Killer Instinct retrospective (2013-2016)

With the release of the new Shadow Lords mode in Killer Instinct for the Xbox One and Windows Store, it’s time to look back on this game’s long journey to where it is now.

Currently, Killer Instinct is one of the top games within the fighting game community, and for good reason. The game’s unique combo system and innovative health bar, dating back to the first game, make it a stand-out hit. Oh, and the characters help the game, too.

The latest patch doesn’t indicate it’s slowing down anytime soon, which is a lot to say for a game that’s three years old. While the game may not see Season 4, there are rumors abound as to its existence.

Regardless, let’s look back as to how we got here.


When this game was announced, it came as a complete surprise no one could have ever guessed accurately. There was an abundance of reasons as to why Killer Instinct never got a proper release prior to 2013 with the launch of Microsoft’s Xbox One.

The primary reason not many people may understand is because of licensing issues. No, not exactly with Nintendo, Ltd., but with Fox Broadcasting Company. Yes, you read that correctly.

Back in 2011, Fox launched a show titled Killer Instinct with a premise unrelated to the fighting game and its universe. The show was a crime drama taking place in a fictional San Francisco, Calif. In classic Fox fashion, the show got low ratings and Fox pulled the plug on the show before its first season ended, airing only nine episodes out of 13 in the U.S. The other four episodes were shown in the U.K.

Because of the show’s recent patent of copyright with Fox, Microsoft would not be able to register the patent in 2012, when rumors were circulating that Microsoft was interested in reviving the classic fighting franchise of the same name. The United States Patent and Trademark Office seemingly struck down the claim to acquire the rights to the name, which drained almost all hope among fans awaiting a revival.

As a matter of fact, even developers at Rare did not think a revival would have been possible with people such as Ken Lobb, Donnchadh Murphy, and Lee Musgrave stating there have been numerous issues on many ends as to bringing back ultra combos and combo breakers to the masses.

Then the unthinkable happened.

In a seemingly poor reception, the Xbox One was announced with caveats and nuances people turned away such as an “Always Online” requirement and built-in Kinect power.

However, once the announcement of Killer Instinct happened, there was shock and awe. They actually were able to pull off the improbable with acquiring license rights, in-company hurdles, and many other issues to make this game a reality.

Killer Instinct 3 was here. A reality we could see and experience many thought would remain a fantasy and a pipe dream.

Although it may not be Killer Instinct 3 by name, many have stated this iteration of Killer Instinct was both a reboot of the franchise and a sequel to Killer Instinct 2, which was released in 1996.

Season One

With E3 2013 done and over with, many people were wondering how the game would play. Unsurprisingly, at the time, many people were skeptical of the game keeping true to the universe and mechanics of its famed combo system. Some even thought the game was graphically unimpressive and outdated in some regards.

Even at the true test of a fighting game’s standing power, the Evolution Championship Series (EVO), there was the reveal of Thunder that left people happy with the franchise, but a loud chorus of boos any time Microsoft or Xbox were uttered or shown.

Some of the skepticism even fell before the feet of the development team, Double Helix Games. The game seemingly was doomed from the get-go with a slimmed roster missing many classic characters, Rare not being in charge of the development, a microtransaction-based system to purchase and unlock items and fighters and Don Mattrick’s unpopular leadership of the Xbox brand.

However, there were some positive things to take away from all of this news. First, while Rare was not directly in charge of development, they did have a large say in the process of making the game. After all, it was their franchise to begin with, so who better to help make the game than the company that helped build it up?

Sure, not many remained from the days of the 1994 release, but some still were at Rare with a lot to say about the franchise. Another positive attributed to the game’s initial success were the popular mainstay characters Thunder, Jago, Sabrewulf, Orchid, Fulgore, Glacius and Spinal. On top of that, Sadira and Shadow Jago were announced as new characters to the franchise.

The announcement of a seasonal release also gave fans hope that this would not be a final roster, though it did not completely subside its criticism.

Once the game was released as an Xbox One launch title, many fears of the game’s possible lack of success were washed away as it became free-to-play and one of the most-played titles on the system at launch.

Still, there was more that needed to be done in order for the game to deliver on its name.

Season Two

In the second season of the game, Double Helix was acquired by Amazon Inc., leaving Microsoft in a bit of a bind for its popular fighter. This is where Iron Galaxy Studios came onto the scene to help finish development on the second season, which saw returning characters from old and introduced new characters as well.

Returning fighters were T.J. Combo, Maya, Riptor, and Cinder. New characters primarily took the spotlight for this season with the releases of Kan-Ra, Omen, Aganos, Hisako and ARIA. The story mode for Season Two also was revamped and re-done with a narrative and fixed fighter selection based on who was chosen.

This season also introduced a major rebalance to freshen the online experience and fix bugs and issues with certain characters.

Season Two also saw the reworking of the user interface for the first time as well as the title screen.

With more and more popularity rising for the game, EVO 2015’s Top 8 solidified this game’s standing ground in the competitive scene with what arguably could be one of the strongest, most exciting Top 8s in EVO history.

With competitors such as Hollywood Sleep, My God, Rico Suave, Guttermagic, Bass, and the lone Japanese player, Domi, things were bound to get intense from the get-go.

This truly was a bracket for the ages, but the hype did not stop there. With the announcement of Season Three, many were wondering what else was in store for the game and its future.

Season Three

The third and current season saw both new and familiar faces, with the latter being more outreaching for guest characters Rash (Battletoads), General RAAM (Gears of War), and Arbiter (Halo). Returning characters from previous games were Kim Wu, Tusk, Gargos, and Eyedol.

The lone new character was Mira, a vampire ordered to aid the return of Gargos.

However, the new characters slightly took a back seat to the live rebalance demonstration held by Maximilian and Iron Galaxy at the Killer Instinct World Cup earlier this year.

Both Maya and Spinal were the two reworks Iron Galaxy announced, even though most had hoped a seemingly broken Kan-Ra would be reworked. Despite the lack of a rework, most characters got a major rebalance to them, both then and recently with the newest patch.

Back in March, the Xbox One exclusive was released as a PC port for Windows 10 with the release of Season Three. And on Sept. 20th, Shadow Lords was released. The new mode plays much like an adventure mode with a story for each character on the roster, including the guest characters.

With so much the game has brought and fixed over the past three years, many people are still dealing damage to their online opponents with zero signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Fight on, indeed, Killer Instinct. Fight on.

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Tanner Larson

Co-founder at Reset Press
Tanner Larson is the co-founder or Reset Press Media, alongside Patrick Breeden. Larson also is a former member of ScrewAttack News, Debased To This and graduated from Minot State University in 2013 with a Bachelor or Arts in broadcasting production.

Latest posts by Tanner Larson (see all)

Tanner Larson

Tanner Larson is the co-founder or Reset Press Media, alongside Patrick Breeden. Larson also is a former member of ScrewAttack News, Debased To This and graduated from Minot State University in 2013 with a Bachelor or Arts in broadcasting production.

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