Killer Instinct

Killer Instinct

Killer Instinct is a fighting game developed by Rare and published by Midway and Nintendo. Initially released in arcades in 1994, and rumored to use an "Ultra 64" hardware engine, in reality the proprietary arcade hardware was co-developed by Rare and Midway. The game received a high profile launch on the Super Nintendo, as well as on the Game Boy. It led to a sequel, Killer Instinct 2.


Ultratech is a very powerful megacorporation (entities which, in this future setting, replaced all governments) which organizes a tournament called Killer Instinct. Along with regular participants, experimental creatures created by Ultratech also fight in the tournament. Ultratech also discovers a technology to make bridges between dimensions, and to also release from this dimensional prison a two-headed monster called Eyedol, an ancient warrior that was locked away along with his rival.



Fulgore is a cyborg, part of a cybernetic project developed by Ultratech, the masterminds behind the Killer Instinct fighting tournament. Fulgore was entered into the tournament to test its fighting capabilities. If successful, the Fulgore unit would be placed in mass production. During the first Killer Instinct tournament, Fulgore met its end at the hands of Jago. A newer version of Fulgore was produced for the second fighting tournament.

Fulgore has two No Mercy moves, one in which it removes its head, revealing a large turret-like gun which shoots the enemy repeatedly. The other uses a laser beam from its eyes to reduce the opponent to ashes.


A criminal who was promised early release by Ultratech in exchange for participating in chemical weapons research. As a result of an accident during testing, his body is composed entirely of flame. He is promised a return to his original form if he is able to defeat Glacius in the tournament. In the early development stages of the game his name was Meltdown, but this was soon afterwards changed to Cinder.

Cinder has two No Mercy moves; the first creates a pool of magma under the opponent, who melts into it. The second shoots them with flames to reduce them to ashes.


An alien who was captured by Ultratech and promised freedom if he wins the tournament. He gets his nickname from his body's icy liquid composition and ability to shapeshift. He is one of the few characters that maintained his original name throughout early development.

He uses three different No Mercy moves, one where he becomes a gel-like mass and absorbs the opponent (similar to the Blob), one in which he uses his finger as a syringe to inject the enemy with a substance that turns them to ice, and the last of which he turns into a pool of boiling water that the enemy drowns in.


A Tibetan monk following the Tiger Spirit, which later turns out to be Gargos in the second Killer Instinct, is on the path of enlightenment to defeat the evil within him. He believes it is his destiny to destroy Ultratech. He has many of the same moves as Street Fighter's Ryu and Ken characters, including the fireball and spinning uppercut. His No Mercy moves consist of stabbing the enemy with his sword, and meditating, which causes a car to fall on the opponent.


A genetically engineered velociraptor-human hybrid created as a prototype by Ultratech. The tournament serves to test its abilities as a killing machine. It has three No Mercy moves: one in which it spits acid on the enemy, one in which it stabs the foe with its tail, and one in which it runs at the enemy and eats them.


Count Von Sabrewulf is stricken by lycanthropy, and is promised a cure by Ultratech if he wins the tournament. This is a semi-cameo appearance of Sabreman, known from Rare's 1984 game Sabre Wulf. Sabrewulf fights in his inherited castle as his home level, with biting and claw attacks, and the ability to howl and use his Flaming Bat, though sometimes they will not be flaming. He has two No Mercy moves, one where he slams the foe into the screen, and one in which he stabs the enemy with an elongated claw.


A marvel of modern biotechnology, he is a product of cell regeneration, made a living skeleton from the remains of an ancient warrior. While he seems to fight for sheer enjoyment, it is more likely he is battling simply because he lost his memory after death, since his brain couldn't regenerate. It is revealed that he is Chief Thunder's lost dead brother Eagle. He carries a sword and shield, and has the ability to teleport and physically morph himself into a grayscale version of his opponents during combos. He has an odd quirk in that, in order to perform certain moves, he must gather energy (represented by tokens shaped like skull under his life bar in the SNES version, and by skulls floating around his person in the arcade and gold versions) by either absorbing opponents projectile energy attacks (with his shield in absorbing position), or performing combo breakers. Despite requiring these tokens, his special moves are not particularly stronger than normal special attacks. He can "store" up to 5 skull tokens, to the point of *overloading* if he absorbs any more energy. He uses two No Mercy moves, one where he repeatedly stabs the enemy with a spike on his shield, and the other where he summons a skeleton to drag the opponent underground, presumably to Hell (in the SNES version, the second No Mercy is replaced with Spinal summoning a bolt of lightning).

TJ Combo

A former heavyweight boxing champion for 5 years. He was stripped of his title and kicked out of the circuit when it was discovered that his arms had cybernetic implants which greatly helped his boxing ability. Ultratech promises him his title will be returned if he wins the tournament. Combo has two No Mercy moves, one where he snaps the opponent's neck, and the other where he punches the opponent into the screen.

Chief Thunder

A Native American Chief, armed with twin tomahawks, who enters the tournament to find out what happened to his missing brother Eagle in the previous year's tournament.

He has two No Mercy moves; he calls down a bolt of lightning to strike the enemy in one, and he knocks the opponent into the air leaving various objects behind (depending on the opponent), in the other.


Hired by Ultratech as a secretary, she is actually a spy working for an unknown party and, along with Jago, appears to be the heroine of the game franchise. Her full name is Black Orchid. She has two No Mercy moves, the first in which she gives her opponent a heart attack by unzipping her uniform and flashing her breasts at them, and the other in which she turns the opponent into a frog, then (at the player's option) stomps on them.


The final boss, Eyedol, is a two-headed, ancient mystical warlord who was trapped in a dimensional prison in the distant past. Ultratech released him to be the final combatant in the tournament. It is shown in Killer Instinct 2 that the person Eyedol was trapped in combat with was Gargos, the final boss of that game. Eyedol is the only character that does not have an icon in the character select screen, however in both the arcade and Super Nintendo versions he is a secret character that can be played as by selecting the character Cinder and pressing a combination of buttons before a round begins. He is also only character in the game with no special finishing moves, such as No Mercy moves, ultra combos, or humiliations that the other characters possess.


Killer Instinct plays like many other fighting games, in which the player controls a character in order to beat an opponent in a one-on-one encounter. The game borrows the attack set of Street Fighter and is also inspired by the finishing moves from Mortal Kombat. There are also several features that distinguish it from other franchises:

  • A double energy bar: instead of winning two rounds, each player has two bars of energy. If a character finishes with his or her opponent's first life bar, the fight stops and resumes like a round, but the winning character still keeps whatever amount of energy he or she had at that moment. The player who depletes his or her opponent's second life bar wins the bout.
  • Automatic combos: rather than press the necessary buttons in order to deliver the individual attacks that form a combo, in Killer Instinct the combos are automated and can be enabled by inputting a determined button or special move (which led to the character to deliver a string of hits).
  • Finishing moves: Bearing resemblance to Mortal Kombat's Fatalities, each character has at least two moves known as No Mercy (Danger Move in later revisions) in order to finish the opponent in a violent manner. One of these No Mercy moves can be executed at the end of a combo (which is labeled as an Ultimate combo), when the opponents life bar flashes red (when his or her second bar is going to be depleted), although it uses a different combination of movements. Another finisher is the Humiliation, that forces the opponent to dance (the dance style depends on the character), but this can only be used if the player has his or her first life bar.
  • Ultra Combo: Another finisher; it operates like an Ultimate combo, though this one allows the character to deliver a long string of hits as the combo finisher instead, usually surpassing 20 hits, and can sometimes reach upwards of 80+ hits.
  • Combo Breaker: The player who is being caught in a combo may break out of it by performing a combo breaker move. The combo breaker is a designated special move of the player's character. A combo can be broken at either the auto-double or linker stage. To successfully break an auto-double, the player must use the breaker move at a strength lower than the auto-double itself (i.e. for a player to break a Medium auto-double s/he must use a Quick breaker). The combo can also be broken at the linker stage. At this stage the player can use any strength of breaker, making long combos a risky affair. Also, after performing a combo breaker, a white starburst will appear at the tip of the breaker's health bar, enabling advanced versions of some special moves that require a different command, i.e. Jago, instead of a regular green fireball, can shoot a red fireball.

Arcade hardware

  • Killer Instinct was the first arcade game to use an internal hard disk drive in addition to the games ROMs. This allowed it to store massive amounts of data thereby giving it the ability to have more detailed graphics than other games of this genre.
  • The game used pre-rendered sprites for characters, created with Silicon Graphics, Inc. computers and the backgrounds themselves were pre-rendered as a 'movie', which simply adjusted frames based on your current location. All this data was stored on the hard drive.
  • Killer Instinct's Risc R4600 processor ran at 100 MHz, much faster than its competitors. For comparison Mortal Kombat 3's TMS34010 CPU ran at 6.25 MHz.


Nintendo 64

There were no direct ports of either Killer Instinct or Killer Instinct 2 for the Nintendo 64 despite the arcade game's attract mode promising it was coming to the Nintendo Ultra 64. Instead a special version was released called Killer Instinct Gold, which is based on Killer Instinct 2.

Due to memory limitations on the Nintendo 64 hardware and cartridges, the pre-rendered FMV-flipbook backgrounds were replaced with realtime-rendered low poly backgrounds. The characters' graphics remained as pre-rendered sprites, however.

Super NES

During that period, a Super NES port was planned and subsequently released. While it has many of the features the arcade version had and was a significantly advanced SNES title, many features were altered, downsampled, or removed. The graphic detail was vastly reduced and the onscreen characters were smaller. The stages with a 3D panning camera were simplified into a 2D panning view using parallax scrolling for the background. Zooming and scaling were removed. Some of the stages were redesigned or dropped from this version. The famous full motion videos that showed the characters after a victory were replaced by still images. Voice samples and sound effects were shortened.

Most of the characters preserved their special moves and danger moves. However, some of the special graphical effects — notably the shadow move effect — were removed. In the case of Spinal's skulls that surrounds him when he absorbs projectiles, the skulls are shown under his energy bar instead.

In spite of these changes, some other modes were added, such as a training mode, a tournament mode (used for multiplayer purposes), and other options.

The Super Nintendo version was packaged with a 16 track music CD entitled Killer Cuts featuring arrangements of music from the game. Killer Cuts was later sold through Nintendo Power's Super Power Supplies mail order service in both CD and cassette form.

The Super NES game was packaged in a black casing in Europe, Australia, Canada, and the United States, as opposed to the standard grey shell. The game was not released in Japan.

Game Boy

A Game Boy port was also made, but sacrifices were necessary due to the system's limitations. As a result, neither Cinder or Riptor appear, and the moves were heavily altered due to the more limited controls of the portable. The game supports some coloring when played in a Super Game Boy. Super Game Boy also allowed for a two player versus match to be played by inserting a second controller. Sabrewulf's moves were also altered severely.

Killer Cuts: The Soundtrack

An arranged soundtrack CD featuring original music from Killer Instinct was released as a pack-in for the Super Nintendo release of the game.


It was rated the 148th best game made on a Nintendo System in Nintendo Power's Top 200 Games list.



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