Killer Instinct Review

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Gameplay and Modes

"C-C-Combo breaker!" That's one of several over-the-top catchphrases that made the arcade fighting game "Killer Instinct" a hit in 1994, and the brawler is back in a big way. The classic fighting game has been reborn as a free-to-play title for the Xbox One, packing in five fan-favorite characters and one all-new combatant. "Killer Instinct" has striking visuals and one of the best training modes of any recent fighting game, but is there enough content to keep you busy in the long run?


Like any fighting game, the goal of "Killer Instinct" is to beat your opponent senseless. The game lifts its core control scheme from its classic iteration, providing six attack buttons — three for punches and three for kicks.

Each of the game's six characters has special moves typically performed with a quick motion of the d-pad or joystick followed by an attack button. Shadow Moves, which require players to drain their power meter on the bottom of the screen, are flashier, more damaging special moves activated with two attack buttons rather than one.

While the game has no shortage of effective attacks, it wouldn't be "Killer Instinct" without a wild combo system to link all of them together. Fortunately, the Xbox One reboot retains the open-ended nature of its predecessors.

MORE: Xbox One Reviewed

Players can link special and normal attacks with "auto-doubles," which are quick punches or kicks that keep your character's combo momentum going. While this would normally allow for painfully endless combos, the game's patented combo breaker system allows players to halt their opponents if they correctly guess what type of auto-double attack is coming.

These two gameplay systems create a perpetual chess match within every fight, in which each player is constantly trying to anticipate the other's next move. Guess incorrectly, and you'll have to eat some extra damage. Guess right, however, and you'll get to hear the deep-voiced announcer shout "C-C-C-Combo breaker!" like it was 1994 again.

Once you've knocked your opponent out, you can add insult to injury by performing a dazzling Ultra Combo. These combos have no effect on the outcome of the match, but there's something to be said about landing 100-plus hits on your friends after already beating them in a tense encounter.


"Killer Instinct" doesn't have a heap of gameplay modes, but developer Double Helix put all of its resources toward areas where many fighting games are lacking.

Gamers can take on endless waves of CPU opponents in Survival mode, fight friends in Versus mode or brush up on their skills in the Dojo and Practice modes.

The latter two options are where "Killer Instinct" truly sets itself apart from the competition. With 36 lessons ranging from basic movement to advanced defense, Dojo mode teaches crucial fundamentals that can be applied not only to "Killer Instinct," but also to just about any fighting game out there.

After an hour in the Dojo, we went from figuring out the controls to pulling off devastating ultra-combos on our hopeless training dummy.

Practice mode is a more open-ended training environment found in most modern fighters. You can prepare for just about any situation in this mode, whether you want to practice combos on a stationary opponent or learn how to react to a specific character's strongest move. 

"Killer Instinct" packs a standard online mode, allowing players to battle for points in Ranked Match or have a more casual Friendly Match. The game's servers were inactive as of this writing, but we will update this review once we enter the online fray.

Michael Andronico

Mike Andronico is Senior Writer at CNNUnderscored. He was formerly Managing Editor at Tom's Guide, where he wrote extensively on gaming, as well as running the show on the news front. When not at work, you can usually catch him playing Street Fighter, devouring Twitch streams and trying to convince people that Hawkeye is the best Avenger.