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Killer Instinct: The Game for Super Nintendo

A Game for Super Nintendo (SNES)

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Not Quite a Killer App

  • Nov 8, 2009
Pros: Automatic combo system is fun

Cons: Unoriginal and uninspired, lack of defense may put off genre purists

The Bottom Line: It's killer!

I'm going to begin this review the same way I began my review of Star Fox 64: By saying I thought I knew a comprehensive list of video games produced by legendary designer Shigeru Miyamoto. I really thought I did, but then I learn that he was the head producer of the Super NES version of Killer Instinct. This was a surprising revelation. Miyamoto's mark really doesn't show up anywhere on Killer Instinct. I find myself wondering just how much of Killer Instinct's development Miyamoto is actually responsible for. Killer Instinct is a fun fighting game from Rare. But the influence of Nintendo's biggest cannon is really nowhere to be seen. Killer Instinct may be fun, but it is also wholly unoriginal and quite deeply flawed. What we have is a Shigeru Miyamoto game that looks and feels like Miyamoto was stuck for a cash cow and simply crapped one out so he could book his Christmas vacation flight.

The plot of Killer Instinct is straight out of a science fiction b-movie. It's the deep future and all the governments have been replaced by giant corporations called megacorporations. Ultratech, a megacorporation known for playing god, throws a tournament every year featuring some of its experiments along with a bunch of nutballs who fight each other. Why Ultratech does this is a mystery. (It's a mystery to me, that is, not to the game.) But this year Ultratech has managed to create an interdimensional bridge which releases the monsters Gargos and Eyedol from some kind of dimensional prison. The characters all have their own plots as well, as is the wont in fighting games.

Killer Instinct looks and feels like the unholy bastard child of Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat - which given the gaming tastes of the era, it pretty much is. The game uses your standard Street Fighter II six-button layout and plenty of Mortal Kombat-style rendering and gore. Setting foot into the world of Killer Instinct grants you control over a light but fast punches and kicks, hard but slow punches and kicks, and the middle combination of both of them. It also features its own set of finishing moves, called No Mercy moves, and Humiliation moves which force the opponents to dance. The dark atmosphere of Mortal Kombat inspires Killer Instinct, and Killer Instinct just ramps the darkness level right up. Killer Instinct is pretty much inarguably the darkest fighting game that ever existed.

Killer Instinct does feature two things not seen in either Street Fighter II or Mortal Kombat: One is the dual life bar system. Instead of going in rounds, each player has two energy bars. One one fighter loses his first energy bar, the second one activates and the other player gets to keep what's left of his first one. I can't say I was ever fond of this system - it gives too much of an advantage to a certain player. I greatly prefer the level playing field of the rounds system. There is also an automatic combo system featured in Killer Instinct. Players can deliver ridiculous strings of hits on their opponents by pressing determined buttons or special moves. The result is a string of unbroken hits that can surpass 10 or 20 straight hits - one large combo hits 80 times. I like this system because it helps level out the uneven playing field given the the duoble energy bar system.

While the automatic combos makes the game fun, Killer Instinct has some terrible balance issues. Some of the characters are just flat-out terrible. When I first started playing Killer Instinct, I tried to use the character called Sabrewolf because I caught a list of his special movies in the back of Gamepro once. Sabrewolf's moves were strictly easy quarter-cirle and charge moves of the Street Fighter II ilk. But Sabrewolf turned out to be practically impossible to use because he is one of the game's bigger targets and he moves slowly. I tried using another character with a lot of charge moves, Fulgore, but he was even worse. As it would ultimately turn out, my two best characters would be two with very difficult special moves - Glacius and Cinder. They were quicker. This turns out to be a very generalized problem with Killer Instinct. Leaner and fast characters will always have an advantage over the larger and slower characters. Guys like Sabrewolf, Fulgore, and Thunder are practically sitting ducks when they fight Jago or Orchid. Picking a character like Riptor and trying to stick with him through the game means you'll be on the defensive for the duration.

This brings me to another observation: If it's not completely impossible to clobber your way through a bout on defense, it's damn near. The automatic combo system of Killer Instinct and the relative smoothness of performing those combos mean Killer Instinct is also the most offensively-based fighting game I've ever played. To have a shot at winning matches, you have to get right into your opponent's face and never let up. This is also why it's important to become skilled with the quicker characters. Trying to play with the slower guys means sacrificing hits, caging yourself into a corner, and doing whatever you can to get your opponent to mess up so you can get in and clobber him. My personal quirk, however, is that I LIKE offense in fighting games, and if Killer Instinct didn't have such nasty issues with its balance, it would be pretty much the ideal fighting game. 

Even with the dark atmosphere, Killer Instinct has some of the most comical humor out there in a fighting game. It's a unique thing - even as it strives to combine Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat, it also appears to be trying to parody them at the same time. The Humiliation moves contain some funny dances, and Orchid has a secret move in which she exposes her breasts to her fallen opponent. (She turns her back to the screen while she does this, and the opponent's eyes pop before he falls over.)

The graphics in Killer Instinct are beautifully rendered and colorful. We could expect this, since Killer Instinct is the brainchild of Rare, which also gave Donkey Kong Country to the Super NES. However, the animation is also quite stiff. What Rare unfortunately wound up doing was wasting an excellent rendering and color scheme on stiff animation and some of the more boring character designs out there. Spinal is a simple skeleton. TJ Combo is a direct ripoff of Balrog. Glacius has the design you might expect of an ice-based character. Riptor is a velociraptor. They look just fine, but there's nothing to make them really stand out. The backgrounds are no better - Jago has an awesome palace background with giant jaguar heads at the extreme ends of it, but that's the only one worth noting. Orchid fights on a nighttime rooftop, Thunder on a canyon bridge, Cinder on a large desert structure... You get the idea. Nothing much to work with here. The graphics as graphics LOOK great, it's just that there's not a lot actually worth seeing.

The sounds are outstanding! The music ranges from rocking to dark and eerie, and every character has a unique sound for special moves and damage. The most memorable effect is the ominous announcer, who calls names and combos very clearly.

The gameplay is very good, but I'm being forgiving here. The attacks all work like they're supposed to, the special moves don't pose any problems, and the automatic combos are fun and easy to work with. But as noted above, the speed of certain characters makes things a lot more difficult than they need to be. 

Killer Instinct is a fun and strangely addicting game on the Super NES. It's definitely one of the darkest horses of Shigeru Miyamoto's body of work. It's not nearly as original as one normally expects from one of Miyamoto's games. Hell, when do we even expect fighting games to come from Shigeru Miyamoto? Shigs doesn't seem to really know what he was trying to do with Killer Instinct, and so what we get is an unbalanced effort which throws the strategy required for other fighting games right out the window because of its nearly exclusive focus on offensive fighting. However, the automatic combo system makes Killer Instinct a blast to play despite the game's other flaws. Killer Instinct may or may not warrant a purchase. It depends on what you like.

This review will also appear on my blog, The Phoenix Inquirer.


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Nicholas Croston ()
Ranked #19
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial.      Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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About this video game


KILLER INSTINCT moves from the arcades to the Super NES. You can play as eight different fighters including T.J. Combo, Fulgore, Jago, B. Orchid, Chief Thunder, Spinal, Sabrewulf, and Glacius, each with unique combinations and attacks. When you have picked your preferred gladiator, use the Practice mode and learn how to pull off devastating attacks and combinations. When you want some competition, battle your way through matches that increase in difficulty in the Arcade mode. When your friends start bragging about how good they are, you can make them prove it with the Two-Player mode. Everything you remember about the arcade game has been put in KILLER INSTINCT for the Super NES.
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Number of Players: 2
Publisher: Midway/Rareware
Developer: Rare
Console: Super Nintendo
Genre: Fighting
Release Date: August 1, 1995
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"Not Quite a Killer App"
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