising depth and complexity behind all the snarling and gouging. Like most fighting games, it has a relatively steep learning curve, so be prepared to invest some time in learning your character and the game's system if you really want to get the most out of it. If you're willing to do that, though, it can be a very rewarding game to get to know.