When the words ULTRA COMBO came out of the Microsoft presentation, old-school fighting game fanboys crapped their pants. Killer Instinct is one of the most nostalgic titles that could have possibly been unveiled, and a game that has been requested for revival over and over and over since its untimely disappearance in the late 1990s.
Now, the combo-rific fighting game is back as a free-to-play Xbox One exclusive. Can it live up to fifteen years of anticipation?
Right off the bat, the new version of this game has the Killer Instinct feel. Sure, it’s not fueled by the faux-CGI graphics of its predecessors, but let’s face it: that art style just doesn’t work anymore. Instead, characters are fully 3D rendered, but with a slightly painted look. As such, the game feels old school without appearing dated in any way.
Characters (only Jago and Sabrewulf are playable at E3) are gloriously animated while walking or standing, though as soon as fighting commences there’s a bit of a jarring transition. Attack animations are incredibly fast, necessitating dropped frames that essentially mimic Dragonball Z-esque speed. If you’ve studied the way Street Fighter 4 drops frames in order to mimic a 2D fighter feel, it’s like that… on cocaine.
As a result, the game engine is visually difficult to get used to, though the effect works: Killer Instinct combos are hectic, brutal, and full of impact. Since I haven’t played the game in nearly two decades, I wasn’t able to pull off an Ultra Combo, but mashing out 12-hit strings with the necessary connector moves felt fast and furious. Likewise, being pummeled by my opponent left me scrambling for a Combo Breaker, not that I knew the input for it.
This is going to come across as piddling, but the return of the original Killer Instinct announcer (or, at least, a very good impersonator) absolutely makes this game. Even young gamers who have never touched a Killer Instinct title are probably familiar with the grandiose shouts of C-C-C-COMBO BREAKER and ULLLLLLTTRRAAAA COMBOOOO. They have both been immortalized in memes and sound bytes in Killer Instinct’s absence. These iconic phrases, as well as the intense sounds accompanying character selection, all fuel the brutal, high-energy tone of the franchise.
There’s no way to tell whether Killer Instinct will be balanced or competitive at this stage. Will it be embraced at events like EVO? Will we see crossovers like Mortal Kombat vs Killer Instinct? It’s too early to know. All I can say is this E3 build is frantic fun, and faithfully carries over the feel of Rare’s beloved fighting series.