Xbox One
4 stars
Overall Grade
4 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Game Itself
3.5 Stars
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
3.5 Stars
The Audio: Rating the Sound
3.5 Stars
Replay Factor
3 Stars
Bonus Content
3 Stars
Bottom Line

Killer Instinct

Street Date:
November 22nd, 2013
Reviewed by:
Review Date:1
December 2nd, 2013
Game Release Year:
Xbox One
Double Helix Games

Editor's Notes

'Killer Instinct Ultra Edition' reviewed. 'Killer Instinct' is available in multiple digital versions. (See the breakdown below)


It's been 17 years since 'Killer Instinct 2' and 'Killer Instinct Gold' (N64) roamed their respective arcade and home audiences, and the intervening years have rarely seemed like the right time for the franchise to return. Microsoft's acquisition of the franchise's original developer Rare from Nintendo has kept even a re-release of the games a long shot, even as the entire fighting game scene has undergone a resurgence full of fighting games old and new in tournaments, online, and even the rare arcade. Finally, after multiple recent 360 rumors, Microsoft announced that a new 'Killer Instinct' from a new developer (Double Helix) would be a Xbox One launch title. Not only would the game have a free single character version for all Xbox One owners to play, but the original arcade 'Killer Instinct' would be included at the $40 level. And so it seems that the fighter that made combos and the word "ultra" video game parlance, is back.

The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

Make no mistake, 'Killer Instinct' is almost one of the most difficult titles to review in recent console history. Unless you've been rocking an emulator, a SNES, N64, or vintage arcade cabinet, this new 'Killer Instinct' will either be your first taste of the franchise or your first in a long time.

Likewise, the Jago only version is free, and many Gold members got the six character (with two more unreleased) Combo Breaker version free from Microsoft. The reviewed Ultra Version contains two versions of the original arcade game, with a handful of little bonuses, but even the $60 Pin Ultimate Version features only a six character, six stage fighter at its core. It's the scarcity of content that prevents the game from becoming truly tough to review, as an hour with game (mostly in the training mode) can easily render every bit of content repetitive.

The game has A.I. fighters to fight against, but lacks even a simple Arcade progression mode, though it may come later. That means, you can play online, locally, against a single AI, in Survival mode, or in the Dojo, which seems to be lifted straight out of 'Street Fighter IV.' When you set aside the content versus dollars spent consideration, the similarities to 'Street Fighter IV' are so pronounced that it's entirely fair to think that the Xbox One has at launch a near perfect six fighter stand-in for the recent installments of Capcom's genre-leading franchise.

The old 'Killer Instinct' was always somewhat imitative of 'Street Fighter 2,' especially as a six button 2D fighter, but it's combo system was so revolutionary along with some other distinctions that the game found its own niche. In short, playing the original 'Killer Instinct' was all about successive combos, successive rounds, and pulling off the elusive Ultra Combo, making the game in ways more like 'Mortal Kombat.'

Fast forward, and while those aspects remain important, the addition of several 'Street Fighter' staples like throws, close attacks, EX style moves and Supers, which all very much within the 'Street Fighter IV' move set, can make the six 'Killer Instinct' characters, (Jago, Orchid, Sadira, Glacius, Sabrewulf, and Chief Thunder,) seem like they just wandered in from a future Capcom expansion.'

Even so, the combo/combo breaker system is, along with a few other nuances, enough to make some classic and current 'Street Fighter' techniques an ill-advised approach to a 'Killer Instinct' match.

Having something that delivers like 'Street Fighter IV' on the Xbox One at launch is a real plus for fighting fans, and the possibilities that future updates may deliver are exciting. At the same time though, in its current state, the repetitive tendency of a fighting game, where everyone plays just a few characters is sewn into the experience. While it's easy enough to unlock all six stages, that's the end as far as I'm concerned with seeing some fresh content when playing versus. At the $40 level, the game has a handful of per character accessories, but most them have to be unlocked and then purchased (a two-step process). Completing challenges to unlock specific items, and then buying those items using accumulated KP is a process which represents a lot of grinding to get the equivalent of hats and badges (character wardrobe and titles), and suggests a scrapped (or possible future) microtransaction system.

With the exception of the brutally powerful Chief Thunder (who seems entirely over-powered), the roster and fighting system make for great matches. The six that are there are some nicely varied, if unoriginal, fighters. The game plays slower than the 'Killer Instinct' of old but again, this follows the 'Street Fighter IV' blueprint. Give me another half dozen or so fighters and a fightstick, and this 'Killer Instinct' could easily serve as the de facto Xbox One fighter or for years to come, or at least a viable alternative to the inevitable series of games from Capcom.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

Again, 'Killer Instinct' is not easy to classify. Short production schedule or no, the game's art style feels born of the Xbox 360's XBLA, rather than the Xbox One. The six fighting stages in particular are missing an artistic touch that would lend the game a polished look. Still, the move to the Xbox One allows for some brutally delivered character detail, and even more visually impressive, the particle effects really mesh well with the extra horse power. Selective use of specular maps do a nice job of highlighting certain details while breaking up otherwise lackluster texture groups. The game's 60 FPS at 720P never once slowed down to a noticeably degree.

Again, the limited amount of content compared with other fighters means the game's entire visual slate is delivered in short order. Hopefully, the extremely temp look for the menus will be entirely replaced at some point.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

The soundtrack is fine, and fits the history of the franchise minus the specific skill that was evident in SNES era. Fortunately, the narrator is perfect and manages a significance far above the music. Sound effects have the exact amount of oomph that is expected from a 2D fighter, likely following the 'Street Fighter IV' idea that fighters are at home in mono (or adjacent stereo) arcade cabinets.

Replay Factor

Naturally, its normal for fight game fans to settle into their shortlist of fighters, but 'Killer Instinct' has significantly fewer fighters than its SNES era cousin. The Dojo is a great way to learn how to properly execute various moves, but it isn't designed to be replayed. In essence, the lack of content in 'Killer Instinct' makes the game fun for a time or in short bursts, but robs the solid gameplay of the call to become better, to become able to challenge skilled players the world over. Double Helix and Microsoft can fix this with additional quality content, but some serious free updates need to precede a paid season 2.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

The free version lacks achievements, while the $40 Ultra Version lacks the Shadow Jago character. Still, the Ultra version contains both a patched and unpatched version of the original fighter, which is something companies usually would release with online play at a $15 price point. Nevertheless, 'Killer Instinct' has not seen a release or re-release since well before the turn of the millennium, and the full-roster original game is still fun to play, and even works with the Xbox One features like Snap, and Capture.

Final Thoughts

The new 'Killer Instinct' is mired in free-2-play trappings, a lack of content and unnecessary unlock system, is very rough around edges. And yet, the solid and at times pretty fighting twist on 'Street Fighter IV' delivered by the game, is almost a must-own for fighting fans on the new system, which means that long-time fans have no choice but to pony up for 'Ultra Version.' It is almost as though if the game wasn't such a solid fighter, it might been free outright, and the potential (eventuality even) for what has been delivered to sprout a dedicated community, makes buying in now without knowing exact expansion plans and costs a nebulous prospect. Even so, Capcom may find themselves extremely late to the party when they release a fighting game for the Xbox One.

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Video Resolution/Codec

  • 720p

Multiplayer Mode(s)

  • Online Versus

Motion Controls

  • No

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