Killer Instinct (SNES)

Pub: Nintendo | Dev: Rare | August 1995 | 32 MEGS
Pub: Nintendo | Dev: Rare | August 1995 | 32 MEGS

August 30, 1995. It’s been a little over 22 years since Killer Instinct came home to the Super Nintendo. Its impending release over 22 summers ago was heavily touted everywhere you looked. Although 16-bit was rapidly on the gradual decline by the late summer of 1995, the home port of Killer Instinct arrived with tons of buzz and hype. Throw Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat in a blender, top it off with insane combos galore, and you might get something similar to Killer Instinct. And on a personal note, Killer Instinct on the SNES was truly the “last game of my childhood.” As such, it forever holds a special place in my heart. Best of all, considering the hardware limitations, it’s an admirable (if not downright impressive) port!


The year was 1995
The year was 1995

It was the summer before junior high, and my best friend Nelson and I, as always, were determined to make the most of it. A lot was changing in our lives, though. It’s amazing how much things can shift in just one short year. The previous summer saw the best summer of my life. We finished 5th grade and were on the cusp of being the oldest students at our elementary school. All the seniority perks were soon to be ours. The SNES was in its prime and 1994 was an epic summer that gave me some of my greatest memories. Fast forward a year and suddenly the SNES had gone from dominant to rapidly aging, and Nelson and I were gearing for our biggest life transition yet… junior high. I find it fitting that as we were graduating from one school to the next, video games were graduating from 16 to 32-bit. Evolution. You can’t stop time, but you sure can make the most of it. And that’s what Nelson and I did that summer. We stayed up late. We binged on horror movies, junk food and SNES games. On August 30, 1995, Nelson bought Killer Instinct on launch day. Over 22 years later it still remains one of the most vivid memories I have from that awesome summer — the last of our childhood, as it were. We ended it with a bang, for sure.

For Nelson and me, it was a special time in our lives
For Nelson and me, it was a special time in our lives
The hype was real
The Killer Instinct hype was real

I remember the release of Killer Instinct like it were only yesterday. I remember feeling that summer like it was a time of transition. 32-bit systems were slowly but surely taking over and it was clear that the SNES was in its waning days. Speaking of transition, Nelson and I were going from elementary school to junior high. It was a crazy time where our world was quickly changing. But on that Wednesday of August 30, 1995, it wasn’t about a changing of the guard. It wasn’t about an uncertain future. Rather, it was all about Killer Instinct. I remember watching Nelson firing up Killer Instinct for the first time on that fateful Wednesday late afternoon. As he played his shiny new game, I found myself lost in the latest GameFan issue. But it wasn’t so much Killer Instinct that I found myself drawn to. It was World Heroes Perfect. World Heroes was my favorite fighting game franchise at the time and I was insanely curious about the latest entry. Believe it or not, even more than SNES Killer Instinct which was right there live in the flesh!


I drooled at the review of World Heroes Perfect as Nelson booted up Killer Instinct. Nelson urged me to watch but my eyes were fixated elsewhere. Finally, after 15 minutes, Nelson was pulling off some sick 20+ hit combos in the practice mode. I finally looked up long enough to take notice. It was then that I truly saw Killer Instinct for the first time. Watching those incredible Ultra combos Nelson pulled off with the greatest of ease was like an awakening to me. I couldn’t help but join in. He kicked my ass hard but I had a blast nonetheless. Looking back on it all, I fondly recall how Nelson and I spent the very last week of that summer playing Killer Instinct to death. It was as if we were trying to hold back the hands of time. Not a bad way to spend the final days of our last summer of sheer unadulterated childhood :)

Who could ever forget that sleek, epic black cart?
Who could ever forget that sleek jet black cart?
It was the end of an era
It was the end of an era

All things have a shelf life. As the final hours of our last childhood summer were rapidly ticking down, Nelson and I had one last KILLER (sorry) Killer Instinct romp. Although Nelson and I were worried about where we’d hang out at lunch time and the potential for awkwardness having to change clothes in public, we popped in Killer Instinct to spend the final night of our last summer of true innocence in grand fashion. It’s true that video games can serve as a form of escapism. While tomorrow would bring a litany of headaches and worries, TONIGHT was all about going out with a bang. This was it. The last night of summer. And Nelson and I pushed the closing of that memorable summer to its very limit. We played Killer Instinct until well after dark. Finally, home beckoned as my mom called me to get my ass back to the house. But before I left, Nelson and I exchanged a look — it was a silent pact to never forget these days no matter where life may take us. Junior high was a whole new ball of wax and we were facing an uncertain future. But whatever happens, we were gonna face it together.

Thanks KI for making the summer of '95 a good one
Thanks KI for making the summer of ’95 a cool one


My SNES collection circa January of 2006
My SNES collection circa January of 2006

Before I bought boxes and manuals for my entire SNES collection and displayed them properly on the shelf, I had this. This was my SNES resurrection collection from around late January of 2006. Killer Instinct was featured all by itself on one of the smaller lower shelves. Seeing this picture never fails to bring back to mind that crazy innocent time of running from shop to shop and town to town reclaiming bits and pieces of my childhood. Oh and who could forget that Killer Cuts CD that came packaged with Killer Instinct? Rare and Nintendo really went all out!

Indeed it has
Indeed it has








At least this Ryu clone doesn't have a palette swap
At least this Ryu clone doesn’t have a palette swap!


Jago wages war in the middle of his Tibetan courtyard. The head of a huge golden tiger statue is proudly displayed. Birds casually pass through in the distance.













Fireball? Check. Dragon Punch? Check. Some sort of thrusting kick? Check. While his Wind Kick may only connect once, it is a good lead-in move to set up a flurry of various combos. Also, it allows Jago to safely pass through projectiles (eat your heart out, Ryu). All this plus Jago’s Laser Sword is another great linker.

If Predator and Robocop had a love child, err, thing
If Predator and Robocop had a love child, err, thing


Brings back memories of Donkey Kong Country eh? Hey, Rare did develop both. The SNES port had swinging lamps added in. Not bad for a nice little home bonus. That lighting effect was sweet, too!













Fulgore is a beast, er, machine. Ah you know what I mean. He can fire up to three consecutive laser shots, reflect enemy projectiles, possesses one hell of a Dragon Punch and oh yeah, he can even teleport for good measure.

Created for all the horny teenage males out there :P
Created for all the horny teenage males out there :P


This city rooftop (complete with a shameless plug on Rare’s part) may not look impressive today, but boy did it look badass 20+ years ago. Hell, you can even knock your opponent off the roof at the end of the match!













Orchid has some neat moves. This includes a flashy fireball, some nice combo chains and best of all, she can briefly morph into a fire cat. Her infamous “strip” fatality is faithfully retained as well.



By far my favorite stage in the game. It’s aged like fine wine too! I absolutely love the bits of swirling mist, that blazing orange soaked sky, and even the way the bridge moves and reacts under the competitors’ weight. Good stuff!













Thunder has a neat looking fireball. For a 42 year old guy who nearly tips the scale at 280 pounds, he’s quicker than you might think. His Spinning Axe is a devastating combo attack and he’ll knock you out of the air just as quickly as he’ll come raining down on your ass.

Originally scrapped from the port. What a close call!
Originally scrapped from the port. What a close call!


It’s certainly not one of my favorites. There just isn’t much going on or anything to marvel at. On the bright side, you can send your rival spiraling to a gruesome death being that it’s a “roof-type” stage.













Cinder thankfully made the SNES final cut after all the hoop-la that he was going to be scrapped due to (lack of) memory. It just wouldn’t be Killer Instinct without the bastard. After all, who wouldn’t want to play as an ex-convict turned scientific experiment freak? Besides, he’s got one hell of a Flash Kick and a sick torpedo charging attack. PS- Screw you, Ken Lobb, for calling Cinder a wimp!

No arcade zoom out makes him even deadlier than ever
No arcade “zoom out” makes him even deadlier


Welcome to Glacius’ Ice Temple. The stinging cold air is offset by the heat of the battle. Don’t worry, he will gladly shed your blood to help keep you warm and toasty.













Glacius’ fireball bounces along the ground. He gives new meaning to the term “giving you the cold shoulder!” Also beware his stiff Blade Arm and his teleporting uppercut.

No, he's not Balrog and Jax combined at all...
No, he’s not Balrog and Jax combined at all…


T.J. Combo spends his days buried in a gym. The one he frequents is a bit rundown, but it’s got the soul that most of the newer gyms lack. His gym is chock-full with history, blood, sweat and tears. Just the way he likes it!













Combo’s impressive arsenal of tricks include nifty running strikes, a sweet rolling multi-hit attack and a flying knee that changes angles based on the button strength you choose. I love when fighting games offer variations of the same special move based on which button you end up using. It almost feels like it’s two different special moves for the price of one.

The "freaks" come out to play...
The “freaks” come out to play…


This stage is awesome. I love how you can see the reflections of the fighters on the canvas. The blood-stained floor is a lovely and sinister touch all at once.













Riptor has some rancid ass breath! Like most “oddball” fighters, Riptor isn’t the most novice-friendly character on the roster. Use her at your own discretion.

First a dinosaur. Now a werewolf. I'm sold!
First a dinosaur. Now a werewolf. I’m sold!


Battle it out in the candle-lit study of Sabrewulf’s castle. What a great looking stage. The portrait hanging to the right is hauntingly realistic. Love the lighting as well.

Gives me the heebie jeebies...
Gives me the heebie jeebies…













Sabrewulf’s Flaming Bat actually flaps its wings. You truly appreciate the little details when you see the game in motion. At least I do, anyhow. For an extra boost of power, try howling. And when in doubt, you can’t go wrong slicing and dicing with his razor sharp claws.

A raptor, a werewolf and a skeleton walk into a bar...
A raptor, a werewolf and a skeleton walk into a bar…


Of all the roof stages, this is my favorite one. I’m a sucker for any night time stage featuring a moon in the background. It gets me every single time. As expected, you can knock fools off the roof at the end of a match. It kind of puts a nice bow on things, ya know?













Spinal can absorb projectiles and then fire them back at his opponent. He knows how to swing a mean sword, too. He can even teleport in a pinch.


Meet your maker
Meet your maker

Eyedol is a freak of nature. By the way, if you wish to play as Eyedol then apply the following code:

Select Cinder. At the VS screen, hold right and press L, R, X, B, Y, A.







Eyedol is one tough cookie who dishes out MASSIVE damage. Good luck.


They're not as visceral as Mortal Kombat, though
They’re tamer than the ones found in Mortal Kombat
It's kinda like Scorpion's infamous Fatality
It’s kinda like Scorpion’s infamous Fatality
Some are rather tepid
Some are rather tepid
[You chose to show this one instead?! -Ed.]
[You chose to show this one instead?! -Ed.]
Most of them are generic and unmemorable though
Most of them are generic and unmemorable though
F'rinstance, keep this animation in mind
F’rinstance, keep this animation in mind…
This one is pretty dope, though
But this one is actually pretty cool
But just like that, we're back to MEH
But just like that, we’re back to MEH
This one looks odd. But the blood gushing out is neat
This one looks odd. But the blood gushing out is neat
Not similar to Chief Thunder's at all...
Not similar to Chief Thunder’s at all…



Just like the Pit Fatalities from Mortal Kombat
Just like the Pit Fatalities from Mortal Kombat







Spiraling down to a painful demise!




The codes to pick your stage in 2 Player Mode
The codes to pick your stage in 2 Player Mode



What differentiates this game really is the combo system. You can string together over 25 hits and only have to press a few buttons. Knowing the chain command is key to pulling off some crazy ass combos. There are also Combo Breakers (cue “C-C-C-COMBO BREAKER!”) to break up the action, keeping everyone on their toes. Thankfully, the SNES port includes a handy practice mode where you’ll find yourself busting out 10, 15, even 20+ hit combos soon enough with a wee bit of dedication.

Eat that, Brock. Suplex City my ass!
Eat that, Brock. Suplex City my ass!


It’s got nothing on Combo City!

















Observe. Here’s a simple five hit HYPER combo from Jago. I love the part where Jago’s kick sends Spinal reeling. While Spinal’s still hanging in mid-air, bust out Jago’s fireball to show him who’s boss!


Nintendo Power ranked it #72 on their top 100 list
Nintendo Power ranked it #72 on their top 100 list

The SNES port received major hype in the late summer of 1995. The port had some fans split. You had one camp that ate it up and thought to itself, “How was Rare able to squeeze so much of the arcade spirit into a relatively tiny 32 MEG SNES cartridge by comparison?!” But others say it didn’t come close to replicating its arcade original. Killer Instinct didn’t exactly garner the best of scores. EGM gave it ratings of 7.0, 7.5, 8.0 and 8.5. GameFan, in their typical hype-selling fashion, rewarded the game with scores of 90, 95 and 96%. Super Play praised it but didn’t quite give it their full endorsement. It earned a very solid yet somewhat unremarkable 85%. I’ll admit that time hasn’t been particularly kind to this game graphically, but it still holds up damn fine from a gameplay standpoint.

Mighty lofty praise from GameFan
Mighty lofty praise from GameFan
Super Play, on the other hand, was less enthused
Super Play, on the other hand, was less enthused


Not arcade perfect but Rare did the best they could!
Not arcade perfect but Rare did the best they could!

I’ll always remember Killer Instinct as the “final video game of our childhood.” This game will always have a very special place in my gaming heart. All those sessions Nelson and I had leading up to the finale of that summer, the combos we cranked out, and the good times we shared is something that stays with you for the long haul. Junior high came and went as did the SNES, but the memories we carved are etched in our heart of hearts forever. While not arcade perfect, it was never going to be on the SNES. I admire Rare for getting as close as they even did. It is truly an impressive feat considering the hardware. It brought home a slice of the arcade and for its time, that’s all we could ask for.

Gazing deeply into my soul...
Gazing deeply into my soul…

I always saw Killer Instinct as a mix of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. That holds true to this day. The combos are fun to pull off, there are some really interesting fighters to pick from and you gotta love that crazy announcer with calls such as ULTRA! and C-C-C-COMBO BREAKER!!! The visuals are a bit rough in places but they do an admirable job. The sound is hit and miss; some grunts are repeated often and can get annoying after a while. The music, however, is pretty damn good. It’s Rare, after all! The gameplay is what counts most though, and Killer Instinct still plays very well even to this day. The AI can be cheap at times but Rare did an awesome job translating such a big arcade game to such a tiny jet black SNES cartridge. I wouldn’t claim it’s the best fighting game on the system, but it’s definitely one of the better ones and a “must-have” if you own a Super Nintendo and fancy yourself as a fighting game aficionado. Killer Instinct on the Super Nintendo is a reminder of the good old days and a special time in my life when everything was rapidly changing for better and for worse. I still play it on occasion and it always takes me back to the last few days before Nelson and I entered the hallowed halls of junior high. Good (and awkward) times. Killer Instinct, I salute thee!

Graphics: 8.5
Sound: 8.5
Gameplay: 9
Longevity: 9

Award4Overall: 9.0
Gold Award


The Day of Reckoning had at long last arrived
The Day of Reckoning had at long last arrived

Tuesday. September 5, 1995. The first morning of junior high. Nelson and I walked to school together the last four years. For the first time in our lives, we were gearing to board the junior high bus. Yes, the dreaded junior high bus. It was survival of the fittest. It was a crazy morning, full of butterflies and trying to look and act cooler than we actually were. You could feel the shift. Childhood was now in the rear view mirror and life would never be the same. Nelson and I waded through a sea of unfamiliar faces as we boarded the bus. At least I had a best friend to brave it with. Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise was the hit song at the time and I remember it blaring on the bus speaker as we rode from our familiar stomping grounds near that bus stop to the scary foreign world of junior high. As nervous as I was, still to this day, I recall rocking out to Gangsta’s Paradise. “TELL ME WHY ARE WE… SO BLIND TO SEE… THAT THE ONES WE HURT… ARE YOU AND ME. They been spending most their lives in a gangsta’s paradise.” That song haunts me still whenever I hear it. It brings me back to that precious time of my youth — the first day Nelson and I faced a brand new frontier.

We were heading into uncharted territory all right
We were heading into uncharted territory all right!

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