Killer Instinct was the quintessential “cool” game of my generation. It’s one of those games that made me hate my SNES-owning best friend; when ‘begrudgingly’ playing a rival console could no longer be feigned, and enjoyment of a Nintendo-exclusive could no longer be hidden. Rareware forced these situations upon me on a regular basis. Now my internal struggle has long since ended, and I’m free to say what my heart always felt: KI may try too hard, but it’s still pretty cool.
Right out the gate, metal MIDI riffs chug along relentlessly like a crazy train from hell; Quasimodo clobbers the bell with the satisfying ‘chink!’ of his mighty gavel every time you toggle a setting; a garbled, manly voiceover announces your every decision with a foreboding shout-that-is-a-whisper. Killer Instinct makes you feel like a real hardcore sonovabitch.
That’s the menu screen done, now let’s take a look at the actual game. Killer Instinct is the bastard child of Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter. Its Mortal Kombat genes are more readily identifiable: the game was co-published by Midway for starters; it uses pre-rendered ‘movie’ sprites for the characters; and ‘No Mercy’ moves take the place of fatalities. The recessive Street Fighter gene is evident in the controls – light, medium, hard punches and kicks – and the moveset. Every second fighter seems to have a Dragon Punch up their sleeve, and if they don’t, you can bet yer ass they’ve got an Hadouken (or both).
Perhaps a latent Capcom fighting gene in the mix manifests itself in the ‘combo’ system, which is all kinds of ridiculous, and sets the bar for future combo-fests like X-Men versus Street Fighter, Marvel Versus Capcom, Capcom Versus SNK, Capcom Versus Larry Flint, and Capcom Versus Every Man And His Dog. It was certainly the first game I had ever played with upwards of 80-hit combos. It’s fairly safe to say, then, that the combo system pretty much defines KI as a fighter and sets it apart from the rest of the riffraff. It’s a pity, then, that I can’t do them. Couldn’t do them then and I still can’t do them now. I have three excuses prepared for this:
- My USB Saturn controller is still in the mail at the time of writing and I’ve got a deadline to keep here (or at least not stomp all over).
- This is a game that you really need the manual for. The special moves may be Street Fighter knock-offs but they’re not exactly logical. Glacius’ Dragon Punch uses a kick, for example. And those Mercy Moves aren’t going to just fall from the sky.
- Even when I have the manual, I’ve never bothered to master anything beyond what’s written in it. Got a combo I can do? Write it in the manual. Super Combo Moves were the best thing that ever happened to this lazy gamer, all wrapped up in a neat little bow.
If you’re into that kind of thing I’m sure love will find a way. Hardcore Voiceover Man will high-five you for your trouble – “Triple Combo!”, “Super Combo!”, “Brutal Combo!”, “Master Combo!”, “Awesome Combo!”, “Hyper Combo!”, “ULLLTRA COMBOOO!!” – a different superlative for each number of hits, it seems. They want you to do lots of combos, get it?
There’s even a character named Combo. TJ Combo to be exact. That’s where the try-hard factor comes in. The “Teej” is a try-hard, Jago is a try-hard, Fulgore is a try-hard – every second character thinks they’re just so freakin’ cool – like the genetic by-product of a failed marriage between a pop singer and an Hollywood actress. The coolness rubs off to an extent, but the sons and daughters of privilege should never forget their place. Just put down the coke bowl for a second and slip into this gold bikini for me, willya?
Yeah, Killer Instinct, you’re cool, alright? You’re that kid on camp (you know, that kid) with the undercut number one shave that pretends to chew gum all the time as you size up the other kids, spits on the ground as if generally unimpressed with what this planet has to offer, and doles out approval to the rabid underlings that hang on your every word. Like I said – cool. But next time you turn your cap backwards and do olleys on your skateboard out the front of school, remember one thing:
Street Fighter got a little drunk at a party one night, looked over at Mortal Kombat across the room, and thought to himself, I’d smash that. And that, son, is how you came to be.