Characters and Content
Hardcore "Killer Instinct" fans will be pleased to see the return of series stars Jago, Glacius, Orchid, Sabrewulf and Chief Thunder.
Jago is to "Killer Instinct" what Ryu is to "Street Fighter," packing a balanced skill set composed of fireballs, uppercuts and spin kicks. The more athletic Orchid is just as dangerous on her hands as she is on her feet, while the devastating ranged attacks of ice warrior Glacius will force opponents to approach him carefully.
Half-man, half-beast Sabrewulf overwhelms opponents with flurries of up-close attacks, while the slower Chief Thunder makes up for his lack of speed with the sheer strength of his trusty tomahawks.
New to the cast is Sadira, a springy, shadowy fighter who uses her sharp claws, double-jump ability and spider webs to keep opponents guessing.
The game's roster of six is a fraction of what you normally get in a fighting game, but each character has something special to offer different types of fighting aficionados.
On top of being well balanced, the game's slim roster is far from final. Double Helix has at least two downloadable characters on the way, and has previously vowed to keep the game fresh with steady updates.
Graphics and Sound
Visually, "Killer Instinct" does an impressive job at bringing fighting games into the next generation. Characters are packed with detail, from Jago's tribal tattoos to the exquisitely animated drool that drips from Sabrewulf's tongue. The game runs at a silky 60 frames per second, which is especially noticeable when a character leaves a stunning trail of silhouettes while performing a shadow attack.
With light beaming off each warrior's muscular body and sparks flying every time a fireball connects, "Killer Instinct" has a very bright and colorful tone. This vibe carries over into arenas such as the Tiger's Lair and snow-covered Crash Site, while stages such as the Assassin's Cave pack a grittier aesthetic.
If you're a fan of classic "Killer Instinct" or 90s fighting games in general, this reboot will literally be music to your ears. The game's original, heavy metal-tinged theme song sounds beefier than ever in this reboot, and there are no shortage of classic "Killer Instinct" music remixes for you to unlock.
As noted before, the game's deep-voiced, exaggerated announcer plays just as integral a role as the six included fighters. Hearing a man bellow "Ultra Combo!" at the top of his lungs after a flurry of attacks is simply too entertaining to get old.
Unlockables and Paywalls
There's no need to be on the fence about trying Killer Instinct, because you can play the core of the game for free. The unpaid version of the title only allows you to play as Jago, but you'll have full access to all of the game modes, including online play and the stellar training mode.
You can buy additional characters à la carte for $4.99 each, or as part of three all-inclusive packages. The $19.99 Combo Breaker pack gives you access to all six characters, as well as two DLC fighters on the way, while the $39.99 Ultra Edition nets you all of the characters, exclusive costumes and two playable arcade versions of the very first "Killer Instinct." If you long for physical packages, the limited-time $59.99 Pin Ultimate Edition packs in all of the aforementioned content in addition to a maroon game box and collectible pins featuring Jago and the "Killer Instinct" logo.
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Regardless of how much money you sink into "Killer Instinct," the game seeks to reward you at every turn. You earn in-game currency called KP for performing a variety of feats, from completing complex combos to earning a certain number of wins. You can use your KP can to buy extra stages, songs, costumes and accessories. We had the most fun with the latter unlockable, as few things add personality to a fighter like a silly facemask or a pair of ram horns.
Though inspired by a classic arcade game, "Killer Instinct" looks forward more than it looks back. The title sets an example of what a next-generation fighter could be, with fluid graphics and a free-to-play monetization system that allows gamers to get exactly what they want out of the game.
Brawlers who like to go solo might find the lack of a story or true arcade mode disappointing, but those who like the skilled nuance of fighting games will fall head over heels for the game's incredibly informative Dojo mode. Whether you dabble in fighting games or are a tournament pro, "Killer Instinct" is a knockout next-gen debut for the genre.
Rating: 4 stars
Price: Free ($19 for Combo Breaker edition, $39 for Ultra Edition)
Developer: Double Helix
Platform: Xbox One
Release Date: 11/22/13