Title :Killer Instinct
Platforms :Super NES
Publisher :Nintendo
Game Rating :n/a
Review by :Ken Gagne

[note: since I have played the Killer Instinct coin-op but once, this review is intended to analyze KI as a fighter on its own, not as to how pure atranslation it is] 

With next generation fighters such as Tekken and Toshinden appearing on the horizon, the two-dimensional fighter genre may be a dying breed. One of the last popular ones may Killer Instinct from Nintendo. 

The first and only Nintendo-made game to have gore, and the first Nintendo game to have the word "killer" in the title, KI is based on the arcade game and is rated Teen-13. It has as much, if not more, blood as Mortal Kombat III. It's not always realistic, though, which may turn off players who have moved onto more advanced games. The slightest touch will often result in gallons of lifeblood. It may come from a man of flame or land in the air, but it's there. 

The combatant entries into this bout are: Black Orchid, a female spy; T.J. Combo, an ex-boxer; Cinder, a man of flame; Glacius, a morphing alien; Jago, a ninja; Spinal, an undead skeleton; Thunder, a Native American; Riptor, a dinosaur lizard; Sabrewulf, a lycanthrope; and Fulgore, an assassin robot. If some of these descriptions appear familiar, they should; there's little new here. (Hey, is that Balrog versus T.Hawk?) There's also a two-headed boss named Eyedol who is selectable as a character via a secret code (see below). 

This fighter introduces a few new elements into a tired type. Most fighters have three separate rounds; whoever wins two, wins it all. In KI, it's just one long match! Whoever loses all their energy twice, loses. So, you can defeat your opponent and then resume with only an ounce of life left. The 99 second timer never resets either, but I've never seen anybody live this long. 

A new combo system may be the biggest attraction/turnoff for KI. By pushing the right three or four buttons, players can string together consecutive connects, anywhere from three to eighty hits in a row! It can be fun to pummel your opponent as so, but it doesn't take as much skill. Veterans can control and force combos, while newbies will just mash all the buttons and have as much luck. This combo system makes the game more frustrating to lose at; where's the fun in sitting idly by while your opponent takes a few moments to utterly annihilate you by pushing only a few buttons? 

The control is a bit fudgy at first, but comes off more clearly eventually. Moves are executed with either SF2 rolls or MK taps, or charges, or other strange maneuvers. 

When death is inevitable, there are several ways to die. A No Mercy is to KI what Fatalities are to MK, only more watered down. There is nothing disgusting here, and very rarely any blood. A Humiliation will usually make your opponent dance to some funky KI music — whoopee. Players may be thrown right off some stages, to land with a thump and a bounce on the pavement below. Unlike the "Finish Him!" moment of MK, however, the loser has a brief chance to come back to life, albeit with no energy. 

The graphics were rendered with the same ACM technology used in Donkey Kong Country, and it shows. The sprites are lifelike but grainy, and lack several frames of animation. The backgrounds are a bit lackadaisical but scroll smoothly, ala SF2. The music is good, and has a variety of styles for each area. The first two million or so copies of KI include a bonus CD soundtrack, "Killer Cuts." The voices are unique to each character, also ala SSF2, a nice touch. The actual character announcements sound a bit muffled, though. Strain hard(ly) enough and Cinder will sound like Thunder. 

The computer opponents show a surprising amount of strength. Since most damage is exacted through combos, it is difficult to get the first hit opener in. Nothing seems to surprise them. A number of options allow the difficulty to be fine-tuned. There are six selectable difficulty levels; Combo Breakers can be easy or hard to pull off; random character selection (for humans) can be forced after any number of wins, or always. 

Killer Instinct is another game in a done-to-death series. It has unique features which will turn off fighting purists or evolved gamers, but will attract the rest. For several reasons, this one deserves a look. 

This game is XBAND compatible. 

Hint: To play as Eyedol, choose Cinder and, at the matchup screen, hold  Right and press Quick Punch, Quick Kick, Fierce Punch, Medium Kick,  Medium Punch, Fierce Kick.

This article is copyright (c) 1995, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Boston Herald, 25-Sep-95