As a big fighting game fan, I loved Killer Instinct in the mid 90s. Although it was rare for me to run into the arcade machine (for some reason, the arcades around where I lived didn’t have one), I was super excited when my mother drove me to the Best Buy out of town (we didn’t have a Best Buy either, for some reason) and I bought a brand new copy of Killer Instinct for the Super Nintendo. It also came with the game’s soundtrack on CD, which I still own to this day (although I lost the original case). When the second game was announced, I couldn’t wait to play it. So I waited and waited until I realized that the game had already been released in Arcades and it just never popped up around where I lived. Luckily, I soon heard about a port being developed for the new Nintendo 64, renamed Gold. So after the console was released and I acquired one, I rented Killer Instinct Gold. I enjoyed it very much and time has been kind to it as it’s the only 2-D fighter worth playing on the console.
When it was announced, the N64 (then called the Ultra 64) was touted to be able to deliver arcade perfect conversions of the latest arcade titles Killer Instinct 2 and Cruis’n USA (which I’ll review next). However, this became an exaggeration as the resulting games didn’t deliver visuals as good as arcade originals, although they did include new 3D backgrounds to replace the FMV backgrounds. With that in mind, graphics are quite honestly ugly. The camera zooms in and out as characters move closer and farther from each other and in both ways, the characters look pixilated. When zoomed in, it looks even worse. The characters aren’t sharp and textures are blurry and unappealing to look at. The 3D backgrounds are sharper than the arcade FMV backgrounds but they too are unappealing to look at and the entire game is just not visually appealing. So truth be told, as a game that was released on a new console at the time, it’s not great and a fair argument could be made that it should’ve just been ported to the older Super Nintendo.
What Killer Instinct Gold does do well is give a sense of being in an arcade. The reason for this is the presentation. Graphics may not be good but everything pops at you. Add the great and heart pumping music and it’ll really get you going. What’s more is the camera. As well as zooming in and out, it pans in when starting a fight, zooms out for a view of the background when a character is popped up, and spins and follows a defeated character that’s been knocked off the stage. There’s fire in the character selection screen and it intensifies at the versus screen. Elements of the stages can be destroyed. The game just oozes cheesy, good, intense fun. Flashy presentation, loud music, this is all reminiscent of the Arcades. So the graphics are a letdown but the way they’re presented in conjunction with the music is great. As expected, the fighting in Killer Instinct Gold is so much fun and the combo system is the star of the show. It works by you doing a move considered an opener, then pressing a button that corresponds to do an auto-double, then a move that’s characterized as a finisher. You can also continue the combo by doing a move categorized as a linker. After that you do another auto double, then a finisher or continue further with a linker and so on and so forth. In some ways, this makes the game seem less sophisticated compared to games like Street Fighter and in some respects, this is true. However, this system is by no means easy and it’s what makes Killer Instinct a game for fighting game fans only. The fast and intense game play will satisfy fighting game fans and they’ll be rewarded with awesome combinations from their fast reflexes and knowledge of the game. Unfortunately, this will also keep n00bs away. This game is only for fighting game aficionados and new players will become frustrated quickly.
Killer Instinct Gold also has special moves, super moves and finishing moves called No Mercy moves at your disposal. Special moves can be performed at anytime, super moves require certain amounts of the bar beneath your health bar to be filled and No Mercy moves, such as knocking fighters off the stage and doing an Ultra combo (a combo that’s over 20 hits), can only be done on the second bar life when it is blinking red. Yes. Unlike other fighting games, you do not have rounds. Instead you are given two life bars and when they are both depleted, the match is over. I think this system is different and I like it but it was never co-opted by other fighting games so I guess it proved not to be popular. However, I think this rewards good characters as fighters can be on their first life bar while the other is near the end of their second. Again, this makes chances of a comeback slim, alienating those new to the series. The combat is fast and furious and lots of fun but I guess the biggest problem with the game is that it is only for fighting game enthusiasts and that limits the audience for this game. It’s not insanely hard but the intricacies of the game are complex and many will not want to bother learning them.
Maybe this is why developer Rare included training modes. Practice is your standard mode that lets you practice on your own accord. Training lets you do command prompts to see if you can do them. Focused training gives you exercises to do and complete for a score. Different difficulty levels will display the command instructions or leave you to remember them yourself. These modes are helpful and you’ll learn the basics of the game but you won’t learn how to adapt to different situations. Along with the training modes, there’s team battles, tournament modes, elimination modes. My favorite is the elimination mode where the only way to get rid of your opponent is to perform a No Mercy on them. Needless to say, if you have some friends over (and who like older games), pop in KI Gold for some intense action. You’ll find a mode that suits you because the game is chock full of them. One complant I have with the game is actually not the game’s problem at all. The N64 controller is cumbersome and awkward for fighting games. First off, don’t even think about using the analog stick. Use the d-pad at all times. However, even the d-pad has issues. I find it to be too small and stiff to properly do moves fluidly. It does work fine and after some time, I got used to it. However, on a different controller, Killer Instinct Gold would be more fun. I would recommend an arcade stick but I don’t know of one for the N64 and even then it would be a waste of money, as there’s only one other fighting game worth playing on the N64 (in my opinion), Mortal Kombat 4. MK4 isn’t even a great game. It just isn’t god awful like the other N64 fighting games. But I digress.
Killer Instinct Gold is well worth the asking price, which is $20 bucks or so. Some N64 games have held onto their worth and this is one of them. While not the cheapest game you can buy for the N64, it is a good title. A great title really. If you enjoy fighting games, I can’t recommend this title enough. Since you like this type of game, you’ll be able to look past the shoddy graphics and uncomfortable controller. Others may look the other way because of this game’s high learning curve and intricate combo system. What we have here is a great title with a limited market. Maybe if Rare would stop focusing on making Kinect games and instead port this game to the 360 or better yet, make a Killer Instinct 3, these issues can be addressed and more people will be able to enjoy the fun that is to be had in Killer Instinct Gold. Seriously though, who wants a Killer Instinct 3? I say, keep it 2-D but with HD visuals, some beautifully hand drawn sprites and a huge roster of characters. Like 30 fighters! There’s a big resurgence of fighting games right now. There’s a market for it. Come on, Rare. Make it happen! At least a HD port of this game and the first one because they’re great!