Killer Instinct will always hold a special place in my heart. I received my Super Nintendo towards the end of its lifespan, and Killer Instinct was the game packed in, and as such, I played it all the time. It was also the first game with blood in it that I was allowed to own, so that’s kind of cool. But despite all that, the game’s sequel, called Killer Instinct 2 in arcades and Killer Instinct Gold on Nintendo 64, kind of came and went for me. I definitely did not remember that the game has a fully featured training mode. Fighting games from this era typically had a practice mode, where you could try out moves without having to worry about an opponent trying to kill you. Killer Instinct Gold has that too, but it also has a training mode that actually teaches you the mechanics of the game. Which is a good thing, because some aspects of Killer Instinct are a little more complicated than you might think.
The training mode starts by simply teaching you special moves. I picked Jago as my character, because I remembered that most of his moves are identical to Ryu and Ken’s from the Street Fighter series. Your character stands in front of a training dummy and has to perform specific moves in order to destroy them. It’s simple enough and pretty soon you’ll be moving on to the next step, which is learning combos. This is where things start to get tricky. To perform a combo, you have to start with an opener, such as jumping in and hitting either the fierce kick or punch buttons, then hit one of the medium attack buttons to link the combo, then perform a special move. I found this to be pretty difficult, but not impossible.
After messing around with the training mode for a while, I decided to hop into the arcade mode. I left everything on the default settings and chose Jago. The first couple fights were very easy, as you might expect from the beginning of an arcade mode. Unfortunately, a few fights in, the difficulty ramped way up and my lack of experience really began to show. I’d like to blame my failings on the fact that while recording footage, the framerate wasn’t always steady. But, really, it’s just that the game expected me to know what it was I was doing.
Difficulty aside, the game controls very well. A lot better than I remember. This is one of the few N64 games that uses the system’s D-pad. That in conjunction with the six face buttons results in a pretty standard control scheme for this kind of game, which is surprising when you consider how not standard the 64’s controller was. Light attacks are performed by tapping the A and B buttons, medium are C Left and C Down, and Fierce are C Up and C Right. If you picture the buttons in the same way you’d think of the Sega Saturn’s or the six button Genesis controller, it makes a lot of sense and works well.
Thank God for that, because without good controls, a fighting game is nothing. While I may have had trouble pulling off combos, my characters responded perfectly fine to whatever input I was giving them and throwing projectiles and delivering flying kicks was extremely easy and satisfying.
The game also looks a lot better than I remembered. Like the first Killer Instinct and the Donkey Kong Country games, Killer Instinct Gold uses sprites that are digitized versions of computer generated models. The end result is much higher detailed characters, although with very limited animation. It’s like the digitized actors in Mortal Kombat, but without using real people. The backgrounds are fully polygonal and the camera zooms in and rotates as things happen throughout the battle. It’s a really cool and unique look for a game of its age.
It was great to go back and check out Killer Instinct Gold. While it doesn’t hold the same nostalgic value as the first game to me, I was very surprised with how well it aged. If you’re a fan of fighting games, I would recommend taking a look at this one. While I played the Nintendo 64 version, it is also available as part of Rare Replay on the Xbox One, making it very easy to see it for yourself.