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Video Game / Killer Instinct (2013)

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"Coming to your home in 2013, only on Xbox One..."
The E3 2013 trailer for Killer Instinct. Unlike last time, they fulfilled that promise (mostly). note 

After a 17 year-long hiatus since the last installment, the Killer Instinct franchise made its triumphant return. Titled simply Killer Instinct (known among fans as Killer Instinct 2013), the game first released on November 22, 2013 as a launch title and Killer App for the Xbox One. It was also later ported to PC in 2016.

Starting out with a tiny roster of six characters, regular updates over three separate Seasons (a trend followed by later games such as Street Fighter V) brought the cast up to a sizeable 29 characters and added all sorts of features. Season 1 was handled by Double Helix Games, but after they were acquired by Amazon, development was handed over to Iron Galaxy Studios for Season 2 and beyond.

The game has been lauded for its surprisingly deep gameplay, which is a great improvement over the somewhat button mash-y originals. While retaining the classic Combo Breakers the series is known for, it also introduced Counter Breaker reversals, Shadow Counter punishers, Lockout punishments, Instinct Mode power-ups, and much more, resulting in some of the most compelling mind-games to hit the fighting game genre. The creative character designs, both in terms of art and combat, are also celebrated, and the game's sound design and music is phenomenal, since the team got Atlas Plug, Celldweller, and the legendary Mick Gordon as composers.

The plot features a rebooted Killer Instinct universe, reusing many of the familiar storylines and ideas of the original but now in a new setting and context. Gone is Ultratech's "Killer Instinct" tournament, as they are no longer an Obviously Evil Mega-Corp; now they're a benevolent Mega-Corp secretly planning to summon ancient horrors to test humanity, and a group of rebel heroes is trying to stop them. The plot is split into three different game modes, one for each season of content:

  • Season 1's Arcade Mode, which features a very loose narrative for the first eight characters. It's mostly concerned with introducing the world to the player while planting the seeds for Ultratech's upcoming plan.
  • Season 2's Rivals Mode, which is more like a typical fighting game story mode for the next eight characters. It details the battle with Ultratech, and ends in Ultratech summoning the evil Gargos to the Earth.
  • Season 3's Shadow Lords, which is a series of strategic battles across the globe featuring every character. It contains the bulk of the fight against Gargos, wherein heroes and villains alike team up to defeat his army and save the world.

After Season 3's completion, several more characters and balance changes were added, ending in 2020 with an update to ensure backwards compatibility on the Xbox Series X|S. It seemed Killer Instinct had settled into its final state — until three years later, when a 10th anniversary update was announced at EVO 2023, planning to add 4K support and a new batch of balance changes in fall 2023.

Killer Instinct (2013) provides examples of:

  • 2˝D: The game features real time 3D rendered characters and stages but 2D gameplay.
  • Adaptational Backstory Change: Many of the characters are subject to this, reusing similar plot points from the old games but often with new twists. For example, Cinder went from a petty criminal to a corporate espionage con man, and Eyedol went from a random interdimensional warlord to a former Watchman who went mad with power.
  • Allegedly Free 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. The only two characters that are actually free are both unlocked from the Shadow Lords single player mode - Jago is unlocked after beating the tutorial, and Orchid is unlocked after collecting 50% of the Shadow Lords dossiers.
    • The Steam and Definitive versions of the game drop the pretense completely, giving you all the characters and content from the start for a more natural purchase. The only things that still cost in-game currency are the unlocks you get for levelling up characters, naturally.
  • All There in the Manual: While not quite to the same extent as its predecessors, since the basics are all there, the in-game storytelling leaves out a lot of supplementary information that must be found via the official website, novellas, comics, and even trailers.
  • Ambiguous Situation: It's still unclear what exactly happened to the Tiger Spirit. Gargos takes his place for Jago and manipulates him into accepting the darkness to become Shadow Jago, but it seems like he didn't actually hinder the Tiger Spirit since Jago can still use all his special moves afterwards.
  • Animal Motifs: Most characters have one. Some of said animals are even Guardians who act as the sources of said character's powers.
  • Announcer Chatter:
    • "UL-TRAAAAAA COM-BOOOOOOOOO!!!" and C-C-C-COMBO BREAKER!!!!!! make a triumphant return.
    • With the new mechanics, the announcer also gets a few more screams to his repertoire - LOCKOUT!, SHADOW COUNTER!!, COUNTER BREAKER!!! - as well as a new set of "titles" for combos. Also, when you perform two Ultras in your finisher, you get an extended "ULTRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!" cry.
  • Anti-Villain: ARIA is a textbook example of this trope in that, though her methods are definitely unethical, her end goal of a pushing humans to evolve into something better is indisputably commendable.
  • Autobots, Rock Out!: Just about every song has some form of metal undertone to it, and the ones that don't ("I'm Back (To Rise)", ".execute", and "Temperance and Vengeance" for example) take their respective genres so far past eleven that you can't help but get pumped.
  • Blue Means Cold: Glacius is more translucent here than the past, but still retains a blue hue to reflect his icy powers.
  • Bonus Boss: This game has a special version of Shadow Jago as a secret endboss in Season One's story, available only after unlocking everyone else's endings and then completing Story Mode again on at least Medium difficulty without losing once. This guy is definitely much tougher than the original Jago.
  • Broad Strokes: The plot is a reboot, but it borrows pieces of the old continuity for use as backstory. For instance, Jago has already discovered that Gargos was impersonating the Tiger Spirit, but Cinder and Riptor aren't created by Ultratech until the events of Season 2.
  • Cap: There is no hit cap, as there have been several combos shown that go beyond 80 hits (a now-fixed bug allowed for Hisako to get 2603 hits at one point). However, it has "knockdown value", a bar that represents the amount of combo potential you have left before your combo automatically stops. Depending on the move, the KV bar will rise at different speeds (Shadow Moves, for example, don't change the KV, allowing you to extend your combo). It's crucial to perform an ender before the KV fills up or risk losing out on big damage. You can reset the KV of a combo by landing a Counter Breaker or using Instinct Mode during the combo.
  • Cast of Snowflakes: For a cast of 29 strong in the 2013 reboot, each character is so wildly different in appearance, backstory, and even playstyle, that it's hard to narrow down many similarities between any of them (besides the obvious clones such as Shadow Jago or Shin Hisako).
  • 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.
  • Counter-Attack:
    • Shadow Counters 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.
  • Crafted from Animals: Chief Thunder returns from the first game with large feathers in his head and a necklace made of teeth, probably from wild animals like wolves, bears, etc. This trope becomes more literal with his alternate costumes, having helmets with heads of a bear, a wolf, a skull of an animal and even in one costume, his axes are sharped bones attached to a stone and a stick.
  • Easter Egg: If both players stand still and do nothing, certain characters' new personal themes will play a remix of either one/both of the old personal themes (the characters from previous games; Omen's hidden theme is a remix of Gargos' old personal theme) or the KI main theme (most newcomers; as ARIA already uses the main theme in her personal theme, her hidden theme is instead a remix of the Character Select Theme). Rash and the Arbiter have remixes of the Battletoads pause theme and "Impend", respectively, as their hidden themes.
  • 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.
  • Enemy Mine: In Shadow Lords, pretty much every playable character is on the side of Earth. Kan-Ra sells you materials; ARIA rallies her Ultratech mercenaries to your side and gives you information as well as transportation; Mira and her coven prioritize Gargos over their hunters as a major threat; Eyedol's only concern is beating Gargos into a fine paste for as long as their bodies will allow; even the Omen left in Jago to corrupt him has grown far too attached to his free will to allow Gargos to make him a slave again.
  • EX Special Attack: Shadow moves are enhanced versions of special moves that cost 50% Shadow meter and are performed by using the special move's input and two attack buttons. Those that don't just deal more damage usually have some other utility, such as Jago's Shadow Wind Kick being invincible against projectiles. They're also harder to Combo Break - the defender has to press any pair of punch and kick buttons against any three hits from the Shadow move, making Shadow Combo Breakers a pseudo-Rhythm Game.
  • The Extremist Was Right: Funnily enough, ARIA's plan to unite the world against Gargos ultimately... worked? Not under the banner of Ultratech, and no utopia was created as she planned, but summoning him still got the entire cast working toward a common cause.
  • Everyone Has a Special Move: The game takes it a step further than most fighting games - each character has at least one unique "combo trait", allowing them to create combos in a different way than anyone else. Instinct mode also grants different ability for every character in addition to universal bonuses.
  • Feelies: Like the first game, physical copies of the Definitive edition came with a bonus CD that contains the Soundtrack of the game. However, only 12 music are actually on the disc. The full soundtrack is included as part of the bonus content in the Definitive Edition disc itself, along with the full soundtrack of previous games. A discount coupon for Killer Instinct merch is also included in the box.
  • Finishing Move:
    • Everyone can perform Ultra Combos.
    • T.J. Combo, Kan-Ra, Aganos, Hisako, ARIA and the Arbiter's stages have Stage Ultras.
    • Fifteen of the characters got their own Ultimate moves in addition to Shadow Jago in Season 3.
  • Guest Fighter: Rash from Battletoads, the Arbiter from Halo and General RAAM from Gears of War were added in Season 3.
  • Homage: KI2013's version of Cinder is a burnier Deadpool, though Cinder stops short of breaking the fourth wall and literal madness.
  • Idiosyncratic Combo Levels: 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!!!
  • Like Reality, Unless Noted: The novella for the game reveals that the Killer Instinct world is mostly the same as real life, with websites such as Twitch being mentioned. It's only mostly the same because real life obviously doesn't have 3500 year old sorcerers, vampires, and demon warlords wandering about.
  • Macrogame: In the Shadow Lords mode, your guardians and artifacts carry over between playthroughs, giving you an edge on your next run.
  • Mickey Mousing: Ultras 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. Also, even as you're cycling through the options in the pause and post-fight menus, every tick of the directional plays a note of the KI theme.
  • Multiple Endings: Depending on who you did or didn't let live, it can cause different ending scenes to play out at the end of the game in the Arcade Mode.
  • Nightmare Face: Or lack thereof, in ARIA's case. Hisako's Game Face, too, is the stuff of nightmares.
  • Odd Friendship: Between Kim Wu and Hisako. The former is a fiery martial artist and college student while the latter is a creepy Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl.
  • Oh, Crap!: In the third game, some Ultimates, such as Thunder's, Hisako's, and Kilgore's, show the fighter on the receiving end making this type of face as they realize what the opponent is about to do.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: Not actually Latin, but still, some character themes count:
    • Spinal's theme 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 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!)
    • Arbiter's theme has Ominous Sangheili Chanting, provided by Celldweller himself.
  • Overdrawn at the Blood Bank: Any hit results in a enough sprayed blood to make a puddle on the ground. Every character has the potential to make fairly long combos...
  • Play Every Day: In the Shadow Lords mode you get bonus items and resources for playing the single player and multiplayer portions each day.
  • Player Data Sharing: In the Shadow Lab, players train the game's AI to fight like them and create ghost data that can fight and be fought by other real players. It serves as a way to avert the problem of Artificial Stupidity that commonly plagues the fighting game genre and also helps newer players ease their way into fighting human-like opponents without having to dive head first into ranked match and lose a lot.
  • Power Glows: Each character has their own way of showing when they have full Instinct meter, many being some form of this.
  • Recycled Title: The game is called Killer Instinct, not Killer Instinct 3, being a Continuity Reboot.
  • Revenue-Enhancing Devices: Half of the purchases of the character Kilgore (worth $10USD) go towards the KI Ultra Tour prize pools.
  • Scenery Porn:
    • The game 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 is an island rising from the ocean, containing ancient columns and sculptures being restored and war golems coming to life, that's what makes the stage gorgeous.
    • A graphics update in Season 3 relights all the stages, further enhancing the overall visual style, such as making the fire effects in Glacius' stage more prominent.
  • Stage Fatality: T.J. Combo, Kan-Ra, Aganos, Hisako, ARIA and Arbiter's stages contain environment-specific finishers triggered by ultra combos.
  • Super Mode: 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 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 game uses strength-based combo breakers. Failing to choose the correct one results in a "lockout", preventing combo breakers for a few seconds. Like KI2, however, the visual cue for the proper breaker is recognizable regardless of the player's knowledge of the attacking character's mechanics.
  • There's No Kill like Overkill: The game gives 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 (skilled players can easily go over 1,000 hits), 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.
  • Training Stage: The game has a training stage which is unavailable for versus play, but to make up for that, one can make it play the entire album from the first Killer Instinct, Killer Kuts.
  • Variable Mix: The music changes 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.

Fight on!