PAX Prime 2013: The Return of the ULTRA COMBO!!!

I loved the original Killer Instinct on the Super Nintendo, an era in video game history where in most cases, bigger was better and pre-rendered graphics were en vogue (especially with Rare, which made not only this game but the all-time classic first and second installments of the Donkey Kong Country series).

The series returns after many years in hiatus as a launch title for the Xbox One, with a free to play financial model and modest expectations. The return of Killer Instinct has an unclear value proposition for gamers: the legacy of the series is neither long and/prestigious enough to have a reliable sense of tradition to draw upon like the Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat titles, but it has to keep enough of the past games to maintain a connection to the Killer Instinct universe.

The demo at PAX Prime 2013 shows the revamped versions of Jago, Glacius, Saberwulf and another fighter (which eludes me at the moment) which fight in a similar style to the previous games. Based on the small sample size at PAX, Killer Instinct is designed to be a high definition update of the classic game rather than a reinvention akin to Street Fighter 4 or the latest Mortal Kombat.

The gameplay is tight, with moves executing quickly and a very fast combat style based on volume rather than high damage per strike. Classic combos such as Jago’s jumping/standing/crouching strikes followed by an uppercut still work, and are easy to execute (at least on the arcade sticks used to demo the game). It basically looks and feels like an experience that Killer Instinct veterans can get back into very smoothly with a bit of practice, paired with a likely fragmentation of strategies due to the a la carte model of characters available for individual purchase; the game is as much of an interesting financial experiment as it is a returning entry to classic 2D fighting.

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