s the screen clashes against streaks of ink and the vociferous commentary from the Zealous announcer, Rare’s effort gradually shown brighter and brighter, and after getting some flicks of the arcade stick in, Killer Instinct is no soppy cash-in on cult-favorite nostalgia--it’s shaping up to be a labor of love instead.
Joining Torn Redding from Rare, I propped up on the kiosk and started making choices as our match unfolded; Sabrewulf in my corner against the newly announced Thunder. The round initiated, and I worked to familiarize myself with the dynamics—within seconds, the refinement of the established mechanics built around the fundamentals of the franchise’s formulas out fleshed themselves, making maneuvering feel both familiar, and gratifyingly slick as summer butter. The mayhem from Killer Instinct’s systematic combo formula is enhanced in a completely different way, creating a spontaneous rock-paper-scissors counter element that’s akin to Injustice’s wager system. Ca-Ca-Ca-Ca-Combo breakers are no longer binary inputs, and instead, command a great deal of attention and oddly, a bit of risk beyond your twitch-ready reflexes as they can now be fumbled or countered.
The trick to performing successful Combo breakers is reading the input strength of your opponent’s button commands (weak-strong attack) within their barrage of moves and hits; these distinctions aren’t really telegraphed as easily as you would surmise beyond the speed or reach of the attacks in their variation from one another, delegating where to tilt the joystick produces a real sense of satisfaction to whatever tactic you choose to employ. Reversing a Combo breaker dazes your opponent slightly into what is called a lock-out, preventing them for doing any special to counter.
As imitation has always been mentioned to be the sincerest form of flattery, Double Helix has implemented new moves to the KI brand called Shadow Moves, a charge attack that’s gauged from strong or medium cluster inputs that operates very much the same fashion a certain technique from a concrete-based brawler employed the fourth time around. If these moves are employed during a combo and they land as your opponent attempts a Combo breaker, landing your Shadow Move will become a Counter breaker, immediately sending your foe into a lock-out—the wacky thing about it is countering a Shadow Move after it’s been launched will also initiate a Counter breaker. Aside from the potentially intimidating learning curve from the surprisingly complex counter mechanics, there’s no word yet on whether or not the stage interaction or environmental finishing moves will be implemented later, however Torn did confirm that Mercys, Ultimates, or Humiliations won’t be making a return which may be a disappointment to some. Confirmed characters so far are Jago, Glacius, Sabrewulf, Fulgore, and now most recently Thunder. More will be released through the free-to-play model, which I got some more intel on and how it’ll work.
Microsoft will be releasing Killer Instinct as a trial game with the initial character constantly rotating from one of the characters available in the base-lineup, giving access to a large majority of the single player content and online multiplayer as well with that one character; players will be able to purchase additional characters either À la carte at $5 a piece or bundled—The Combo Breaker pack will land you the initial six characters planned for launch and the additional two when they’re out the gates for $20. Finally, you can get the Ultra Edition, which will land you the Combo Breaker content, and additional costumes, accessories, and the original Arcade version (yeah, not the SNES version) of Killer Instinct for $40. While the model is testing ground for other fighting games to consider going into the Next Generation, the gameplay is beyond promising and with a few tweaks, Killer Instinct can even be tournament worthy amongst its peers at events like EVO and the like. Every fighting game fan who will plunk down for the Xbox One has no reason not to pick this one up.