Killer Instinct (2013)

REVIEWIn 1994, Killer Instinct redefined what was possible out of a 2D fighting game. Both graphically and technically, the the original KI (and its sequels) made a memorable impact in the fighting genre. After the sequel (KI2) and N64 port (KI Gold) a couple years down the road, the series went "missing in action" for over 15 years. In March of 2010, rumors of a next-gen reboot started to swirl, and finally at E3 2013, Microsoft and Double Helix Games announced a brand new Killer Instinct for Xbox One.

The new Killer Instinct debuted as a launch title for Xbox One in Nov. 2013. The core game is free-to-play, with Jago originally available to everyone from the start (the free character is rotated every so often).
Players can use all of the game's default modes in the free version, including Online and Training. Additional characters can be purchased individually for about $5.00 each or in various packs. The later Season 2 content added several stages and 9 characters to the title. Season 3 released in March 2016 for both Windows 10 and Xbox One.
Both platforms are connected with cross-play, and purchased content will transfer back and forth if you own both versions. Rash from Battletoads, KI's first ever guest character, alsos make his debut in Season 3 along with Kim-Wu, Tusk, Arbiter, Mira and Gargos.


Killer Instinct (Season 3) character selection screen.


Visually, the new Killer Instinct presents a sharp 2.5D graphics engine with eye-catching particle effects and lighting. The "evolving" backgrounds and BGM tracks also bring some aesthetic innovation to the table. Many returning characters look considerably "different" than the way us old school KI players remember them. However, some "classic costumes" from KI1 and KI2 have thankfully made an appearance via DLC (with surely more to come in the future). Personally, I'd like to see classic costumes for all of the returning characters (along with many color options, like in previous games). 

Killer Instinct uses the familiar "6-button" layout - 3 punches and 3 kicks. Like in the prequels, the combo system will allow for some insanely long and flashy combo strings. Dubbed "around the world" combos, heavy attacks can chain into medium attacks, followed by light attacks. Afterwards, you can connect a heavy attack of the opposing type (light punch to heavy kick) and continue the cycle. Like in past installments, Special Moves can be used as combo openers, linkers, and enders.


Two of the best-looking characters right here... And two OGs.


Killer Instinct
now has a traditional 2-level super meter called the Shadow Meter. Attacking and taking damage build the meter slightly, but having your attacks blocked build the meter faster. Blocking a few normals supply 1 stock, and blocking a few specials fill the meter to max rather quickly. Once the Shadow Meter fills up, players have access to Shadow Moves (similar to EX Specials), which have enhanced properties and damage.

The "Instinct Meter" is another entirely new system introduced, and can be compared to X-Factor from Ultimate MVC3. When a player has full meter, they can enter Instinct Mode by pressing both heavy attacks. The Instinct Meter has three different effects. First, it cancels a move in progress, returning the character to a neutral state. It also gives character-specific enhancements, for example: Extra frames, more block stun, etc. Lastly, Instinct Meter reduces Knockout Meter to zero, enabling players to extend their possible hits during a combo and max out the damage.


That should fix your poorly rendered face, Kim Wu.

What made Killer Instinct fun to play in the past was its insane but addicting combo system. The general format of the new combo system is very similar to the old titles. Start a combo off with an "opener," add in the normal moves, and finish the combo with a cool-looking "ender" to end the combo. There is now a "combo limit" meter near your hit count which indicates when you should start thinking about ending the combo. 

C-C-C-C-COMBO BREAKER!!!  Of course, the iconic Combo Breakers return and are easier (but fairer) to execute. Pressing the 2 buttons that correspond with either a Light, Medium, and Heavy attack will allow you to break your opponent's combo. But if you guess wrong, you'll be "locked out" and have to take the full damage of the combo. Combo breakers also deal significant damage, which ends up making them dangerous when characters have low health. Combo Breakers aren't the only gameplay mechanic that breaks combos. The new Knockout Value bar (underneath the health meter) fills when linkers and auto doubles are used repeatedly. When the bar is full, the player will drop their combo.


Killer Instinct (2013) has style and interesting mechanics for days.


Thankfully, Killer Instinct features an in-depth "Dojo" Tutorial mode (a direct throwback to the N64 mode), giving players every opportunity to learn the in's and out's of the gameplay engine. In short, it's definitely one of the best fighting game tutorial modes in recent memory. The Dojo features 32 lessons, ranging from fighting game fundamentals to the many intricacies of the combo system.

Season 3's "Shadow Lords" mode offers a nicely designed single-player experience, in addition to the original Season 1/2 Story Mode (which was pretty bare bones). Now that Season 3 is here, Killer Instinct feels like a very "complete" game... a stark contrast to its original launch. The final character roster includes every single character from past games, who are joined by colorful newcomers such as Sadira, Kan-Ra, Mira, Hisako, and Aganos
, who all seem to "fit" into the series incredibly well. And what's a fighting game without guest characters in this day and age? Rash from Battletoads, General RAAM from Gears of War, and Arbiter from HALO make their fighting game debuts.

The game's Customization mode is fun, which includes a variety of unlockable items for all characters. Perhaps my favorite part of this mode is the Retro Costumes, which are throwbacks to each character's original design. Other than that, it's fun to mix and match clothing items to get that perfect look for your fighter of choice (and there's great variety)! Additionally, each character has plenty of basic color palettes to choose from, which is pleasingly reminiscent of the many color options found in KI2 / KI Gold


Page Updated: May 13th, 2023
Developer(s): Double Helix, Iron Galaxy, Rare Ltd., Microsoft
Publisher(s): Microsoft
Platform(s): Xbox One, PC
Release Date(s): Nov. 22nd, 2013       XB1 - Digital Release
Sept. 23rd, 2014
       XB1 - Retail Combo Breaker Edition
Oct. 15th, 2014         Season 2
Mar. 29th, 2016        Windows 10/XB1 - Season 3
Characters Jago, Glacius, Sabrewulf, Thunder, Black Orchid, Sadira, Spinal, Fulgore, T. J. Combo, Maya, Kan-Ra, Riptor, Shadow Jago, Omen, Aganos, Hisako, Cinder, Aria, Kim-Wu, Tusk, Rash, Arbiter, Mira, Gargos, Eyedol, General Raam, Kilgore, Eagle

Featured Video:

Related Games: Killer Instinct, Killer Instinct 2, Killer Instinct Gold, Mortal Kombat 9, Mortal Kombat X, Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, Ultra Street Fighter IV, Street Fighter V, TEKKEN Tag Tournament 2

Gameplay Engine  8.5 / 10
Story / Theme  7.5 / 10
Overall Graphics  8.5 / 10
Animation  8.5 / 10
Music / Sound Effects  9.0 / 10
Innovation  8.5 / 10
Art Direction  7.5 / 10
Customization  8.5 / 10
Options / Extras  8.0 / 10
Intro / Presentation  7.0 / 10
Replayability / Fun  7.5 / 10
"Ouch" Factor  8.5 / 10
Characters  9.0 / 10


 8.5 / 10

 Review based on PC version  


Final Words:

By Season 3... the "new" Killer Instinct ended up being a solid reboot of one of the most classic and beloved fighting game series from the 90's a fighting game that old school players thought they may never see back in the spotlight again. While it's not for everyone, KI2013 became a competitive success and kept a strong player base over the years... proving once again, it's all about gameplay. In layman's terms, Killer Instinct is still very much Killer Instinct.

As an old school KI1/KI2 player from back in the arcade days myself, there are plenty of fine details and throwbacks to appreciate in this modern reboot. Although... there are some things I wasn't so impressed with. While I was happy to see the return of all of my favorite KI classics, some of the updated character designs are lacking... something. Spark? Personality? Originality? A 3D human that doesn't look like a poorly aged PS2 character model? Something like that. It's difficult to put a finger on it, exactly.

In my opinion, some of the "updated" character designs just seem to be either trying too hard or not trying hard enough. When bringing back a character... preserving their original body type / "proportion" is a pretty important detail, I think. Capcom fighting games are particularly known for their exaggerated proportions that accentuate important details of the character. On that note, the original KI and KI2 had uniquely stylized character proportions, as well. However, that loveable aesthetic isn't quite there in Killer Instinct 2013 for some characters (while others look fantastic).

In terms of animation, some moves and victory sequences look awkward and "animatronic"... in an "early SF4" kind of way (and sometimes not even that good). Certain key frames also look jank and since characters in KI2013 typically spam certain moves, these jank animations are displayed repeatedly and painfully. To summarize, some characters look off-balance and unhumanlike quite often in their basic movements or special moves (since the animators didn't use motion capture for these animations, editing them by hand).

Furthermore, some of the basic rendering on human characters faces and bodies (ex: Kim Wu and Tusk) is rough around the edges... to put it lightly. I can think of many PS2 / PS3 character models that look better than the humans in KI2013. On the bright side, at least all of the non-humans look spectacular and menacing! HOT DAMN the KI2013 team can definitely do monsters... but they seem bored or shy in regards to designing humans. Nitpicks aside, the game "as a whole" animates impressively with lots of entertaining elements especially with MAX settings on PC.

Besides the crazy and open-ended combo system, my favorite aspect about KI2013 is probably the stage designs and music. Backgrounds have so many small aesthetics that give them atmosphere and personality, and the amazing "transitioning" soundtracks really bring it home capturing the original and dynamic heavy metal vibe of the franchise. The way the BGMs evolve throughout the fight is also innovative and memorable. I also love the spark effects and other special move elements... definitely among the best of the genre.

Xbox One exclusive? Gross. I knew I made the right decision by NOT buying an X-Bone just for this game. (Thanks PC version.) Back in 2013, Killer Instinct launched in a very raw and incomplete state. In my opinion, the game was practically a "work-in-progress demo" for several years... but as the dev-team added new characters to the game one by one, everything finally came together in Season 3, thankfully.
However, I still have mixed feelings about the "free-to-play" model, and the rate at which new content was released.

Adding one new "chesspiece" to the game every few months did manage to keep the game fresh, but at the same time, it became a bit monotonous and discouraging for non-hardcore players. I personally like putting my valuable time into learning a "complete" fighting game from the get-go, and one where I don't have to relearn it every 2 months when a new balance patch drops. These constant updates are a double-edged sword, and eventually contributed to my loss of interest in the game (competitively) over time. However, from the perspective of a casual player looking for some decent 1-player content, KI2013 has plenty of offline entertainment / modes to enjoy if you're not so much an online warrior.

I ended up buying the "Ultimate Edition" of Killer Instinct Season 3 on PC for $59.99... but was disappointed to see that Shadow Jago was not selectable, still. I waited all this time to buy a "complete" version of the game, and still... I don't get the complete roster with my purchase? Cool. BS. Other than that, I enjoyed my time with Killer Instinct. The reboot still seems half-polished in some areas, but not half-hearted. The team put heart and small details into this game, and it shows. At the end of the day, Killer Instinct "3" ended up being a respectable and fun fighting game for players new and old.
~TFG Webmaster | @Fighters_Gen  

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