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Retro Friday: Killer Instinct



If it wasn't hadokens or whatever it was that Lui Kang screams when he does that Bicycle Kick, then it was Ultra Combo. "Dude, what are you on about?", I hear you thinking. Well if the big logo at the top of the page isn't a clue, I'm speaking about Killer Instinct, the third leg of the 90s beat-'em-trifecta, that included Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat. Unfortunately it's also the one that no one remembers anymore and thanks to some recent news out of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, it's unlikely something big is going to happen to remind you.

To those that don't know, Killer Instinct was a one-on-one brawler that managed to actually challenge the dominance of Street Fighter in the arcades. Granted, like all the challengers to the Capcom produced game it failed to unseat the champion, but that doesn't mean the the game wasn't fantastic.

Killer Instinct was a surprising mesh of Street Fighter's skill-based play with Mortal Kombat's over the top brutality and delivered a game that was equal parts fun, challenging and spectator friendly. Oddly, the game was produced by Rare Software under the auspices of Nintendo, a company that traditionally shied away from games featuring blood and gore. The game's signature CGI visuals and brilliant audio made it magnetic to onlookers and it wasn't uncommon to see people crowded around the cabinets for hours on end watching others play.

While the top quality presentation obviously didn't hurt, a lot of the game's crowd appeal had to do with its combo system. Combos in Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat were flukes, with neither one of those games intentionally including them as part of the design process. The accidental inclusions of these "bugs" improved the fun factor for the players by happenstance and completely unintentional. With Killer Instinct, the combo system sat at the core of the game.

Where in other games combos were a means to an end - the defeat of your opponent - in Killer Instinct achieving a high hitting combo was an end unto itself. Prior to this game, achieving a three hit combo in a fighting game was considered skilled. Managing four or five was deem masterful. In Killer Instinct, a combo in the single digits wasn't even acknowledged. No, be considered a good player, you needed to be knocking out combos numbering at least in the 7-10 range. Accomplished players could pull off combos in the 15-25 range. But if you wanted to be considered a master, depending on the character you played as, it had to be somewhere between the 40s and 60s. For Example:

But Killer Instinct was very much a product of it time. It was just really, really 90s in it flavour and unfortunately the game just could outgrow its era. Where Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat somehow managed to struggle threw the early 2000s and see a welcoming resurgence in recent years, Killer Instinct is largely forgotten by most. No doubt much of that has to do with Microsoft failing to take advantage of the brand when it bought out Rare Software. And now that the United States Patent and Trademark Office has denied Microsoft's bid to re-register the title, thanks to a currently airing TV called Killer Instinct, it unlikely we'll any Ultra Combos again.

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