Killer Instinct: 20th Birthday
Back in the 16Bit era, thanks to the success of Street Fighter 2 the fighting genre was a big draw for gamers everywhere. We saw Mortal Kombat come along with fatalities, blood and gore. Other fighters appeared trying to take the crown including Clay Fighter (I never really saw the appeal of this one), even SEGA turned there hand to the genre with Eternal Champions. Although it didn’t feel as polished as MK or Street Fighter – I have to admit it was a good romp and had some interesting characters. Then out of the blue, twenty years ago last Saturday, a new arcade game appeared from Rare and Midway. Duking it out for the crown of best beat em up – step into the ring – Killer Instinct!
It played like any regular fighter, you punched and kicked your opponent into submission in a one on one encounter. The game borrowed the attack set of Street Fighter, and it also had finishing moves, which seemed to be inspired by Mortal Kombat. However Rare, didn’t just bring us some different characters and arenas to fight in – they also added a few of their own rules. Just to shake things up a little. The first change was the double health bar. Rather than having the standard three rounds, with the winner being the one to win two. Players had two health bars, the round ended as normal when one of the fighters, health bars had been reduced to nothing. There was a slight pause and the fight would recommence – however the winner of the first rounds health bar, still had the damage from the first round still intact. No replenishing health between rounds here! The first time I played Killer Instinct, I was acutely unaware of this little addition. Imagine my surprise then when after three hits, I was flat on my arse - with no health.
Another big change was the inclusion of automatic combos. Rather than hitting a big series of buttons, the combos were automatic. You could set the combo off with just a tap of a predetermined button or inputting a special move. Each character also had at least two finishing moves, which bore a resemblance to Mortal Kombat’s Fatalities. These were known as No Mercy moves (later the name changed to Danger Move, personally I preferred the first). One of these moves you could perform, only at the end of an ultimate combo, with the opponents health bar flashing red. The second move was known as the humiliation move – a move that forced your opponent to dance! The trick with this move being that you could only perform it if your fighter still had their first health bar intact. These moves were quite tricky to pull off, let alone making sure you had your original first health bar intact. Yet if you managed to pull it off successfully you really couldn’t help but smirk, just a little.
The combos, you could pull off where simply jaw dropping. If pulled off successfully you could string up to 80 hits! However there was a another little surprise awaiting you, in the form of combo breakers. If pulled off successfully you could turn the tide, breaking the combo midway through. Adding a whole new depth to the proceedings.
Then there were the characters, Killer Instinct had a rather interesting character roster. Till this day, I don’t think I’ve ever come across such a vast array of different characters in one fighting title. There was a Velociraptor, a sword wielding Skeleton, and an American Chief! The characters were colorful, interesting and to this day remain some of the most diverse. They were a blast to get to know, with some pretty spectacular moves to learn.
A year after its success in the arcades, the game to the SNES in it’s first port to an amazing reception. It’s gone on to be named in several top fighting games lists and even best SNES games ever made. It’s a true classic, which plays well to this day. So everyone raise a glass, and let’s wish Killer Instinct a killer birthday…