Killer Instinct: Season 3 Review-in-Progress

May 22, 2016

This is a Review-in-Progress. If you’re wondering why, I’ll hazard a guess that you’re not familiar with the modernisation of Killer Instinct. Currently developed by Iron Galaxy, off the back of Digital Extremes, Killer Instinct follows a seasonal approach in content distribution. We’re knee deep in the third, which means I’ve had the chance to play around with a handful of ‘new’ characters, though not the entire roster-to-come. If you are indeed new to this distribution model, both prior seasons followed a similar pattern; launch-day content (mainly characters and stages) followed by incremental updates, including new characters, over subsequent months until the season comes to a close. In all honesty, it’s not a bad idea. I do come from the school of wanting as much content at launch as possible, but the distribution and development method for Killer Instinct is working well. By the time you’ve mastered and understood one character, another should be available. And hey, it’s not like other fighting games don’t have post-launch DLC updates. The difference here is that Microsoft has been straight up on how this distribution model works, and thanks to the success of this rebooted Killer Instinct fans have managed to see three seasons greenlit with, I would hope, prospects for a fourth.

But enough of that, let’s get into Killer Instinct: Season 3 and what the currently available content can offer.


If you were to jump into Season Three today, you’d find five added characters supplementing the existing roster. Here’s where I found myself a little bit…underwhelmed. Previous seasons have done a decent job of balancing reimagined returning characters from prior games alongside freshly envisioned newbies. Season One predictably saw a return of most of the classic characters, while introducing Sadira as a fitting roster addition. Season Two drew upon remaining classics from Killer Instinct and Killer Instinct 2, and again buffed the roster with new faces, all of which fit in the overall presentation and roster line-up nicely. As Season Three eases in it’s clear that the well of classic characters is running dry, and almost feels like Iron Galaxy are running out of ideas for original characters. Bizarrely, Season Three leans on the notion of guest characters over original designs, and doesn’t particularly excel at the returning cast either.

Let’s look at the latter first. At this stage almost everyone from the previous Killer Instinct games have returned, Season Three near completely rounding it off with Tusk and Kim-Wu. As the previous games were a blatant amalgamation of 90s pop culture pulp, Tusk was basically Conan, and Kim-Wu was your typical nunchaku swirling, dragon summoning martial artist. Re-imagined for the current release, Tusk fittingly draws more heavily from Norse mythology in aesthetic and tone, and Kim-Wu has adopted the style of a peppy, rebellious modern age teen. Unfortunately both character are aesthetically forgettable; surprisingly so. Killer Instinct hasn’t exactly been the most cutting edge game, visually and technically, but Tusk’s character model is really dipping into last-generation territory. Kim-Wu isn’t much better, and has a grating personality to boot. In a fighting game I guess these things are all trivial, but there’s something undeniably amateurish about these two particular characters compared to almost everyone else from the prior seasons. On the other hand, both play quite well; Tusk demands patience and control over his slow swings and heavy sword, though can leverage these perceived openings for cheeky counters. Meanwhile Kim-Wu’s speed and mobility allows for immensely satisfying combos, while generating dragon spirits that can be spent for a variation of cancels.

Of the five available Season Three characters, it’s the one new addition that stood out to me; Mira. Again, initial impressions had me feeling something was off about her visual design, but the more I used her the more I fell in love. Mira is a vampire, fitting the kitschy character theme Killer Instinct is so well known for, though her magic infused blood has forgone rich crimson for a lovely liquid mercury. The most interesting character in the roster, in my opinion, Mira’s mercury blood beats at the heart of her entire play style. Every time Mira uses her blood magic for various attacks and specials it eats into her health bar, almost as if she’s poisoning and weakening herself to deal serious damage and chain combos. From a player perspective, this adds pressure to her mastery; a weakness trade-off just for using her crazy strength. But it’s not all loss, as special no-damage grab attacks on the opposition allow Mira to heal her toxic blood and thus regain portions of her deteriorating health bar. All of this grants Mira an interesting meta play that distinguishes her from the rest of the cast, challenging you to master a unique offence/defence cycle while giving your opposition a fresh meta game to adapt to, and I feel in a fighting game character roster that’s something to be praised.


Then we get to the final two characters, and this is where it gets a bit weird. They’re new, but not really. Because they’re guests. Rash makes an appearance from Rare’s classic Battletoads franchise, as does the Arbiter from Halo. In short; both of these characters look and play well. Rash has a speed and wildness to him that’ll have you bouncing all over the match, and is also surprisingly a heavy hitter with easy combos. Arbiter channels all you’ve come to know and love from Halo, meaning you’ll be using the energy sword, cloaking device, and plasma grenades. On one hand they’re silly enough to fit the Killer Instinct roster quite well (this is a series with a skeleton pirate, terminator predator, dinosaur, mummy, Japanese ghost girl, and so on), but I’m not going to lie; I feel a little bit cheated that two of the five opening characters are guests from other series, no matter how well they play.

Season Three’s future continues this trend, too. Upcoming we have Gargos, who originated as a boss from Killer Instinct 2, leaving Eyedol as the only original character yet to appear in this successor. And then we have…General RAAM. You know, the Locust dude from Gears of War. Yep, another returning character. Arbiter and Rash set an precedent for admirable quality in play, and that’s the most important thing, but I do feel a bit disappointed that Iron Galaxy and Microsoft are leaning so heavily on guests when Season Two introduced four or five entirely new characters. Is this a consequence of marketing for upcoming projects? Perhaps Iron Galaxy has had less time to work on this season, and “guests” result in a speedier production pipine. Or maybe the crew genuinely wanted guests to be this season’s main theme.

As it stands, Season Three is currently weaker than Season Two. For me, at least. I prefer total original content over gimmick guests, even if said guests play well. And while Tusk and Kim-Wu’s predictable returns are very, very welcome, I’m not impressed with their production quality and design. Even if they, like the guests, play well. Mira remains the stand-out, as far as I’m concerned, for providing truly original content both in conceptualisation and play. And I would have liked to see more of this in Season Three from the onset, or promised for the series future content.

That being said, Season Three does retain the high standard of play quality the previous seasons established, and should thus be a worthy investment for Killer Instinct fans, and an excellent starting point for newbies. And if a Season Four ever gets the go-ahead, Iron Galaxy won’t have much (if anything) left to dip into from the previous games, hopefully leading towards more original content as a whole.


Mira as an original character Maintains high standard of play


Emphasis on guest characters Amateurish character design

Overall Score: