The King’s Back!
Four score and seven years ago…ok maybe not that far back, but a long, long time ago there once was a kingdom full of fighting games. Alright whatever…so it was the mid 1990’s and the fighting game landscape was basically split by three factions of Arcade regulars; the Tekken-ers, MK-ers (Mortal Kombat, what rock were you under), and of course the Street Fighters. With lesser factions of the people playing Virtua Fighter and event Burning Rage, but I digress. Then along came a spider, that spider had kick ass graphics, awesome characters and of course introduced us all to the ULTRAAAAAAAAAAAAAA COMBOOOOOOOOO!
Killer Instinct hit the scene and pretty much derailed anything and everything we knew about Arcade style fighting games. Super cool characters with attitude and real sex appeal, not that phony stuff Street Fighter fed us – I’m looking at you Chun-Li, and of course the beloved combo system. It was really the first time we saw a series of moves get strung together and recognized by the game as a combo; it was also the first time a game gave us a way out of the crap we were in, the combo breaker. Both a reward and redemption system wrapped in the super awesome goodness of video violence!
While at Comic-Con I had the chance to see and meet some pretty slick people, though none as cool as Torin “Smack Down” Rettig, Producer on Killer Instinct for the XBOX One; and truly the highlight of my Comic-con experience. Torin gave me a great rundown of the All new Killer Instinct and even did a great job of fending off my jabs at them for not giving us all the content on release, well played Mr. Rettig.
I call him Smack Down because he did just that, whilst showing me the ropes and letting a new player, or returning champ as I think of it, feel good about his 12 hit combos. He showed me just how awesome it can be to get a 32 hit combo and how painful it can be to miss a combo breaker and be locked out while your opponent thrashes you. And yes I was the victim on both sides of that coin and of course the 32 hits were pretty tame compared to the 98 hit ultra-combo with flare he put down.
In all honesty Mr. Rettig was a great guide through this game and has taken me from fence rider to wall climber for this title!
With all that said I will take you through what I found to be the good and the bad on this return to Killer Instinct.
Free To Play* – Good and Bad
If you are cash strapped or simply do not want to invest another $60+ in a game that you aren’t sure you’re going to like or for only 3 characters that you actually play. Never fear! At release the game will have a free to play option and much like other F2P games will be severly limited. Hope you didn’t think you were getting 50 characters on an F2P!
Much like the rest of my gaming circle I initially thought this was a bad thing, another way for the man (read: Game Developer) to farm us for cash. However, after, my initial jabby comments about it, discussing it with Torin Rettig of Double Helix I’ve come away a changed man. The point of the developer is this, if you are only going to play as 3 – 5 characters why pay for 30? This, in today’s titles, is a pretty average number of characters. Instead you can treat this game sort of like a CCG, as you have the time and cash add new characters to your stable; Gotta catch ‘em all…Killer Instinct-amon! I tried.
Don’t fret KI kids you won’t have to purchase all of the characters solo if you know you want them all. As part of the offering I was told that they will be offering the characters in a sort of combo pack sans drive thru. A little research on the interwebs has also turned up some talk about a full retail version for a full retail price of about $60 + tax.
Combat System – All Good!
Another thing is the Improved Combat System and Combo Breaker Sub-System (my words). Alongside the spiffy new graphics and wrapper (Xbox One) the games combat system has been improved from yesteryear.
One good thing they did is sort of level the playing field a bit for newer players. This sort of thing makes it easier to entice your buddies to play your favorite fighting game instead of brow beating you into another night of Marvel vs. Capcom! Ugh.
The way they leveled the field is by promoting a couple different styles of play. Button mashers hear me! If you like slamming your digits into the controller in saliva filled rage, Double Helix has heard you. Play as Sabrewulf and enjoy a simpler stable of combo openers as well as a full bevy of single button linkers and finishers. Put simply start the combo with one move and mash that light punch button and watch those combo numbers climb!
If a more sophisticated style of play is what you crave, KI has something for you too. Play as Jago our huggable ninja hero. Learn his more complicated set of combos which will have your fingers dancing around the controller like a seasoned pro should be. There is even something called the “around the world” combo, learn it, live it, love it!
Another thing that is new and improved for this go round is the combo breaker! Gone is the more complicated CB from previous versions of the title. Now if you are getting slammed all you need to do is tap the stick back to forward and hit two buttons; seems simple right? Of course it is. Now for the more complicated – you will need to “guess” which power level your opponent is hitting you on (Light, Medium or Heavy); guess wrong and you will get a lock out with a four second penalty. What is lock out?
Lock out is a function where your ability to initiate another Combo Breaker is taken away, for four seconds. When a lock out happens both you and your opponent are keyed to this with a visual queue above your characters head. At this time you might want to grab your ankles and pray for lube because for the next few seconds there is no getting out. The other way to get locked out is by mistiming your CB attempts, so don’t panic and just start mashing the Combo Breaker buttons or you will be in for a world of hurt.
One of the other balancing acts that Double Helix has done is to show current damage and potential damage. As you build your combos up the potential damage keeps climbing, but beware if you can’t finish your combo all that glorious “potential” damage falls away to the damage you actually did. On the other hand if that button masher finishes his combo full of 20 Light hits the penalty could be staggering.
Nostalgia – Great!
Of course, for me, the Fighting games landscape has been a barren wasteland of Street Fighter and MvC iterations that have left me longing for the days when I would walk into my local arcade and see Orchid bouncing her batons off of her hip, I love you too Orchid, we had a thing back in the day!
So for me Double Helix and Microsoft have done us all a solid and are going to remind us that Fighting Games aren’t about comic book heroes and villains grouped together in crazy teams, throwing us into an endless air juggle. Rather it’s about the cool characters, the combos, and the C-C-C-Combo BREAKER!
Something that I’m a big fan of is when a game developer can find a cool way to use an existing technology in a way that no one else has thought of. Double Helix did just that in this version of Killer Instinct with the Kinect. Ever have a game night with your pals and that one friend – you know who you are – has to stop the flow of the controller and change the settings? Yea sort of kill joy IMHO, but no more! With Killer Instinct the game will recognize the player with the controller and change the settings to their previous settings. Ground breaking, no but it is a nice feature to minimize downtime and keep the combos rolling.
Look for Killer Instinct on the XBOX One at time of release this November.