Killer Instinct is a low-cost fighting game that comes with an education
[Disclosure: Penny Arcade was involved in one of the more expensive editions of Killer Instinct.]
Killer Instinct is a hard beast to “review,” and it may show us some signs of how fighting games will be treated in the future. You’re also free to ignore this story completely and go try it when your Xbox One arrives; you can download all of the single player content, online play, and a single player for free when the Xbox One launches this Friday.
If this was a regular release it might seem unfinished. There is no arcade mode, no story, and no boss battles. The pickings are slim when it comes to single-player, in fact. You’ll want to start in the Dojo, a series of tutorials that will explain how the game is played.
It’s a neat feature, and worth spending some time mastering the slightly strange combo system, which we’ve described in previous stories. It offers a little more flexibility than the original game, and the combo breaker move allows the victim to fight back. There is now also a “counter breaker” move, however, so if you think your opponent is going to try to break your combo, you can counter their counter and continue your attack.
It sounds a bit confusing, and it can be at first, but the Dojo does a great job of introducing you to all these concepts and allowing you to practice each one. It won’t make you a good player, that requires ample practice against other human opponents, but it will allow you to at least understand what’s going on. It will teach you the necessary moves and what they do, and then it’s up to you to learn how to put those into practice.
You can play a survival mode to fight an endless series of enemies if you want to hone your skills, and there are plenty of unlockables to earn, and a series of Trials that reward you for putting your abilities to work. Practice mode will allow you to dive even deeper into the details of the game, allowing you to perfect your combos and timing.
Button-mashers will have fun with the game, and the large, somewhat stiff-looking characters can sometimes feel like you’re playing with very well-articulated action figures, but the single-player content does an effective job at helping new players to grow, and helping seasoned players to sharpen their skills. The rabbit hole goes deep, especially for a game in a series that’s known for being a little bit more casual friendly, but the available modes and data available to you provide a guiding light.
Of course you can play with friends offline, or enjoy some ranked or casual matches online, and it only costs $20 to unlock all six characters. $40 unlocks all the characters and a variety of aesthetic items, and there are even more characters coming down the line as DLC.
More game modes are also on the way, making this the rare fighting release that’s being treated as a service as much as a game. Welcome to the odd mix of free-to-play and premium that’s becoming so popular in the early days of next-generation consoles.
Still, you have nothing to lose. The combo system turns even moderate-level play into an electric game of chicken, with both players trying to read the other’s next move. Learning how to get the most out of your combos won’t be a quick journey, but the system is easy enough that anyone can get started.