Video Game: Killer Instinct

"Available for your home in 1995, only on Nintendo Ultra 64..."
The attract mode for the first Killer Instinct. They never fulfilled that promise. note 

It was the olden days of 1994, and Nintendo felt they were hurt hard by the perception that they were the video gaming equivalent of the Animation Age Ghetto. They took a huge hit in censoring the Gorn in Mortal Kombat, and even allowing it in the sequel didn't calm their detractors. What was there to do?

Why, go Darker and Edgier, of course! Make a Fighting Game that would make Mortal Kombat look tame, and even make sure to break their own long-established rules (like allowing a player to control the undead or putting the word "Killer" in the title). Even better, get Midway Games to manufacture it! And thus, the seeds of Killer Instinct were planted.

The game's actual story revolves around the eponymous Killer Instinct tournament, which is being held by the mysterious UltraTech company for reasons not totally revealed. Attracting several disparate competitors in addition to a few of the company's own projects, it's not quite known what the result of the tournament will be.

The first proved popular due to its eye-popping graphics (courtesy of Silicon Graphics, who did the pre-rendered sprites for Donkey Kong Country), catchy soundtrack, and signature combo-intensive gameplay, which also allowed players the chance to break combos and fight back. A sequel was later released which wasn't nearly as popular for several reasons: getting rid of the pre-rendered backgrounds in favor of real time polygonal backgrounds (the fighters were still sprite-based, however), the revamping of several characters, a confusing time-travel plot, and the rise of 3D Fighting Games. An updated version, titled Killer Instinct Gold, was released for the Nintendo 64 a couple months after launch. The series still had a fanbase, however, and some still hoped for a revival done by developer Rare. However, in light of certain news, it sadly seemed unlikely...

...That is, until E3 2013 when Microsoft announced a new KI game was in the works for the Xbox One, developed by Double Helix Games. It was released as a download-only launch title on November 22, 2013, though physical copies with the first eight characters were later made and released with the bonus incentive of getting T.J. Combo for free. Watch the trailer here. As of March 2014, Double Helix got bought out by Amazon, but they have handed off the role of developers to Iron Galaxy Studios, the company behind Divekick, Marvel vs. Capcom Origins, and Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Online Edition.

A PC port of KI '13 was announced for Windows 10 at E3 2015; a third season is coming in March 2016, featuring Rash from Battletoads as a guest fighter.

Has a character sheet in need of some wiki magic love.


This series has examples of:

  • 2½D: The 2013 reboot features real time 3D rendered characters and stages but 2D gameplay.
  • A.I. Breaker: You can easily beat Fulgore by dashing in, stopping just out of reach, and jumping back until he tries to uppercut you, then countering over and over.
  • Allegedly Free Game: The 2013 game can be downloaded for free, but has a single playable character that rotates on a regular basis (with Jago being the free character at launch). The remaining cast can be downloaded individually, or can be bought all together in a single purchase. Buying the characters individually also discounts the cost of each individual character so that players who purchase characters individually never pay more than those who buy the full pack of characters.
  • All There in the Manual: The games themselves give nothing more than character backgrounds, although important character information can be pieced together from various profiles to form a vague idea about what's going on. Anything else came from the manuals to the console ports or Word of God attached to official artwork and the like. The biggest plot point ignored by the game is that Eyedol is not an UltraTech bio-weapon in testing like many of the standard characters, but a warring god from ancient times sealed in Limbo by sorcerers (the other one being Gargos, boss of the second game). Eyedol's lava-bridge stage has the portal machine that freed him as its backdrop.
  • Announcer Chatter:
    • "ULTRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA COMBOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!"
    • C-C-C-COMBO BREAKER!!!!!!
    • When you perform two Ultras in your finisher in the Xbox One game, you get an extended "ULTRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!" cry.
    • With the new mechanics in the Xbox One game, the announcer gets a few more screams to his repertoire - LOCKOUT!, SHADOW COUNTER!!, COUNTER BREAKER!!! - as well as a new set of "titles" for combos.
  • Autobots, Rock Out!: Gargos, KI2's final boss' stage theme.
    • Just about every song in the Xbox One game has some form of metal undertone to it.
  • Awesome McCoolname: Pretty much every character. Thunder, Cinder, Riptor, Fulgore, Tusk, you name it.
  • Bonus Boss: The 2013 title has a special version of Shadow Jago as a secret endboss, available only after unlocking everyone else's endings and then completing Arcade Mode again on at least Medium difficulty without losing once. This guy is definitely much tougher than the original Jago.
  • Boobs of Steel: Maya and Orchid.
  • Broad Strokes: The plot of KI 2013 is a reboot, but it borrows pieces of the old continuity for use as backstory. For instance, Jago has already discovered that the Tiger Spirit was actually Gargos, but Cinder and Riptor aren't created by UltraTech until the events of Season 2.
  • Calling Your Attacks: ENDOKUKEN!
  • Cap:
    • In the first two games, you can do up to 80 hits in a single combo.
    • There is no hit cap KI 2013, as there have been several combos shown that go beyond 80 hits. However, it has "knockdown value", a bar that represents the amount of combo potential you have left before your combo will automatically stop. Depending on the move, the KV bar will rise at different speeds. It's crucial to perform an ender before the KV fills up or risk losing out on big damage.
  • Charged Attack: Charged by performing a combo breaker. The second game had a more traditional super meter, but the easiest way to charge it was performing combo breakers.
  • Cherry Tapping: The "Humiliation" moves, which makes your opponent dance to a disco-ish beat.
  • Combo Breaker: Tr-Tr-Tr-Tr-Trope Namer!
    • The 2013 game now allows you to perform a "Counter Breaker" when this occurs, essentially breaking the combo breaker.
  • Combos: This series is basically the Trope Codifier, as it was the second (after Super Street Fighter II) Fighting Game to count combo hits and the third to use chain combos (after Darkstalkers and X-Men: Children of the Atom, later games like Street Fighter Alpha and Mortal Kombat 3 would adopt the system.) Almost any hit can be strung into a combo, and can be interrupted with a C-C-C-COMBO BREAKER! In Killer Instinct 2, it's possible to reach 60+ hits without glitching or cheating, although this is limited to the end-of-match Ultra combos, and to players who had a full comprehension of the combo engine. Also, combos basically ARE the gameplay; you won't get far without using a few of them.
  • Comeback Mechanic:
    • The Instinct Meter in the 2013 game builds only when you take damage or successfully perform combo breakers, so you won't be able to activate Instinct mode unless you've been beaten down a few times. The exceptions to this rule are Spinal, thanks to his Shadow Skull Fireball draining the Instinct Meter, and Jago, with his Around the World combo trait giving a small amount of instinct when successfully performed.
    • T.J. Combo has another mechanic in the 2013 game in addition to the regular Instinct Mode - if he runs out of health and he has a full Instinct Meter, he'll get back up with a small amount of health and a half-duration Instinct mode for one more shot at victory.
  • The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: The computer pretty much performs combo breakers at will. In the second game, it almost always counters your combo opener with the move that trumps it. One saving grace; the computer will never have magical immunity to the Tactical Rock-Paper-Scissors; if you respond to the computer opponent's opener with the appropriate counter, it will work, every time. The game is also quite infamous for the computer controlled characters hit harder then human ones. Get into a mirror match with the computer and trade blows, you will lose.
    • And let's not get started on the new Arcade Mode boss, Shadow Jago...
  • Continuity Snarl: The character profiles for the second game explain that Eyedol's death sent the surviving characters 2000 years into the past, but several parts of the game's design contradict this while others reinforce it. Several characters, especially the three new ones who could only be from the past, have stages seemingly set in fantasy worlds or at least fanciful concepts of a past time. On the flipside, T.J. Combo's and Orchid's stages are set in a modern-day city, Fulgore's stage is a robot factory, and Sabrewulf has involuntarily gained cybernetic arms courtesy of UltraTech. Various handwaves have been proposed, some more reasonable than others, but none of them come from the actual game.
    • The third game avoids this by being a straight-up Continuity Reboot, picking and choosing pieces of the old games' continuity to incorporate into the backstory.
  • Counter Attack: Shadow Counters in 2013 release. They can be activated when your character is blocking and use one stock of your shadow meter, but if you get hit when it's active, your character will instantly respond with one of his/her shadow moves. However, you can still get knocked out of it if the opponent is using a multi-hitting attack.
    • In addition, Hisako can perform her own, unique counter at the cost of her Wrath meter.
  • Death Cry Echo
  • Dem Bones: Spinal, complete with sword and shield.
  • Desperation Attack: If your opponent doesn't use a finishing move of some kind, it's possible to recover from no damage once, which also grants you a Charged Attack chance.
  • Digitized Sprites: At least with the SNES port of the first game and Nintendo 64 port of the second.
  • Downer Ending: Orchid in KI2 if you make her kill Jago.
  • Easy-Mode Mockery: In the easier difficulties in some versions, after you fought Fulgore you get... a credits screen.
  • Easter Egg: Remixes of old Killer Instinct themes appear on certain stages... if both players stand still and do nothing.
  • Economy Cast: Compared to many modern fighters. Between being a series starting nearly two decades ago and having a long Sequel Gap, the cast of the series never gets very big. Both KI and KI2 have ten playable characters and one boss character, adding up to a grand total of 15 characters across both games. KI 2013 began its first season with six playable characters, only one of which was new, with more released as time passed until they eventually had re-added all the old characters (sans bosses), resulting in a roster over twice the size of either prior KI game.
  • Embedded Precursor: Opting for the top tier package of the 2013 game includes an emulated version of the original Killer Instinct (a game that, until then, had yet to get a full arcade-quality home port), this time with online play enabled. An online-available port of Killer Instinct 2 was packaged with the higher-tier bundle of Season 2.
  • Evil Laugh: SPINAL.
  • Feelies - The game was released with a soundtrack album, Killer Cuts.
  • Finishing Move - Each character gets at least two, plus the Humiliation moves and a match-ending "Ultra Combo". Although the third game has mostly done away with all these finishers aside from Ultra Combos, Bonus Boss Shadow Jago gets his own cinematic Ultimate Combo to finish combos in the same way as Ultras.
    • The replacement developer for Double Helix, Iron Galaxy Games, has said they want to bring these back for everyone during the second season of content. They're already making progress with T.J. Combo, Kan-Ra, Aganos, Hisako's, and ARIA's stages getting stage finishers, but no word if Season 1 will get any.
  • Fire, Ice, Lightning: Cinder, Glacius, and Chief Thunder, respectively. They don't do extra damage to each other, though.
  • Game-Breaking Bug: In the original, both Cinder and Eyedol had, as the result of bugs, infinite hit combos. Cinder's however, could be done at any time during a match, completely shutting out the opponent and guaranteeing Cinder the win once the timer ran down.
  • Gorn: The game exceeded Mortal Kombat in the gallons of blood characters lost during the match, though the actual finishing moves were relatively tame (opponents still died, but in a less gruesome manner, probably to maintain the game's "T" rating).
  • Guest Fighter: Rash from Battletoads is getting added in Season 3.
  • Guide Dang It: To win the second game, the final hit on Gargos must launch him into the air. If it doesn't, his health bar will hit zero but he won't go down until he's knocked off his feet, and the player will still lose if the timer runs down.
  • High-Altitude Battle: The ever-elusive Sky Stage present in the first two games. It's a flat platform somehow floating several stories above ground in-between clouds rushing at high speed. Any hit may be deadly as in, even if you're whooping your opponent's ass, if he manages to use a knockdown move while you're at the corner, you'll fall off the stage and lose (it's a pretty long fall, by the way). KI2 made it even worse: the platform is even smaller, and you can die simply by walking off.
  • Hitbox Dissonance
  • Homage:
    • B. Orchid homages Cheshire from DC Comics. For comparison, check out the pictures of B. Orchid and Cheshire here and here. Orchid may have received a homage of her own in Joystick from Marvel Comics.
    • The entire series and the characters are one huge homage to various cult classics: for example, Jago is a homage to various ninja flicks that were popular in the 80's and 90's, while Eyedol's desing references the cyclops from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.
    • KI2013's version of Cinder is a burnier Deadpool, though Cinder stops short of breaking the fourth wall and literal madness.
  • Idiosyncratic Combo Levels: In the first two games, they went in this order: Triple, Super, Hyper, Brutal, Master, Awesome, Blaster, Monster, King, Killer. Above that, there's two types: Ultimate Combos and ULTRAAAAAAAAA COOOOOOMBOOOOOOOOOS!
    • KI 2013 instead goes for the following: Basic, Triple, Quad, Solid, Hyper, Brutal, Master, Blaster, Extreme, Awesome, Monster, Insane, Beastly, King, Crazy, Killer, Godlike(with "combo" suffix indicating whether the combo was ended properly or not). And above all of them, there's the ULTRAAA COOOOOOMBOOOOOOOOO!. Perform two or more ultras, and you get an elongated ULTRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!
  • I'm Melting: In the Arcade version, if you finish off Glacius with Riptor's Acid Spit or Chief Thunder's Lighting Bolt No Mercy moves, Glacius will melt into oblivion.
  • Large Ham: The announcer, bar none. Taken Up to Eleven in the Xbox One Reboot.
  • Mega Corp.: UltraTech. Dabbles in all sorts of freaky science from Mecha-Mooks to reviving the dead to cross-breeding humans and reptile genetics. They also capture aliens and force them to fight, turn convicted felons into sentient lava beings, and graft mechanical arms to werewolves.
  • Mickey Mousing: Ultras in KI 2013 are now punctuated by music, where each hit in the combo is accompanied by a note. The beat is different for each character, and the song is different for each stage.
  • Multiple Endings: Depending on who you did or didn't let live (and in Glacius' case, if his ship is still intact), it can cause different ending scenes to play out at the end of the game in KI2. These came back in Season One's Arcade Mode.
  • Nightmare Face: Or lack thereof, in ARIA's case.
  • Ominous <Language X> Chanting: Spinal's theme in KI 2013 has Ominous Swedish Chanting, taking on the form of a ritual to summon the skeletal swordsman to their side.
    "Vi ber till dig, Spinal, lämna din kropp! Bli våran hövding, ta till vapen! Skänk oss din styrka vid denna strid! Vakna, vakna, mäktiga Gud!" (Spinal, we ask you to leave your body! Become our chieftain, take up arms! Grant us your strength in this battle! Awaken, awaken, mighty god!)
    • Aganos' theme in KI 2013 has the chanting in Greek...
      "Μάχη! Πόλεμος! Νίκη! Πόνος! Δίκη! Πόλεμος! Τρόμος παντού!" (Battle! War! Victory! Pain! Trial! War! Terror everywhere!)
    • ...and Hisako's, somewhat obviously, is in Japanese.
      "Kienai Hisako, honoo-en no haka! Fukushū, fukushū no inori! Kemuri, kemuri no kioku! Kienai Hisako, kienai urami!" (Indelible Hisako, tomb of flame! Revenge! Prayer of revenge! Smoke! The smoke of memory! Indelible Hisako, indelible grudge!)
  • The Omniscient Council of Vagueness: UltraTech.
  • Overdrawn at the Blood Bank: KI 2013. Any one hit results in a enough sprayed blood to make a puddle on the ground. Keep in mind that every character has the potential to make fairly long combos...
  • Perfect-Play A.I.: Very prevalent in the first game, not so much in the second. Makes a violent comeback in the third when playing under ''Kyle'' Difficulty.note 
  • Prison Dimension: Both Eyedol and Gargos were trapped in one until UltraTech busted them out.
  • Recycled Title: The 2013 game is called Killer Instinct, not Killer Instinct 3, being a Continuity Reboot.
  • Scenery Porn: Noted for its at-the-time excellent pre-rendered graphics, which made it stand out against the hand-drawn or digitized-sprite fighting games in the genre's glut of imitators.
    • KI 2013 is known for its incredibly detailed backgrounds and characters, fitting for a next gen game, with no graphical slowdown. Chief Thunder's stage (the rain, in particular) and Glacius' stage are specific things critics like to talk about when praising its graphics.
      • Aganos' stage sets the new record for Scenery Porn on a single stage. An island rising from the ocean, ancient columns and sculptures being restored and war golems coming to life, that's what makes the stage gorgeous.
  • Sprite/Polygon Mix: More noticeable in Killer Instinct Gold, and EVEN MORE noticeable when you knock your opponent off Jago's stage - the sprite will stay there as if it suddenly decided to lie down on the bridge!
  • Stage Fatality:
    • In the first game, Cinder, Orchid and Spinal's stages are buildings where the loser can be knocked off the edge. The Sky Stage can be fallen off of from either side regardless of health. Eyedol has a unique stage fatality (and a different death cinematic) if he's knocked off the lava bridge instead of punched out on his feet. A popular Urban Legend of Zelda maintained that Thunder's stage contained a a stage fatality; it didn't.
    • In the second game, Orchid and Kim Wu's stages are buildings where the loser can be knocked off the edge. The loser in Spinal's stage can be knocked off his boat on the left side. Saberwulf's stage has a well the loser can be knocked into if one of the fighters is first knocked through the nearby wall during the bout. Tusk's stage has a flaming pit in the center, and Jago's stage is a bridge that the loser can be knocked off of at any partexcept either end. Gargos' stage can also have the loser knocked off in any spot, including Gargos himself. The Sky Stage makes a return.
    • In the third game, T.J. Combo, Kan-Ra, Aganos, Hisako, and ARIA's stages contain environment-specific finishers triggered by ultra combos.
  • Super Mode: In the 2013 game, each character has a character-specific trait called "Instinct Mode", where they can gain different buffs that aid their playstyle (such as Thunder gaining an invincible, longer dash that allows him to rush in and grab his opponent without having to worry about being hit). It also grants the universal effects of instant cancellation and knockdown value reset if popped during a combo.
  • Surplus Damage Bonus: The 2013 game enforces this by allowing players to continue their combos even if they kill their foe, and allowing that continued combo to even gain meter. This extra meter allows such things like using one Ultra Combo, then activating Instinct Mode to reset the combo, and then gaining enough meter to make another Ultra Combo.
  • Tactical Rock-Paper-Scissors - The proper combo breaker to use depends on the strength of the combo's initial attack.
    • Complaints about the ridiculousness of this (it takes master-level knowledge of every character to recognize what button to do the breaker with) led to a simpler system in the second game, where punch breaks kick and vice-versa. Unlike in the first game, maneuvers in combos will always match the button being used as a blink-and-you-miss-it visual cue for the victim; a punch input results in the character performing a punch, even if it's not the punch that button does outside of combos.
    • Also in the second game, every character can open a combo with most basic attacks, standing or jumping in. However, every character also has three special moves that are specifically meant to open combos, often more damaging and easier to work with than the basic punches and kicks. The weakness of the special-move openers is that they function on a literal rock-paper-scissors mechanic, and no matter which two characters are facing off, one character's specific opener will always trump someone else's specific opener.
    • KI 2013 is back to the original system of strength-based combo breakers. Failing to choose the correct one results in a "lockout", preventing combo breakers for a few seconds. Like the second game, however, the visual cue for the proper breaker is recognizable regardless of the player's knowledge of the attacking character's mechanics.
  • Take That: Eyedol's ending is clearly inspired by Blanka's ending in Street Fighter II.
  • There's No Kill Like Overkill: The 2013 release will give players the ability to chain an Ultra Combo into another combo, which in itself can lead into another Ultra Combo. Since the opponent is basically knocked out before you can perform an Ultra, this is basically just for eye candy, racking up a high hit count, showing off and needless brutality. On the other side, more merciful players can perform the ultra combo ender early to end the opponent's suffering.
  • Three Round Deathmatch: A variant: Each character gets two life meters. When the first runs out, the character stands back up, the two face off, and the battle continues.
  • Title Scream: Well, more like pronounced normally in a sinisterly low voice.
  • Troperiffic: All the fighters in the game, which are references to other media or fill in familar film tropes; the kickass Action Girl, the Asian martial arts spiritual warrior, an alien, an Amazonian warrior and cave man, you get the idea. The reboot continues this with new characters like the ancient Evil Sorcerer, the deadly female Assassin and a Japanese Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl among others.
  • Variable Mix: The music in 2013 will change in accordance to what's happening in the fight. For example, if you idle, the music becomes more passive; if something exciting happens, like a counter breaker, the music becomes more intense. An example of it can be seen here. The Ultras also have Mickey Mousing.