Forgotten Fighters of the 90s: Killer Instinct

Forgotten Fighters of the 90’s is a 5-piece retrospective on the lost titles from the “Golden Era” of fighting games, a time when everyone and their mother was trying to cash in on the Street Fighter/Mortal Kombat hysteria. With the recent release of Super Street Fighter IV/Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 and Mortal Kombat (2011), are remakes of these hidden gems far behind? Only time will tell.

The fighting game fever of the 90’s was so insane that publishers were often left stumbling over their own feet to capture the magic, often putting out derivative offerings in the space between sequels of the more successful franchises. No title embodies this practice more than Killer Instinct, which was released in arcades in 1994 by Midway, the now-defunct publisher of the insanely popular Mortal Kombat series. In the wake of the blockbuster success of Mortal Kombat II, Midway thought it advantageous to start up a second ultraviolent fighting franchise. Set in a dystopia future, the series replaced MK’s “chopsocky” charm with a “grittier” futuristic urban landscape populated with elemental warriors, busty babes, and dated Mike Tyson ripoffs.

On the surface, Killer Instinct felt a bit clunkier than the more successful fighting games of the time, but as it turns out it was less of a gameplay flaw and more of a side effect of the game’s absurd learning curve. What it lacked in the “pick up in play” factor, it excelled providing basement dwellers everywhere the chance to perfect the game’s INSANE combos.

I’ll be the first person to admit that despite it’s success, Killer Instinct never really caught on with me. I’ve always been more of a fighting game enthusiast than a fighting game expert, and I was turned off both the learning curve and difficulty of the game’s single player mode. I will however admit that even though the game reeked of “cash-in” to us diehard MK junkies, it left a permanent mark on the fighting game scene. No one could claim that Killer Instinct invented the combo in fighting games, but it certainly cemented the mechanic as a necessity in games to come. It was also one of the first fighting games to draw a sharp dividing line between hardcore and casual players. Nowadays, games are often made to cater to both crowds in different ways, but Killer Instinct, moreso than any other fighting game of that era found its niche audience and stuck with it.

The success of Killer Instinct as an arcade title and SNES port lead to a sequel, aptly named Killer Instinct 2 in 1996. Featuring additional characters, enhanced boobage, and more insane combos, it provided fans of the original with more of the same. As Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter took on a more home console focus with Mortal Kombat III and the Street Fighter Alpha series, Killer Instinct II stood out as a (mostly) arcade offering. The game was never faithfully ported to home consoles, but Killer Instict Gold, a psuedo-port of KI2, was released for the Nintendo 64 system in November of 1996. Unfortunately, most of the FMV sequences and a sizable chunk of in-game animations had to be cut due to the system’s limitations.

Despite rumors of potential sequels, the Killer Instinct franchise has remained dormant since 1996. It’s a bit tough to determine where the intellectual property ended up after the closing of Midway, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see this series pop up some time in the near future. 90’s fighting game nostalgia is at an all time high now, and very few games embody the 90’s than Killer Instinct. Hell, maybe they could even release the first two games as a, say it with me now… ULTRA COMBO! Although I doubt I’ll be foaming at the mouth over the return of the franchise, I’d certainly be willing to give it another go, for old time’s sake.

Written by Mark Newell

Mark Newell is a co-owner, designer, developer, writer, and podcast personality at Bloody Good Horror, a website dedicated to the best and worst that the horror genre has to offer. In his spare time, he’s lighting things on fire in Skyrim, contemplating his next wacky lucha libre tattoo, and trying to bend the space-time continuum in a way that allows him to play Magic: the Gathering Online for days at a time without losing his day job.

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