Killer Instinct: Definitive Edition Review
While it’s been over twenty years since the Super NES was first released in America in 1991, many gamers still revisit the system’s iconic games. One such classic is Killer Instinct, a fighting game which was developed by Rareware, a second-party developer for Nintendo systems that also made the Donkey Kong Country trilogy for the same system. After Rare was purchased by Microsoft in the early 2000s, Killer Instinct laid dormant for a couple of years. In 2013, Microsoft released a reboot to the fighting game franchise. It had only a few playable characters, but more were promised to come in the future. Three years later, on September 20, 2016, the Definitive Edition was released, and with it over twenty playable fighters, from Killer Instinct mainstays such as Fulgore and Jago to guest characters such as Rash from Battletoads and the Arbiter from the Halo franchise. Is this reboot worth playing, or are there better fighting games available for the Xbox One?
To start, the game’s presentation is excellent. The soundtrack is energizing, with a lot of tunes that could work just as well on a workout playlist, and the way that a character’s super move hits in time with the music of the stage that they are on is a great touch. The character designs are also very distinct from one another and they each bring a lot of color to the table. The alternate colors that can be selected for each character also add some more flavor to the mix. The stages are overall well-constructed, but some of them look like set designs of a school play in the way that objects in the middle ground look like they’re made out of cardboard. The voice acting is also pretty good; there are not any horrendously bad performances, and the performers do a great job of giving characters personalities when there is not much story to work with. Despite some hiccups, the presentation is above average.
Fun gameplay is the main reason that a lot of people play fighting games, and Killer Instinct delivers wholesale. The game has an in-depth tutorial on all of the mechanics of the game (which the author highly recommends playing before anything else). Killer Instinct is a six-button fighting game with punches and kicks that range from light to medium to heavy. The key to winning is to balance attacks with blocking to get the opponent’s life bar down to zero. The entire game is based around the player chaining hits together into combos to deal the most damage possible. If the opponent presses the correct strength of the player’s attacks, then the player’s combo is broken, leaving the player wide open to damage from a long combo. It may seem flawed that the opponent can guess-break the player’s combo, but if they guess the wrong strength, then even more damage can be dealt and they cannot do anything about it. All of the mechanics work well together and form a deep, competitive fighting game that can still be enjoyed by the casual consumer.
There are also a considerable amount of game modes that are pretty hit or miss. The game’s survival mode is very uninspired, because it is just like any other survival mode in a fighting game and does little to shake up the formula. Multiplayer is enjoyable when ranking up to the highest level, but otherwise the player is just fighting other random players. The story mode is essentially just arcade mode, and does not add much to character lore, with some fighters not even having a story mode of their own. The new Shadow Lords mode fills in the gaps that story mode left, but that mode has enough of its own problems that it brings to the table. First of all, the AI is incredibly unfair, almost to the level of a Mortal Kombat boss and even if a player wins it usually derives from luck or exploitation of game mechanics, leaving the player with little satisfaction. The inventory system and the items in general are just there to push Killer Instinct’s micro transactions, which is hardly appealing considering that items are very expensive and the game has its own premium currency in addition to an in-game currency. Anger and frustration seemed to be far stronger player motivators than any kind of enjoyment. Plus, if a player loses to the final boss, they have to start all over again, and while they still keep everything they have, they do not get a chance to try again. There is also never a sense of true progression; the player’s success is based on what randomly pops out of an item pack, leaving the player with no feelings of accomplishment.
Before Shadow Lords came out, the game was overall above average in quality. However, the micro transaction scheme that the developers pull in Shadow Lords mode somewhat taints the rest of the game’s quality. Killer Instinct has stellar gameplay and mechanics, but the other lackluster modes make it hard to fully advocate playing this game.