Drizzled in techno and ignited with particle driven light shows, Killer Instinct’s branded fighting game invites combo driven fighters to its fray. This franchise, which proudly pits a werewolf against living blocks of ice and ninjas without a smirk, is based on attitude. “Play it Loud!” as Nintendo would say when they reigned over this bloody martial arts contest. Play it loud fans will and must.
Killer Instinct is nothing without its sound and bellowing announcer calling rising combo onslaughts. When Walt Whitman coined the term, “Barbaric Yawp” in 1900, it is reasonable to assume the ear splintering call of “Ultra!” is close to what Whitman imagined. Few things in life carry such monstrous power or accentuating satisfaction.
The franchise demands attention, screaming from near bursting speakers, drawing players into its fray. In the mid-90s, Killer Instinct existed to call over the likes of subwoofer-driving Midway arcade games and flatten the matured essence from Capcom’s cabinets. Time has placed Killer Instinct in a different place, sans arcade joysticks and glowing CRT screens, but none of its unsophisticated grittiness has been lost.
Much has been needlessly placed on Xbox One and its often 720p visuals. Here sits Killer Instinct basking in that resolution with noticeable jaggedness which adds to its credo. Sharpened edges add a piercing roughness to these graphics, spurring on enormous fireball effects with shockingly beautiful lighting. KI existed in extremes since its inception. Consequently Losing visible resolution to harness power toward other elements makes sense.
Developer Double Helix matches the franchise essentials, namely a combo system built from openers, links, combo breakers, and rising hit totals. In full 3D without the rendered visuals which once gave it life, KI is livid in its pacing. Speed resembles an afterburner boost, and as such, combo strings become twice as impactful. Executing strings mingled with special moves (plus attention paid to subwoofer thumps) makes KI as violent as anything despite limited blood splotches.
Players limited in skill are afforded button mashing breathing room. Once past an opener, combo calls ring out without intended effort. Often, the series draws criticisms for this identifying system, but Double Helix works in strategic variances to undercut those unwilling to put in time. Breakers, used to leap from a deadly unblockable string, carry a Lock Out feature. Mistime or fail to account for the appropriate attack, and strikes will continue to land unimpeded. There is no escape from failure.
It is unfortunate then that most of KI is brutalized by its business model, absolutely shameful for this genre. Touted as free-to-play with a flow chart necessitated to show what people what they are buying, character selection becomes splintered behind pay walls. With Jago currently the solo free character, online matches are dismal efforts where Jago becomes the only opposing combatant. Those who pay are offered little reprieve with skimpy solo offerings limited to one match exhibitions, survival, and training.
Locking characters introduces balancing issues inherent to the genre. The persistence of content thrown behind lock icons waiting to be unearthed is infuriating. From colors, to stages, to costumes, and more, this content would appear to exist solely as an annoyance. In total, $40 brings together six characters (two more are pending to make eight), menial in current fighting spaces. Marvel vs. Capcom 3 houses over 35 characters, 2011′s Mortal Kombat has over 25, and even base Street Fighter IV carries 20. Those titles make their own egregious mistakes regarding DLC, but diminishing returns has apparently birthed this reboot of KI.
Maybe KI will be the launch point for Xbox One. Microsoft has flushed their first-party titles with cash grabbing opportunities, often fitted with slow moving leveling or confusing currency systems. Their products are becoming victims no matter how they reach this marketplace. Xbox One’s attempt to placate a player base bred on mobile functionality has become an infection.
Double Helix’s reboot is an outlandish and spirited make over of a fighting franchise. Its publisher has pitifully gimped and grounded the community whether due to lack of faith in the namesake or merely to host a constant revenue stream. There is a chasm’s worth of difference between Candy Crush Saga begging for additional lives in Facebook streams and a dedicated fighting game slaughtering its roster for the sake of piecemeal transactions. Apparently, Killer Instinct’s eye for genre hyperbole extends into business models too.