Review by Nathan Miller
Exclusively on Xbox One
Killer Instinct was an arcade game I was very fond of as a child. I would always love when my family went to Round Table Pizza because of the Killer Instinct arcade that was nestled in-between a god awful alien light-gun game and (of course) the generic racing game. I spent many quarters on the arcade and became a huge fan of the franchise as a child, so you can imagine how excited I was when Microsoft announced Killer Instinct's triumphant return. Double Helix Games were tasked with modernizing a classic fighter that current generation of children had no clue existed, and I can say with confidence that they crafted a brilliant new entry of the franchise. Double Helix Games were doing so well developing and revitalizing games that they were bought out by Amazon. While that is good for them, it created a rift in patches and updates until a new developer could take over the franchise. Developer Iron Galaxy was then given the torch which gave them control over the future of Killer Instinct. Season 2 of Killer Instinct is currently underway as fighters begin to emerge old and new alike. More characters are not the only selling point of their contributions as game mechanic tweaks, character changes, and upgrades all make their way into the ring. Iron Galaxy has done a terrific job in listening to what the fans want (which at times is not always a good thing) yet stay true to their vision of what is next for the franchise. There have been a lot of changes so let's look into what exactly Killer Instinct Season 2 has to offer.
The Story (Updated)
There is a story in Killer Instinct and each character has a back-story readily available to read. The recent release of returning character "Riptor" also implemented the story mode people have been clamoring for. Each character has their own reasons why they are fighting and these reasons generally relate to an evil corporation named UltraTech. The story's timeline takes place after Killer Instinct 2 and returning characters have carried over many of those story arcs to this game. Sabrewulf is still trying to regain his humanity, Spinal seeks to destroy the artifact that resurrected him (in order to rest in peace), and Orchid is once again hellbent on destroying UltraTech. All these details are stated at the beginning of each character's intro in story mode. Each character has three endings, which elaborates more about a character's outcome with each one you unlock, but currently only characters from Season One are usable in the story mode.
- Jago - Warrior monk seeking to rid the corruption building inside of him. (There's a shadow version of Jago that is unlockable, but he is not any different from Jago other than visual appearance.)
- Orchid - An undercover agent determined to continue battling UltraTech.
- Sabrewulf - A scientist turned werewolf seeking to reverse his current state.
- Thunder - A native American Indian on a quest to find his brother.
- Glacius - An alien searching for the thief who stole the power core from his abandoned spacecraft.
- Sadira - An assassin with the sole purpose of eliminating everyone.
- Spinal - A resurrected skeleton looking to destroy the relic keeping him alive.
- Fulgore - A robot with the objective of eliminating all enemies of UltraTech.
- TJ Combo - A shamed boxer seeking redemption in the eyes of the public.
- Maya - a warrior queen on a mission to rid the world of evil.
- Kan-Ra - A 2500 year old cursed sorcerer on the hunt for relics or magic that can stop the rotting of his body.
- Riptor - A cybernetic dinosaur created by the evil corporation UltraTech.
- Omen - The herald of Gargos
- Aganos - A golem tasked with killing Kan-Ra.
- Hisako - A reawakened spirit seeking vengeance for being awoken.
- Cinder - Helping UltraTech after assisting him in controlling his fire powers.
- Aria - The new head of UltraTech.
Plus more characters will be released monthly next year which will result in the grand total of 16 characters.
Killer Instinct Season 2 builds upon the easy yet technical fighting system Double Helix introduced with season one of the game. It has similarities to the original arcade releases, but it is easier to compare it to Marvel vs. Capcom 3 over its predecessors. The fighting system relies on setting up combos and using the appropriate linking moves in order to string together a massive amount of hits and damage. There are combo starters, linkers, and enders. Even though the order is apparent, you can substitute linkers or enders with shadow moves (super special moves that require built-up energy similar to Street Fighter) to set up longer combos that can help you annihilate an opponent; however, opponents are not completely passive as they can do a 'C-c-c-c-combo' breaker (if you preempt a high attack and press both high kick/punch together, you will perform the combo breaker) and stop their attack mid-combo. If the player who tries to break the combo presses the wrong buttons, they will be stunned and unable to break the combo any further regardless of its length. Each character has an instinct mode that gives them special perks for an allotted time (or can even be used to reset a combo), for example: Sadira's instinct allows her to creates webs that can trap opponents or Jago's instinct will gradually replenish his health when each attack he throws hits. Lastly, there are finishing combos that can be done whenever an opponent's health bar is blinking red. This is called an "Ultra Combo" and they are very gratifying to do. As for game modes, there is a story mode, a "dojo" mode (teaches you how to play), trials mode (perform challenges for XP), a survival mode, and a multiplayer mode (local, exhibition, ranked, and lobby matches). The game records and has playback of all your recent fights even if you didn't yell for the Xbox to "Record that!"
All those elements were introduced in the initial release of the game, so what new features were added for season 2? An extensive redesign of the menus were introduced along with a new ranking and leveling system that rewards players for using their favorite characters. The game's graphics were upgraded to 900p from 720p. Each character received new moves and were re-balanced (which some were almost completely changed) which some were shaped by the community's opinion. On top of that, air combo breakers were introduced along with easier combo breakers to help level out the playing field. Stage knock-outs made their return to the series (other finishers may be reintroduced in later updates), and a new pay-to-unlock feature was added for those who are not interested in leveling up characters. On that note, leveling up characters will now unlock colors and costumes when before you either had to do certain requisites to unlock them or use coins earned through challenges to buy them.
Killer Instinct is a very addictive fighter that is easy to pick up but difficult to master. Killer Instinct gives you all the tools necessary to step up your game; whether that be an extensive learning mode (Dojo) or the option to turn on hit boxes to help understand where and how an attack hits, it wants you to fully understand the game rather than button mash your way towards possible success. When Iron Galaxy released their first major update, it was nearly three pages of tweaks and upgrades that were comprised of their new ideas and of those who played the game. They listened to their community and in doing so were able to update the game without alienating fans who were truly invested into it. I love the fact that features that were a part of the arcade entries are making their way back into the series (I'm looking at you stage knock-outs), and it is even better that there is a promise of more to come.
Regardless of what the developer is willing to do, the fact of the matter is that Killer Instinct is already impressive. The lineup of characters is diverse and each character has a unique fighting style that pushes away from most cookie cutter fighters. Basic combos can be used across the board but when a character's distinguishable features are introduced, each character becomes a threat for their own reasons. Some require build-up before they are fully dangerous or some can become ruthless thanks to their "instinct" ability. You can easily gain the upper hand if you fully utilize the distinct style of whichever character you are using.
The visuals are explosive with firework type effects that add vibrancy to Killer Instinct's already lively stages. You can customize characters with changes to their armor or clothes which is always a welcomed feature in my book. The online aspect of the game has always worked great for me (but there is always someone with lag), and I continue to play locally whenever friends come over. All in all, the game has a tendency to lure you in for a few sessions even if you have a new release waiting for you.
The Bad (Updated)
It is a bummer that you have to play the waiting game in order to have the full experience of what season 2 has to offer. The introduction of a new ranking system erased everyone's previous ranks which can be disappointing depending on how much time you invested into the original release. The new micro-transactions were an unwanted surprise for me. While I understand that people are willing to spend money to go around leveling characters for their costumes and colors, wouldn't it have been better to make it easier to unlock these items in order to entice players to continue playing as they wait for new content? Arcade mode has been replaced with story mode and that is great; however, the story mode is only for season one characters which leaves new characters in the dark. You will need to wait for the release of more characters from season two before you can play their stories. Lastly, at the character selection screen, characters sometimes will not appear and take a while to load as you are browsing through them. I feel this generation of consoles should not have these type of hiccups especially with a fighter.
Killer Instinct is a fighting game I would recommend to anyone who dabbles in the genre. It has a diversity that is not common in a lot of modern day fighters, and it is one that provides the tools to enable your growth rather than hinder it. The sheer amount of community outreach Iron Galaxy has done makes me wish more developers would do it. The potential season 2 has to offer is immense but that is the issue, it is all potential. Anyone who purchases it now has to wait to get the full package. While there is enough content to warrant the $40 price tag at its current stage, it may not be something casual players would be willing to do. That being said, the game itself is still a near perfect fighter. The sensation of pulling off 100+ hit combos or having a very close fight only to have your combo breaker help give you the win. It is pure adrenaline. Killer Instinct does more right than wrong and exploits are quickly dealt with thanks to its developer. You can't say that about a lot of games.