Killer Instinct: ahead of its time?

This coming Sunday there’s a small games event happening locally, a thing I am very much looking forward to; both for reasons of supporting local endeavours of this nature and for the games themselves, as a Super NES plus Street Fighter II Turbo has been announced to be on the agenda.

Also Killer Instinct.

At first, I sulked at this; Killer Instinct wasn’t actually any good, was it? The entire thing was obsessed with combo attacks, looked ugly, and didn’t have any throws or grapples to speak of. Reluctantly, I dug out my Instinct cartridge from the attic today to have a look. After all, it would be in the spirit of the event if I were to be able to join in should the crowd decide they’re more Killer than Street.

instinct2

In 1994 when it was released, Killer Instinct smacked of ‘me too’ in a climate that saw a lot of similar games riding the coat-tails of the popularity seen from seminal Japanese masterpiece Street Fighter II. Resting both conceptually and geographically between that game and America’s Mortal Kombat, this British-developed title never really leaped out at me back when; despite lifting Street Fighter’s six-button control layout wholesale and a few of its mechanics, I never found it as accessible as either of the aforementioned scrappers.

It was that combo system, see.

In fighting game vernacular, a ‘combo’ is a rapid string of attacks that form an unbreakable sequence should the first attack hit and not be blocked. Street Fighter originated these, Mortal Kombat saw an alternate take on the theme, and later on SNK’s King of Fighters series (and related titles) would see the combo made into an artform.

That in mind, Killer Instinct’s combo system is a technical science; comprising interweaved ‘autodouble’, ‘manual’, ‘opener’, ‘linker’ and ‘ender’ mechanics to provide to the player something that, when viewed with a more seasoned eye from decades of fighting game play, are surprisingly open and robust. Indeed, these same mechanics are in the game’s recent namesake on XBox One in expanded form.

instinct1So, to ask the question titling this piece of writing: was the game therefore ahead of its time?

Probably.

To fighting game outsiders, Killer Instinct old or new is likely an impenetrable orgy of flailing (but inexplicably connecting) limbs and incoherent controller inputs; only the graphical fidelity and length of combo has changed over one score year and then some. It was and is a fighting game for players who love fighting games; themselves a genre that has fallen in and out of favour like a drunk who can’t quite pick themselves up and walk home but is ridiculously gleeful nonetheless.

Then and now, a product of their time, then. I look forward to the possibility of playing the Super NES version this weekend against some strangers.

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