Rare was riding high with first party publishing deals for Nintendo and games like Donkey Kong Country that had digitized graphics. They had fresh ideas and brought high technology graphics to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. With their momentum, why not strike while the iron is hot and make a gamble with a new game in an unfamiliar genre to Nintendo with a one-on-one arcade fighter.
Originally the game appeared in the arcades with full motion video, big sound and big graphics. Killer Instinct’s computer generated characters and environments were a step up from digitized graphics used by Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter 2’s almost anime style. It was something that stuck out from the other two and with Nintendo behind them, they could make some elbow room where dozens of “Street Fighter 2 clones” had failed.
Another way Killer Instinct stood out was its combo system where you string together moves and maneuvers. It wasn’t just an effective way to hurt opponents, it was like a scoring system. Having 4 hit combos, 16 hit combos, 24 hit combos and being rewarded with the game yelling “Ultraaaaaaa coommmmbbbooooo!!!!” Hearing that drew attention to the game and it was one of the few games that drew people away from their homes and back into the arcades. It was only a matter of time that Killer Instinct came to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.
I always loved the arcade game, but never really got into the Super Nintendo version. There’s nothing wrong with the game, but it feels sub par compared to Mortal Kombat games of the time. Of course this was the first Killer Instinct on the SNES while Mortal Kombat was already 3 games in and Street Fighter 2 churned out several iterations.Maybe Killer Instinct was too little, too late.
Killer Instinct for the SNES just feels like its missing something that Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat have. Its missing a certain flare that the arcade had. More importantly, I think its missing the fun. Even with an amazing cast of characters and environments, it feels generic. I know, I know, such blasphemy. Its just that the SNES version is missing that graphical wow factor that its arcade counterpart had. The full motion videos and animation is replaced by still photos. The step down in graphical fidelity hurt the game and my enjoyment of it.
The beautiful 3D graphics were digitized in the same fashion that Donkey Kong Country had, but with this change the level of character detail was gone. Cinder didn’t look like Cinder anymore, he felt like lava man. Glacius didn’t look like Glacius anymore, he was ice man. Another notable fact is how small the characters are compared to the arcade. That may have been a design choice knowing that the camera couldn’t pull out like the arcade whenever you do an uppercut.
What didn’t get lost is the great soundtrack. Its still high energy, arcade fight music. The music was always a standout for this game for getting you pumped to play or fight. It is so good that I even have the CD soundtrack to it. The SNES version still has voices that say “Killer Instinct” and call out fighter names in that exaggerated tone of voice. It still yells “Hyper Combo” and its good to hear.
The game brings in all the eclectic cast of characters from the arcade. Fulgore, a robot with eye lasers and knuckle blades. Black Orchid, a female ninja that has been known for flashing victims. TJ Combo, a pro boxer. Cinder, a man on fire. Glacius a metamorphic man of ice and steel. Sabreworlf, a werewolf. Riptor, the other anthropomorphic fighter. Chief Thunder, a Native American with a Mohawk and twin tomahawks. Spinal, a viking skeleton equipped with a sword and shield. Finally, a ninja named Jago. They all compete in one-on-one battles leading up to one of the craziest ideas for a boss in a fighting game. A two headed cyclops named Eyedol.
Each of these fighters has their own fighting style and special moves so that makes it more a kin to Street Fighter 2. The combat plays the same too, back to block, three buttons for weak, medium and strong punch. Three buttons for weak, medium and strong kick. Up is to jump. A lot of the special moves need you to hold back then push forward or roll the directional pad in quarter circles going from diagonal back, down to diagonal forward. They aren’t the easiest maneuvers to do with a d-pad.
With combos you could even time projectiles and attacks to juggle your opponent in the air. Each fighter has a combo breaker that can stop the brutality before their health drains to nothing. Its a good system that is beautiful in the arcade that let educated players stay alive longer. In the SNES version it just felt too cumbersome using the D-pad.
Another thing that makes the game feel different is having two energy bars. When you win a round, you both don’t get a full bar of health. Only the loser of the round gets full health. Its an interesting way to do things. After winning two rounds, the winner can perform a fatality or humiliation. The fatalities really aren’t that special, gruesome or graphic especially compared to Mortal Kombat. You can make objects fall on a fighter to finish them off by crushing them. There is still blood mind you, but its not dismemberment, that’s where the line is drawn. The humiliations are a fun little addition like making the loser dance. You can even knock an opponent off a roof top and watch them spiral as they plummet to their doom.
Each character has their own location and theme song playing in the background. Glacius has a frozen temple. Sabrewolf has a castle and so on. Once you defeat Eyedol at the end, you’ll get a text cut scene with a side view of your character in their arena. Its just very lackluster. They couldn’t be bothered with anything better, but maybe that was hardware limitations.
Killer Instinct is still a great bit of gaming history. While I don’t think its the best fighting game on the console, its still head and shoulders above some of the other garbage fighters on the console. It just felt like it was missing something that its competitors had after years of home console polish.