Killer Instinct surprised a lot of people when it hit the Xbox One. No one really expected much from Double Helix given its track record, but a decent following has been with the game ever since, and there's even an arcade stick to quell the most hardcore of fan's nerves.
But the fact remains: the roster is still bare, and even if the game is fairly balanced, people need more fighters to tinker with to stay interested. One such fighter is Spinal -- a classic character from the original that was just added to the game.
Killer Instinct: Spinal (Xbox One)
Developer: Double Helix Games
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Release Date: January 31, 2014
MSRP: $4.99 ($20 Season Pass, $40 Ultra Edition)
It must be said that Double Helix has put a lot of work into Spinal. He has tons of character at nearly every turn, from the fact that he constantly "reassembles" his collection of bones, to his goofy, but appropriate yells and rattling noises. He even has a command run that triggers a creepy scream, giving him a "silly but intimidating" factor that not many other fighting game characters can replicate.
There's also a lot of detail in terms of his moveset, as most of his moves sprout neon green hues, skulls, and general "souls of the damned" effects. His combos are particularly fun to watch, as they actually have a point to their flashiness, rather than the generic flame effects that may accompany some other characters. I'm not fully on board with the pirate theme as I feel like the design is a bit too busy, but I literally love everything else about Spinal.
In terms of gameplay, his big gimmick is that he can raise his shield up and devour projectiles. He'll use this mechanic to store "skulls" to use as projectiles in turn, which you can see floating around his character depending on how many you have at any given moment. It's subtle, but it's a very cool way to eliminate any sort of "meter" that would show them, and the ability itself instantly sets himself apart from the rest of the roster. The skulls can be launched low, high, or vertically in the air, which gives you some keep-away options if you meet the proper energy requirement.
Spinal also has a few other tricks up his sleeve, including a teleport move (which can be modified with shadow power to do damage), a standard slicing uppercut combo linker, a shield dash charge move, and a dive kick. One of the most deadly moves in his arsenal however is his standard low + heavy kick slide, which is actually an opener. It's easy to predict on its own, but as a punish it's highly effective to start off a combo chain with.
While he is a fairly technical character, he lacks speed, meaning you'll have to master his teleport move and be rather deliberate in your actions, especially with some of the faster characters in the game. You'll get around this by canceling out projectiles, and closing the gap with dash moves, while teleporting at the right times. You have to be careful though, as it's easy to punish Spinal with nearly everything he does.
I'm extremely pleased with the addition of Spinal in Killer Instinct. He's exceeded my expectations as a balanced and fun character, and with all of his new additions, he differentiates himself from the rest of the cast while making his own mark on the game. Double Helix did a really great job injecting him into the existing foundation, and I hope Fulgore follows suit this March.
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