Review: Killer Instinct: Season 3

Posted 10 April 2016 by Patrick Hancock

These cameos aren’t killing me!

If you tried to tell me that they were going to resurrect Killer Instinct as a free-to-play game and have it be successful, I simply wouldn’t believe you. The original had all but faded into obscurity outside of the “c-c-c-combo breaker!” meme that permeated the Internet. 

Yet, here we are, with Season 3 upon us, and it’s one of my favorite fighting games on the market.

Killer Instinct (Windows 10, Xbox One)
Developer: Iron Galaxy
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Released: March 29, 2016
MSRP: Free-to-play, $19.99 (Combo-Breaker Edition), $39.99 (Ultra Edition), $49.99 (Supreme Edition, Windows 10), $59.99 (Supreme Edition, Xbox One)

Killer Instinct has certainly become one of the most fleshed-out fighting games. Regardless of skill level, there is something for everyone here. Whether you are interested in spending time alone in single-player or online with others, there is no shortage of modes. Season 3 will eventually have a “Shadow Lords” mode that promises an infinitely replayable singleplayer experience. Until then, players can enjoy Story Modes for the first two seasons for a more structured singleplayer experience. If you want to know more about the core content and combo system, be sure to read Chris’ original review.

The game also features one of the best tutorials on the scene. The Dojo has 32 specific lessons to not only make players better at Killer Instinct, but better at fighting games in general. Hell, I’d argue that if you want to get into the genre, you should download this just to go through the tutorials. Even if you never touch the actual content beyond that, you’ll have a much deeper knowledge of fighting game fundamentals.

The biggest draw to the new season are the additional characters. As of now, there are four characters added to the roster, with more on the way. These include two classic Killer Instinct characters in Kim Wu and Tusk, as well as two guest appearances. Arbiter from the Halo franchise and Rash from Battletoads somehow snuck their way into the roster. As expected, each of these characters are not only radically different from each other, but from the rest of the pre-existing cast as well.

Kim Wu is a close-ranged and high-speed fighter with nunchucks and a snarky attitude. She’s got a very Bruce Lee vibe, which is great. Personally, I find her to be the weakest of the newest fighters, both in terms of damage and interesting mechanics. She can build up Dragon Spirits, allowing her to shoot giant projectiles or cancel moves in Instinct mode, but her overall feel just doesn’t jive well with what I like to do. 

Tusk and his big-ass sword dominate the mid-range. He has a lot of far-reaching pokes, though most of his moves seem to take forever to come out. His damage is through the roof, which helps make up for his lack of speed. I’ve enjoyed playing Tusk the most out of the new cast, since he forces me to play patiently. Mashing buttons doesn’t work, so playing him will help correct that sort of behavior. It’s great seeing the sparks and other effects while heaving the gigantic blade around.

Playing as Arbiter somehow manages to capture the essence of Halo and elegantly put it into a fighter. He’s got his gun, complete with limited ammo, as well as sticky grenades that refill over time. He also has his Energy Shield, which absorbs projectiles while active! It truly is astounding how well Iron Galaxy managed to seamlessly swap genres with Arbiter. I’ve never been a big Halo player, but it’s still plain to see how much love and care was taken when creating him.

Rash is absolutely ridiculous. Since his original game is a beat-’em-up, the transition from Battletoads to Killer Instinct was simple enough. The best part about the character is the little touches included. Instinct Mode will call in the infamous speederbike, and while Instinct is activated, each hit has an extra visual and sound effect from Battletoads. Again, the intricate details expose how much time and effort has gone into making these characters the best they can be.

Really, the amount of diversity among the cast is astounding. No two fighters are alike, and that has become even more impressive now that 22 characters have been released. The core of the combo system is the same for all, which makes the entire game much more approachable, but using each individual character efficiently requires unique handling. This also gives me hope for the other four characters of Season 3, which include Mira, Gargos, Genral RAAM from Gears of War, and a final mystery character.

Even the stages have personality. Play a match on Arbiter’s stage, the Arena of Judgement, and tell me that it isn’t amazing. There’s an entire Halo battle going on in the background! The other new stages for Tusk and Kim Wu aren’t as exciting, but are still well crafted and unique. Tusks takes place on an icy tundra with a ship in the background, while Kim Wu’s is in a Chinatown urban area.

Music has always been a strong part of Killer Instinct‘s arsenal, and boy does it come through here. Even navigating the menus is melodic! The hard rock soundtrack is embedded into everything, even the combos. The music integration is just another one of those small touches that really bring the entire package together.

Season 3 also sees the game’s debut on PC via Windows 10. If you already own any purchased content from the Xbox One version, it automatically transfers to the PC version, and vice versa. There’s an in-game performance test, which is actually a blast to watch. It pits two Cinders against each other and sparks are flying everywhere. If the performance test deems your rig unsuitable, it will actually prevent you from playing online.

The matchmaking is still solid, though on PC I have encountered a strange issue where just about everything turns black while the game loads the match. It still doesn’t take long to get into the match, but I haven’t seen the same issue on Xbox One. Though my qualifying matches pit me against some very good players, once I was officially placed (in Bronze), I had consistently close and enjoyable matches.

A big issue with the PC version is its lack of support for many fightsticks. Now, I feel personally comfortable playing with an Xbox One controller, but it is annoying that I can’t use my fightstick even if I wanted to. Certain third-party programs won’t even work because it’s a Windows Store app.

Since its release, Killer Instinct has slowly become one of the most competent fighters in the genre. It’s accessible at all levels thanks to its approachable yet deep combo system and extensive tutorial. Its characters, including the new ones from Season 3, all have unique mechanics and tons of small touches that bring them to life. With an efficient and non-scummy free-to-play model and PC availability, there are few reasons not to jump into Killer Instinct.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]



Impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.

About The Author
Patrick Hancock
During the day, he teaches high school kids about history. At night he kicks their butts in competitive games like Rocket League, Dota 2, Overwatch, and Counter-Strike. Disclosure: I've personally backed Double Fine Adventure, Wasteland 2, Dead State, SPORTSFRIENDS, Torment: Tides of Numera, STRAFE, and The Binding of Isaac: Four Souls. I have previously written for and continue to support them whenever possible (like HumbleBundle).
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