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Just the term Killer Instinct makes me remember dark, hazy arcades and the musty smell of competition. So I couldn’t help but have a Pavlovian moment when Microsoft announced the return of the beloved fighter during its pre-Electronic Entertainment Expo news conference this year. I had the chance to preview the Xbox One launch-day downloadable title from Double Helix Games and speak with key developers at the show.
“(Double Helix) got it … this understanding of what was great about KI,” Ken Lobb, creative director at Microsoft Studios and key architect of the Killer Instinct saga, stated.
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The title didn’t immediately feel like the KI I sacrificed so many quarters to during my youth. As I tried to reacquaint myself with the hulking lycanthrope Sabrewulf, I had to grasp the rebooted brawler’s new-ish control scheme. Clearly, the series gained a few dans on its bloody black belt. The new gameplay systems contributed to my learning curve.
“Totally new is this idea … of an Instinct meter,” Lobb mentioned. “What if I had this other buff that I’m building up as I play? … [The meter] is specific to each character. … Jago [the other selectable character in the demo] gets hit advantage. He also starts to heal. … Sabre buffs up, gets faster, does more damage.”
I eventually deduced a few of my combatant’s moves and pulled off some of the game’s trademark c-c-combos. These moments directly tapped into my inner 11-year-old KI fanatic. That’s when my brief hands-on experience truly clicked.
Xbox One’s next-gen capabilities will not only help Lobb and company create a more visually striking title, it’ll also help them overcome old-school hurdles to ensure a compelling and fair fight.
“One of the most important parts of a fighting game is balance. In KI1 days … we literally had to have people running around upgrading the arcade machines all over the freaking world. Now we have builds instrumented, so we know if things are broken. … And we build them in a way … that they can be adjusted hourly, daily.”
Along those lines, players can share their beatdowns through the One’s gameplay-recording functionality, which should appeal to the thriving competitive community streaming its matchups and tournaments online.
“You have a ton more people that want to watch this stuff and learn. We showed with upload and Twitch [the streaming online service] … you decide if you want to … send up a video of what you’ve just done. … Push a button, off it goes,” Lobb added.
New features aside, Double Helix has a tough challenge to overcome. Fighting game fans are fickle. KI followers have demanded a sequel for nearly two decades, so expectations will run high. The development team hopes to deliver an authentic successor.
“We thought about [making a sequel] for a long time. …The fighting genre is back. Time is right. We like bringing either new IP or things that people love at the launch of a new platform,” Lobb said.
This reimagined release has new mechanics, new character designs, and even a new sales model — you can purchase characters a la carte or buy all content (including future downloadable additions) at once. But I enjoyed the new Killer Instinct most when it felt like the old Killer Instinct.
I’m talking about landing that 14-hit extreme combo and hearing the familiar bloodthirsty baritone of the combat commentator.
That moment made me reach for my pocket, fumbling for my next quarter. And that’s why I can’t wait to get my hands on the final product.
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