Ah yes Killer Instinct, a 2D fighting game that emphasized on having the player pull off insane combos that would change the way we play beat em ups. Developed by Rare and published by Midway and Nintendo, Killer Instinct was originally released on the arcades until it found it’s home on the SNES in 1994. Although Nintendo were at a stance where they were against the idea of heavily violent video games, they announced that the game would not be as violent as its title suggests An industry standard rating system was expected to be in place by the time the game was due to release so therefor Nintendo’s stance against violent video games would no longer be necessary.
If you have read any of my previous Retro Throwback articles namely the Snake Rattle n Roll article, you would already be aware of me crying about the great developer that Rare once was and no longer is or will ever be. Just to reiterate the success story Rare used to be, they developed classic titles that will remain in the memories for gamers from the age of about 25 years and older for the rest of their lives. Their most commercially successful games no doubt were the games they developed for the SNES and the N64: Killer Instinct, the Donkey Kong Country series, the Star Fox games, Goldeneye, Banjo Kazooie, Diddy Kong Racing and Perfect Dark just to name a few. Understandably, during this period of the gaming industry Rare were known as one of the best developers in the business and a valuable asset as a second party developer for Nintendo.
Alas, we all know that time has gone and remains as a burnt out flame locked away in the past never to be ignited again. Since Microsoft acquired them (Dam you Microsoft! you and all your money!) Rare has not been known for their big hitting classics, but rather for their poor software on the Xbox 360 and with their help in developing “Kinect”, along with Kinectimals, a children’s game that utilizes “Kinect” to look after pets. All the members that once worked at Rare since the days of their partnership with Nintendo have left the company, so it’s no wonder that all Rare have been able to churn out since Microsofts acquisition has been garbage! Let’s try not to dwell on this too much though, let’s remember Rare for the good old days where they created some of the best gaming software in existence and Killer Instinct was not an exception.
Of course, being released in 1994 on a 16 bit console, Killer Instinct is starting to look rather dated by today’s standards, but it goes without saying that for it’s time Killer Instinct had impressive visuals on a very graphic scale. The game most certainly drew inspiration from other fighters that released on the same console, namely Street Fighter 2 (which Killer Instinct borrowed it’s attack set from) and Mortal Kombat (which no doubt inspired Killer Instinct’s finisher moves). But Killer Instinct was not a simple clone that did nothing but borrow ideas from other games, it also contributed its own features to the fighting genre. Killer Instinct was known for having very unique characters to fight as whereas the likes of Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat at least had a couple of characters in each game that had very similar move sets (Ken and Ryu and Scorpion and Sub Zero respectively).
Above all else, Killer Instinct was known for its emphasis on chaining combos together with players striving to hit that 20 hit ultra combo. While other fighters also had players trying to pull off combos to get an advantage, Killer Instinct was the first game to rely so heavily on combos and it spawned a bunch of games that has since tried to recapture that same emphasis like the Street Fighter Alpha series, Marvel Vs Capcom and Tatsunoko Vs Capcom to name a few. If timed correctly, players were able to perform a “combo breaker” which had you break out of taking damage from a combo inflicted by the other player. It was a skill that became very necessary to master, especially if you were playing against either a pro or the computer on the hardest difficulty.
Another difference that made Killer Instinct stand out from other fighters at that time was the fact that each player had two health bars. If one of your health bars depletes, the fight will resume in the form of a second round while the other player keeps whatever health they have left, when one player has both health bars fully depleted they lose the match. Bearing resemblance to Mortal Kombats fatalities, each character has at least two finisher moves, one of which can be executed at the end of a combo and is labelled as an “ultimate combo” when the opponents second health bar is flashing red and is almost depleted. Another finisher move is called the “Humiliation” which makes the opponent dance and can only be executed if your character still has his or her first health bar.
Modes that featured on this SNES classic include “1 player game” where you choose your character and fight one on one against other computer controlled characters one by one until you get to the end fight where you win the tournament if you win it. “2 player game” is obviously where you fight a match against a second player, “Tournament mode” is designed for multiple players that face off in a randomly generated tournament until one is crowned the winner. Also there is a “Practice mode” which is very important if you wish to learn how to pull off specific combos with each character. Pros of the game no doubt spent dozens of hours on “Practice mode” perfecting combos before heading over to the “Options” menu to crank the difficulty up to the hardest setting.
Apart from the over the top combos, Killer Instinct stands out in my memory for its over the top characters to fight as. The characters were very unique in their own way in terms of move sets and personality, “Sabrewulf” (a big scary ware wolf) for example left me feeling very conflicted at the time, part of me was terribly scared of him while another part of me felt sorry for him since he made a sad little howl every time you hit him. “TJ Combo” and “Orchid” were very normal human type characters, the former being a boxer and the latter a cop. “Fulgore” was like a fairly slow moving heavy robot type character that had the ability to fire lasers from his eyes, “Riptor” was a Velociraptor and “Spinal” was a living skeleton that wielded a sword and shield and looked like something out of the classic Jason and the Argonauts film. “Cinder” had the form of a man made of fire while “Glacius” had the form of a man made of ice. All characters were fun to play with and to me were the most unique lineup of characters in any fighter made to this day, I was always torn between “Fulgore” and “Spinal” as my favourite. There were a total of 11 playable characters to choose from including the final boss “Eyedol” who you can unlock using a cheat.
The game was a commercial success selling around 3.2 million units on the SNES and most reviewers gave it exceptionally high scores. Killer Instinct gained critical acclaim and was ranked 148th best game ever made on a Nintendo system by “Nintendo Power” in 2006 as well as ranking 95th in “Official Nintendo Magazines” own list. Killer Instinct found itself on many of these lists, most of which saw it on them for being one of the best 2D fighters ever made, in 2004 “GamesTM” called it “the best combo-heavy fighter ever”. “Virgin Media” stated that Killer Instinct was “most famous for having the longest combos in the business.”
After the success of the arcade game followed by the perfected SNES version, The N64 saw the release of Killer Instinct Gold shortly after the console was released. It too was well received by critics and gained high review scores. Since Killer Instinct Gold was released all those years ago, we had no Killer Instinct fix until the new Killer Instinct was released on Xbox One exclusively as a launch game in November 2013. Although this entry to the franchise was not developed by Rare (Double Helix Games instead) it was still well received and players get updates of the game in the form of “seasons” which come with DLC they can pay for. Season 1 consisted 9 playable characters and season 2 came with an additional 2. The once popular beat em up will never see it’s franchise on a Nintendo console again but if you have a SNES and a copy of Killer Instinct, boot it up for old times sake. The game is still very enjoyable especially with a second player involved, the game is a classic and deserves much better treatment by Microsoft who did nothing with the franchise after acquiring Rare since the days of the original Xbox.
What are your thoughts of Killer Instinct on the SNES? What about the franchise in general? I would like to hear your thoughts on the game and the subject of how Microsoft are treating the franchise with the new Killer Instinct on Xbox One. Please let me know in the comments section below. Please also enjoy the following Killer Instinct on the SNES gameplay video.
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Written by Sammy J on 11 October 2014