Killer Instinct

STORY:  A tournament held by Ultratech soon turns to a battle for survival. Fighters from agencies, temples, castles, labs, and outer space converge with different vendettas and a common goal: to be "Champion Of Ultratech".


A surprise hit at arcades and on Super Nintendo!

Killer Instinct was no doubt what you'd call a "next-gen 2D fighting game" in 1994. The "3D-like" digitized graphics and innovative camera work on the 3D backgrounds easily made KI stand out in crowded mid 90's arcades. Furthermore, the gameplay engine offered the longest and most insane combos ever to be seen in a fighting game. Inspired by the likes of Mortal Kombat, KI also features fatalities, stage fatalities, and "humiliations." And if that's not enough, every fighter can finish the round with an intense Ultra Combo, extendeing upwards of 40-50 hits (or 100+ if you knew how to infinites). Ulllltraaaaaa! On that note, Killer Instinct definitely allowed players to punish their opponents more-so than any other fighting game at the time... something many players whole-heartedly loved about the game.

Upon its arrival, Killer Instinct might've seemed like another "rip off" type of fighting game, to some. While many of Killer Instinct's combatants are unique designs, certain characters were easily comparable to already existing (and very popular) ones. But once arcade players dove deeper, they would soon discover that KI was like no other fighting game and there's a lot to like about each of the playable fighters. KI does share many elements from the likes of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat (including Fatalities). However, KI's intuitive combo system, dynamic graphics, killer soundtrack, and groundbreaking aesthetics offered something completely different to the genre.

Badass character designs, stages, and music!

Most importantly, perhaps, was that Killer Instinct's gameplay felt "new" upon its arrival. At the time, KI felt considerably faster than many other fighting games... not to mention, more combo-heavy than all others that came before it. In addition to the unique play-styles and special moves, each character in Killer Instinct has a variety of ways to finish fights further distinguishing them from one another. Each character has at least two No Mercy "Fatality" moves, but an even more impressive way to finish a match is with a high-execution combo...

This is called an Ultra Combo (AKA finishing move), which can be unleashed when their opponent's health is low. Instead of a quick "no-skill" typewriter-style Fatality move (via Mortal Kombat), an Ultra Combo actually requires timing and skilled players can make their combo count go even higher with post-K.O. execution and inputs that require very precise timing! Speaking of combos... KI definitely presented one of the most "open-ended" combo systems to date. Every character also has their own "combo style", and finishing the match with a unique Ultra Combo not only added personalization (and self expression) to the fight, but wowed the audience watching!

FUN FACT: Killer Instinct was also a "head-turned" at arcades because the (sneaky) devs managed to have the game sound turned way up and was "extra loud" during Ultra Combo sequences (and during the intro) even on default sound settings. Yeah, that KI machine made some noise in small arcades and it was designed that way!

Killer Instinct
also introduced Combo Breakers to the genre. For players who didn't enjoy being "stuck" in combos - constantly being hit with no way out, Killer Instinct allowed players on the receiving end to "break out" of the combo. Indeed, Combo Breakers are pretty damn satisfying to perform (and look awesome). However, Combo Breakers probably caused 75% of all Killer Instinct cabinets to have to be repaired, since mashing random buttons and moving around directional pad in nearly any direction actually worked pretty well when trying to escape a combo.

Killer Instinct
also introduced the "Double Health Meter". Instead of winning two rounds, each fighter starts the fight with two bars of energy. A brief pause occurs when a fighter loses their first bar, then the fight quickly resumes. This unfamiliar / quick pace between rounds was yet another original attribute of KI (and kept the crowd moving if you had your quarter up). After a K.O., a defeated player also has the chance to "revive" themselves if the winner doesn't land a finisher of some kind within the allotted time. It was mean, yet funny, that confident players would sometimes allow their defeated opponents to "stand up" and fight again after a K.O... just to knock them down again.

The most intense fighting game camera angles to date!

The SNES port was decent for a console port at the time, but was downgraded significantly from the arcade version in terms of graphics, sound, and also gameplay. Many graphical effects were missing from the arcade version, including the fully-animated, badass FMV character intro & victory sequences. In the arcade version, most also stages "panned back" extremely far allowing a far distance between the fighters. This not only resulted in an amazing graphical effect for the time, but also allowed for which could epically entertaining projectile wars. (These were missing from the SNES version.) Furthermore, when certain combos were performed on "building top" stages, the camera angle changes dramatically, showing a birds-eye view as a character is launched into the air. Unfortunately, these awesome visuals effects couldn't translate to the SNES version. The SNES port also featured significantly smaller character sprites which didn't quite fill the screen like their arcade counterparts.

So basically, there's no substitute for the original arcade version of Killer Instinct. The arcade version of Killer Instinct was nothing short of a masterpiece. Each arcade cabinet also features a "highest combo record" for each character... and back in the day, any local player who could get their initials on the leaderboard definitely some cred at the arcade. On a personal note, I remember a few guys at my arcade who spent the entire day there just trying to break their old combo records and keep the top spot. *sigh* I miss the 90's, such simpler times.

So many ways to destroy your opponents!

Finally, not to be under-appreciated, Killer Instinct also packs one of the hardest-hitting soundtracks in fighting game / video game history. The dark, heavy metal, guitar-driven BGMs perfectly fit each stage and character personality. The announcer (C-C-C-C-Combo Breaker!) also adds a ton of "energy" to the game - something that other fighting games of the era didn't quite have. For example, the dramatic way the KI announcer yells each character's name really made a statement, and made you feel like you chose the right character. I think the hype KI announcer is only rivaled by the epic Samurai Shodown 2 announcer (and that's saying a lot). It's little details like this, among many other things, that really made KI stand out at the time and kept fans coming back for more.

FUN FACT: In Killer Instinct, each character has at least two No Mercy moves (similar to Fatalities in Mortal Kombat). What makes them unique over Mortal Kombat's are the fact that all characters on the receiving end of a No Mercy have unique animations for the other characters' finishing moves. While some MK Fatalities had this unique aspect, most didn't and reused animations. Killer Instinct was the first fighting game to feature individual character animations for all characters' Fatality moves.

Page Updated: September 29th, 2023
Developer(s): Rareware
Publisher(s): Rareware
Nintendo     SNES/Game Boy
Designer(s): Chris Tilston, Kevin Bayliss, Ken Lobb, Mark Betteridge
Artwork By: Kevin Bayliss     Characters
Tim Stamper     Backgrounds
Platform(s): Arcade, Super Nintendo, Game Boy
Release Date(s): Oct. 28th, 1994        Arcade
Aug. 30th, 1995
November 1995
       Game Boy
Characters Black Orchid, Jago, T. J. Combo, Glacius, Chief Thunder, Sabrewulf, Riptor, Cinder, Fulgore, Spinal, Eyedol

Featured Video:

Related Games: Killer Instinct 2, Killer Instinct Gold, Killer Instinct (2013), Power Instinct, Mortal Kombat, Mortal Kombat 2, Street Fighter: The Movie, Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo, Primal Rage, TEKKEN, World Heroes 2 Jet, X-Men: Children of the Atom, Samurai Shodown 2, Darkstalkers, Kaiser Knuckle

Gameplay Engine  9.0 / 10
Story / Theme  8.5 / 10
Overall Graphics  9.5 / 10
Animation  9.5 / 10
Music / Sound Effects  10 / 10
Innovation  9.5 / 10
Art Direction  8.5 / 10
Customization  8.0 / 10
Options / Extras  7.5 / 10
Intro / Presentation  8.5 / 10
Replayability / Fun  9.0 / 10
"Ouch" Factor  9.5 / 10
Characters  8.5 / 10

 9.4 / 10

 Review based on Arcade version    


Final Words:

I have to admit... when I first saw Killer Instinct at a local arcade (in 1994), I initially wrote it off as another "wannabe" at first glance. (My inner Street Fighter / SNK / Mortal Kombat-fanboy inside was probably speaking for me.) It only took a couple more trips to the arcade for me to realize how wrong I was, and how awesome Killer Instinct was. Once I pulled off my first Ultra Combo... I was hooked.

Killer Instinct
was undeniably a visually stunning and unique fighting game upon its arrival. To add to that, KI's incredibly catchy and vibrant sound design meant that the game literally sounded like no other game to date. Graphically impressive, innovative, fun to play, original in nearly every way, and you're still humming some of the tunes after you've played it. "The perfect fighting game?" Killer Instinct came close.

I played the hell out of KI1 at the arcades in 1994-1996, meaning I anxiously awaited the SNES home port when it was announced (picking it up day one, only to be pleasantly surprised by a badass black cartridge). Even though the SNES version wasn't nearly as pretty as the arcade version, I still loved it and put countless hours on that thing. Actually, the half-assed home port made me appreciate how great the arcade version was even more.
~TFG Webmaster | @Fighters_Gen  

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