'Killer Instinct' shines in Xbox One's launch lineup - review

Wednesday, 04 December 2013 12:00 PM Written by 

KIDating back to when the remake of “Killer Instinct” was first announced, I liked the idea of its business model. A single character would be made free to play. Unlocking the full game would cost $20 or $40 depending on which version you wanted. The F2P business model works perfectly for a fighting game. Anything that has the potential to bring new fans into the fight game community is a good thing.

But the model only works if the final and paid for product is a complete fighting game. While Double Helix’s “Killer Instinct” is one of the freshest fighting games I’ve played in years, it’s lacking some key features that hold it back from assured greatness.

Here’s how “KI’s” payment structure works. One character is free. The first was the main character Jago, but that free character rotates throughout the six-fighter cast. The $20 package unlocks the full roster, plus the remaining two characters that are coming in future DLC. This version lacks the ability to customize characters. The $40 version gives you that ability, plus includes the original “KI” arcade game that can be played online. Are the ability to customize characters, and the original game worth an additional $20? I’d say no, but it depends on your affinity for the original game.

The new “KI” stays true to what made it popular in the ‘90s while bringing genuine innovation to the fighting genre. It reverses the typical combo system of damage scaling that is found in “Street Fighter,” “Tekken,” and generally every other fighting game. The most damage is dealt after connecting with a combo ender. The longer the combo, the more damage the ender will do.

I don’t want to get too technical about “KI’s” mechanics in the review, because explaining it in simple text will get confusing. If you’re interested, you can watch my “Killer Instinct for Dummies” video here:

This system has everything I look for in a fighting game. It punishes a fighter who spams the same combo repeatedly. It requires the skill of quickly stringing together the correct button combinations to produce a variety of combos. It has a rich meta-game in the combo breaker and counter breaker system. And best of all, it’s undeniably satisfying to pull off a win with a max combo followed by an ultra combo.

Its gameplay feels like a complete package, but its lack of key features that are found in nearly every other fighting game gives “KI” the awful stigma of “freemium.” The game has no single player mode other than playing a single match against a CPU-controlled opponent or a ladder-style survival mode. Great fighting games include some sort of story mode that explains some of the characters’ back stories. There are only six characters in “KI” at the moment. It wouldn’t have required that much additional effort to include this.

The most egregious omission is its lack of a spectator mode or fight lobby. Multiplayer exhibition matches are limited to just two fighters. If you have three friends who want to play each other, tough luck. There’s no option for a “winner stays on” style of multiplayer while the player who just lost watches the fight. Only two friends can be in a lobby at one time.


It appears that Double Helix put more focus into the ranked system. In ranked matches, each fighter has two rankings: an experience rank and a skill rank. Skill ranks have names that start out as “button masher” that work their way up to “hungry” (that’s the highest level I’ve seen). A meter is shown between matches shows how close you are to leveling up or leveling down. The experience rank perpetually grows the more you play.

The lone complaint I have with this system is that it’s quick to throw you against an opponent many levels higher than you. I’d rather have it not pair me with anyone before throwing me at the mercy of a seasoned fighter who is 8 levels above my own.

Fighting through matches and completing achievements unlocks KI points. Buying the $40 game doesn’t allow you to customize all characters right out of the gate. That privilege has to be earned with KI points. KI points can be spent to unlock stages, outfits, colors, taunts, replacement weapons, and more. I like that this adds a variety of things to work towards unlocking, but since it has to be earned, the $20 buyers should get this privilege, too.


I hope to see “KI” on the main stage during next year’s EVO Championship Series. As a pure fighter, this game is that good. It’s missing a lot of what fight fans are used to as genre standards, but I’m hopeful that some of these will be added in the future. “KI’s” gameplay makes it the best fighting game in years, and one of the brightest titles in the Xbox One’s launch lineup.

8.75 out of 10


Truly creative gameplay
Great ranked match setup
Good fit for pricing structure


Only two friends per lobby
Lack of single-player modes



 Price   Free, $20 and $40 
 Release Date   11/22/2013
 Rating  T for Teen
 Platform  Xbox One

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