Being a massive fan of the original Killer Instinct, released onto an unsuspecting world way back in 1994, when I first got my hot little hands on an Xbox One and discovered that the game was due to be released on the console, I was very excited indeed. The best part was that if you bought the game, you not only got the new, updated, shiny HD version, but you also gained access to an arcade perfect port of the original game too. It was a joy to discover that the port of the original game even allowed you to choose which firmware to run, as certain characters in the game were somewhat “broken”, shall we say, and having been on the receiving end of a Cinder 80 hit combo in the arcade, I was not really a fan. Still, this game is not what we are here to discuss today, so I’ll say no more about it.
No, what we are here to discuss today is the updated Killer Instinct, and more precisely the release of the third season, the imaginatively titled “Season 3”. I feel that a little history lesson may be in order before we discuss Season 3, but I promise it will be brief.
The new and improved Killer Instinct was first unleashed on November 22nd, 2013, just after the release of the Xbox One itself. It featured a mix of old characters and new ones, and among the original characters returning was my perennial favourite, Sabrewulf, and my least favourite, Jago. Seriously, I hated the way his moves had to be performed then, and still do now. Season 2 was released in October 2014, and again brought a smattering of original and new contestants to the table, including another of my personal favourites, Riptor. Finally, Season 3 released on March 29th, 2016, again dropping a familiar mix of old and new characters into the fold. As the focus of this article is on Season 3, it’s worth, I think, shining a spotlight on the new cast members.
The returning fighters were a mixed bunch, to say the least. From Killer Instinct 2, Kim Wu and Tusk returned, and while they couldn’t be more different in style, they are both firmly on the side of good; out to stop Gargos, the big bad of the piece. Kim Wu is a college student who inherits a dragon spirit called Yeoujiu, and is called upon by Jago to help in the fight against Gargos. Armed with enchanted dragon nunchucks, she is a fast, acrobatic fighter who uses her speed to her advantage. Tusk is pretty much the opposite – massive and slow, and armed with an enormous sword. He was once a guardian of Earth against the threat of invasion from the astral realm, but he was robbed of his memories and so sat and watched as Gargos invaded the Earth. Now he is whole again, and sets out to kick all kinds of ass on his mission to stop Gargos.
Later in the season, the boss of the first and second games became playable, as first Gargos and then Eyedol were released to players’ control. Gargos was able to come to Earth after the sorcerer Kan-Ra opened a portal – I want to say by mistake, but I’ve never been sure it was an accident. Eyedol has changed since his first appearance in a game, when he was a two-headed beast: now he has been killed by Gargos, resurrected by Kan-Ra, and instead of two heads, he has one head, split in half. For most people this would be something of an inconvenience, but Eyedol makes it work, somehow. Both these characters are strong and damaging, as you’d expect from boss characters, and while fairly hard to use, they were more than capable of causing all kinds of mayhem.
The new-to-the-game lists were not altogether new either. Rash from Battletoads joined the cast, bringing the same zany action and massive spiky boots that he had in his original title, Arbiter joined from the Halo universe, coming tooled up with a futuristic laser rifle in addition to a surprisingly deep knowledge of martial arts, and finally General Raam jumped from Gears, bringing his Krill and massive pointy knife that cut Lt. Kim’s life so cruelly short. The one character for this season that wasn’t from another franchise was Mira, apparently the sister of Maya, but transformed into a vampire. Until I read about her family link to Maya, I suspected she was supposed to be Mina Harker from the Dracula book, but it appears that was me drawing wild conclusions. She is firmly on the naughty side of the spectrum, doing everything she can to help Gargos come to the world, even if it means feeding on her own sister.
These were those who came into Season 3, but just to add that little bit of spice, three further characters were released after Season 3 had debuted – Shin Hisako, a purified version of Hisako who wields a katana and moves much more quickly, Kilgore, who was a forerunner to Fulgore and came armed with two massive rotary cannons for arms, and finally Eagle, brother to Thunder and a former winner of the Killer Instinct tournament. Eagle was released from Ultratech by Glacius, and soon joins the fight to stop Gargos.
Season 3 showed an overhaul in the graphical department, and maybe more significantly, it was also announced that cross platform play between Xbox and PC would be implemented in all modes except Ranked matches. So, shiny graphics, more explosive effects, new people and cross-play – did Season 3 of Killer Instinct have anything else in store for us?
Well, the short answer was yes, and that came in the shape of the Shadow Lords mode. This was another single player mode where we had to select a group of troops, train them up and then attempt to stop Gargos’ invasion in a mode reminiscent of the X-COM games. With each turn, there are various hot spots of trouble identified around the globe, and we have to either dispatch troops to resolve it automatically, or take control and fight ourselves. Fighting ourselves does bring more rewards, but there is a probability of success on each mission we choose to let the AI fight, and if they succeed, the rewards are lessened.
During the game, the idea is to weaken Gargos’ chances by defeating his four Omen mini bosses, as each one that survives will grant Gargos a buff in the final fight. Defeating enemies, looting chests and then saving the world are all in a day’s work in this mode, and it is genuinely difficult as you get higher up the number of turns. Further, each character on your team (there can be three) can have a guardian affixed to them, which grants special powers in battle, such as the snake guardian that inflicts poison on your opponent whenever you manage to complete a combo with a finisher. But that’s not all, and they can also have an item to use in battle; something that gives them extra shadow, super energy, or make the opponents stop gaining shadow energy when attacking, and so on. Even after all this time (and a lengthy hiatus in the middle, I have to confess) I haven’t managed to defeat Gargos, but continue to pick up a controller on a regular basis in an attempt to do so.
In all, Killer Instinct Season 3 was a cracker when it released in 2016 – but even now it hasn’t got easier. The combos are still fun to perform and look amazing though, and honestly, that’s all we want in life. But what about you guys out there? Have you played Killer Instinct, and if so, what do you remember about it? Given that its free for Xbox Game Pass subscribers from the Xbox Store right now, are you tempted to pick it up and give it a crack? Let us know in the comments.