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Killer Instinct Gold

Rated T for Teen


Nintendo 64 (N64)






November 1996

ROM Size:

96 megabits


One to Two Simultaneous


2D Fighting


Cartridge and/or Controller Pak (3 pages)





> Final Rating: 4.3 out of 5.0


"Coming to the Nintendo Ultra 64 in the fall of 1995" was the advertisement that the original Killer Instinct arcade game often displayed. Back then, little did we know that the Nintendo 64 would go through not one but two launch delays. At the 1995 E3 show, Nintendo also caught most people off-guard by announcing that Killer Instinct (KI herein) would be available for the Super NES and Game Boy—and not the Nintendo 64.


In early 1996, the sequel to the game was launched in the arcades. Killer Instinct 2 (KI2 herein) was met with mixed opinions from the gaming world. The aesthetics of the game were nowhere near as impressive as when the original KI arcade game came out. There were also many changes to the gameplay system.


Enter Killer Instinct Gold. Many gamers were still hopeful that the 64-bit version would be a port of the original game. Alas, those hopes were smashed when Nintendo showed Killer Instinct Gold at the 1996 E3 show. The game appeared to be a port of the KI2 arcade game. But Killer Instinct Gold is more than just a direct port of KI2. You can think of Killer Instinct Gold as an enhanced version of KI2.

Gameplay & Control

Killer Instinct Gold entered the video game market in a prime position. A terrible version of Mortal Kombat Trilogy was released a few weeks earlier. Nintendo and Rare hoped to capture the attention of the video game world with a better-than-the-arcade port of KI2. While Mortal Kombat Trilogy had tons of missing animation, unbalanced play, and horrible sound, Nintendo knew that its baby would easily become the king of N64 fighting games and would not disappoint.


In the arcade, KI2 contained a slightly different cast of fighters than the original KI. Therefore, that means Killer Instinct Gold contains the same fighters as KI2. The fighters returning from the original to the sequel were Glacius, Spinal, TJ Combo, Sabrewulf, Fulgore, Jago. The new fighters to KI2 and Killer Instinct Gold are Kim Wu, Tusk, Maya, and the boss Gargos. Unfortunately, Riptor, Cinder and Chief Thunder did not make the trip from the original KI to its sequel. These fighters were rumored to be hidden in Killer Instinct Gold, but because of space limitations, the only "hidden" fighter is Gargos.


One of the most impressive facets of Killer Instinct Gold is the huge number of options available to the player. First of all, there are many modes of play: Arcade (one-player game against the computer or two-player game against one another), Team (each player chooses a team of 2 to 11 characters to fight to the death), Team Elimination (a team member can only be eliminated by an Ultra, Ultimate, or a Knock Off), Tournament (two to eight players can play a "round robin" tournament where the winner keeps on fighting), Practice (you get a full Super Bar to attempt any move you want against a dummy), Training (one of the coolest additions to the game; you are taught different theories of the KI fighting engine), Focused Training (you can skip ahead to a lesson instead of going through all the previous ones) and Options.


Besides all those fighting modes, there are a ton of options in Killer Instinct Gold. Most of the options are divided into "levels" that can only be accessed after you complete the game on a certain level of difficulty (or if you enter the cheat code to get all the options). The options are Game Speed, Difficulty, Training Difficulty, Controller Setup, Game Pak Options (Load/Save), Music, Random After, Time Limit, Throwing, and Blood! And we haven't even gotten to any of the "level" options yet!


The Level One options are Throw Damage, Easy [Combo] Breakers, Invisible Tag, and Aerial Camera. The Level Two options include Full Super Bar, Full Breakers, and Powered Finishers. The Level Three options consist of Missiles, Fast Fireballs, and Autodoubles. The Level Four options are Early Ultimates, Knockdowns, Quick Openers, and Cheap Juggles. And the Level Five option is Blocking. As you can see, never before has a game offered so many options. You can make the game a whole new fighting experience just by toggling some of the aforementioned options on or off.


Before describing the actual gameplay of Killer Instinct Gold, let's discuss the control first. Killer Instinct Gold gives you the option of using either the digital Control Pad or the analog Control Stick. It's almost like a Catch-22 situation, though. Some players complain the digital Control Pad is too stiff and the analog Control Stick is too sensitive. Your best bet is just to loosen up that digital Control Pad.


Even though you can set the button configuration any way you want in Killer Instinct Gold, the default configuration is probably your best bet. As you probably already know, the button system consists of six buttons: Fierce Punch and Kick, Medium Punch and Kick, Quick Punch and Kick. The default configuration sets the Quick Punch as B, Medium Punch as Left C, and Fierce Punch as Top C. The bottom row has Quick Kick as A, Medium Kick as Bottom C, and Fierce Kick as Right C. Some people may complain that the C buttons are too small or are too close together, but you shouldn't have any problems with it. Let's go on to the meat of the game.


Contrary to what people who don't like the Killer Instinct series may say, Killer Instinct Gold contains a rather sophisticated and strategic fighting engine. At the core of the fighting engine is combo theory called the Auto-Double. An Auto-Double is a single move that can be performed at certain times in a combo to provide an extra hit. To perform an Auto-Double, it depends on which Opener you use. To automatically double up the hit on your opponent, you just have to press one button down from the valid Opener. So if you opened with a Fierce Punch, then you could immediately press Medium Punch or Medium Kick for an extra hit. By using the Auto-Double theory, you can quickly turn a triple combo into a super combo (four hits). There is also a Manual-Double. The difference between an Auto-Double and a Manual-Double is the timing. Auto-Doubles are done with jump-ins. Manual-Doubles are started with a Fierce Kick or Punch followed up with a Medium Kick or Punch.


Now there are multiple ways to continue the length of your combo. You can't just keep doing Auto-Doubles unless you link together some moves in between. A Linker will hit the character again but will not knock them down. This means you can perform another Auto-Double. You can also add an End Finisher, which is a special move to end a combo sequence. Another way to extend your combos is with a Juggle. Juggles are extra hits which you can sneak in. You might be able to "juggle" your opponent with a special move or even a throw.


The strategy doesn't stop there. How fair would a multi-hit combo be if you couldn't break out of them? Enter the Combo Breaker. You just can't perform the Combo Breaker anywhere, though. It can only break a combo during an Auto-Double or a Manual-Double. If your opponent is doubling up with a punch, then you must do the Combo Breaker motion with a kick. If they're doubling up with a kick, then you must do the Combo Breaker motion with a punch. Manual-Doubles are harder to break than Auto-Doubles, which helps fix the problem of people whom have become quite skilled with Combo Breakers. Performing combos with Manual-Doubles, Pressure Moves, and Super Linkers provide for some nearly unbreakable combos!


A new addition introduced in KI2 is the Super Bar. Your Super Bar builds up every time you get hit. After building up your Super Bar, you can perform special moves such as Super Linkers and Super End Finishers. A Super Linker, which requires three Super Bar Blocks, will add five hits to your combo instead of one hit. And a Super End Finisher will hit four to six times at the end of the combo.


One of the main complaints with the original Killer Instinct game was the dreaded "turtle" fighters. "Turtlers" are those whom just block the whole time and only hit you after they block you. Fortunately, Killer Instinct Gold contains several improvements to counter "turtlers." Besides the aforementioned Throws, which are a new addition to the Killer Instinct series, there are also Pressure Moves. Each character in the game has a Pressure Move that is designed to be performed on a blocking opponent. Performing Pressure Moves on a "turtler" will fill your Super Bar. If you manage to hit with a Pressure Move, you can follow it with a Super Linker or Super Finisher for a nearly unbreakable combo!


Combos, combos, and more combos are not the only part of Killer Instinct Gold. There is also an extremely sophisticated countering system. The first part of the system is the Rock, Paper, Scissors Priority. No, your character's don't stop fighting and play the childhood game. Every character has three Special Moves represented by this game. For example, if you're playing as Tusk against Sabrewulf, and Sabrewulf keeps hitting you with his Sabre Wheel, which is his "rock" move, then you should counter with your "paper" move, which is the Web of Death.


Other parts of the countering system include Through Projectiles and Air Counters. Every character in the game has a Special Move which can go under, over, or through projectiles. And when both characters are jumping, the Air Counters come into play. Fierce beats Medium, Medium beats Quick and Quick beats Fierce.


But wait there's more! There's still Slow Motion End Finishers, Air Doubles, Ultra Combos, Really Long Ultras (70+ hits), Mini-Ultras, Ultimates, Knockoffs, and Parry moves! And, oh yeah, we didn't even talk about Pressure Breakers, Ultra Breakers, Shadows Combos, and Speed-Up Combos! I'll let you learn those on your own, though.


If you're one of those people who have to learn by doing and not reading, then Killer Instinct Gold has a great Training mode for you. Some of the techniques outlined above, including Special Moves, Combos, and Combo Breakers, are taught to you for each fighter in the Training Mode. Of course, you'll have to learn some of the most advanced techniques on your own.


As you can tell, Killer Instinct Gold has one of the most complicated fighting engines ever devised. Almost every move can be countered and almost every combo can be broken. Those unfamiliar with the fighting series may think that's unfair, but considering the huge number of possibilities, it's a matter of performing the right move at the right time. And that's definitely not as easy as it may seem.


One of the neat things about Killer Instinct Gold is that beginning fighters can have a lot of fun in the game despite not understanding any of the fighting theory. Most critics of the Killer Instinct series say this is one of the game's biggest flaws. A beginner can come up to the game, just move the stick around in circles and press some buttons to pull off combos and super moves almost in the double-digit range. Because of the advanced fighting theory, though, an experienced Killer Instinct Gold player should have no trouble handling a beginner whom just presses all the buttons.


Here's one more consideration: Although some people were disappointed that Killer Instinct Gold is an enhanced version of KI2 and not a combination of KI and KI2, it makes for an extremely balanced fighting game—unlike Mortal Kombat Trilogy. And even Killer Instinct Gold has an improved fighting engine over KI2, with lots of new moves and techniques. People who didn't like the arcade version of KI2 are finding themselves loving the home version of Killer Instinct Gold. Go figure.

Graphics & Sound

You have to admit it. You were extremely impressed by the original Killer Instinct's visuals back when it first hit the arcades. Now you also have to admit that you were underwhelmed with Killer Instinct 2's visuals. Killer Instinct 2 in the arcade had grainy graphics, a camera which didn't zoom out, and no 3D fighting arenas.


All of those problems were fixed and then some in Killer Instinct Gold. First off, all the arenas in the home version are completely 3D. That means connecting moves that send your opponent in the air will rotate the camera by so many degrees. This subtle touch is very effective in the game. And, amazingly enough, all the arenas look just as good if not better than their arcade counterparts even though they're made out of polygons. On some levels, because of the way the camera turns sometimes, an object can obstruct your view of the fight sometimes. This is not really a major gripe, though.


Killer Instinct Gold also brings back the "aerial camera" to the series. That means the game will scroll out to make your fighters smaller as you get farther and farther away from each other. No more confined fighting arenas. The game also looks considerably better than the grainy KI2 in the arcades.


Furthermore, unlike Mortal Kombat Trilogy, Killer Instinct Gold contains very fast and smooth gameplay. No missing frames of animation or frame rate drops here. In fact, the game even can be slowed down or sped up. All the sparks and fireworks that go with certain moves also made the jump from arcade to home, too. A critical gamer may also seemingly notice slowdown when there's a lot happening. But, believe it or not, the slowdown was put in for a dramatic effect.


As amazing are the graphics are in Killer Instinct Gold, the sound is even more surprising. With other Nintendo 64 games lacking in the music department, Killer Instinct Gold comes through with flying colors. The music is almost exactly like the arcade (a few samples were changed), and it doesn't loop as quickly as you think it would. In some respects, it's even better than the arcade. While the arcade version had mono music, the Nintendo 64 version is in full stereo sound. From the game's riveting techno tracks with actual lyrics to heavy metal (with an awesome MIDI guitar) songs to the more orchestrated tunes, Killer Instinct Gold does not disappoint even the most jaded gamer in the music department. All the sound effects appear to be in the game, too, although they are nothing to write home about.


If you weren't a Killer Instinct fan to begin with, then this game will more than likely not change your mind. It may open your eyes a little wider, though. For us millions of Killer Instinct fans out there, we have an arcade-perfect port of KI2 and then some. With graphics better than the arcade, sound better than the arcade, and gameplay better than the arcade, Killer Instinct Gold is a KI fan's dream come true.
















As far as fighting games go, I'm neither an expert nor a fan. Even though fighting games are known for their replay value, I usually only play them for a week or so, just like I didn't play this game very much over time. I imagine other people will get far more replay value out of it. I do have to wonder one thing, though: Why do people pick on the Killer Instinct series so much? Since I'm not a fighting game fan, I can just mash buttons in any fighting game and pull off massive moves. I don't see how Killer Instinct Gold is that much worse. Anyway, the one thing about Killer Instinct Gold is that it was the best fighting game on the system one year later. That's not saying much, huh?


Review by: Scott McCall

First Reviewed: December 12, 1996

Appendix Added: December 6, 1997




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