2D fighting games are very similar to each other. The basic formula is two characters beating on each other until one runs out of stamina. But the variations that the developers use to differentiate them make it worthwhile to play more than one of them.
Killer Instinct tells the story of super corporation Ultratech and their mysterious fighting tournament that they put on. See, Ultratech has fantastically advanced technology and dabbles in genetic engineering, cybernetics, capturing aliens, opening interdimensional portals, you know, regular stuff. They put on this tournament apparently to test out their projects against whoever wants to participate.
So, pretty standard stuff. But where the game really sets itself apart is the combo system. In other fighting games, if you’re good, you might be able to pull off a combo of 5 or so hits. In this one, lengthy combos are the name of the game.
Nearly every move in this game can be chained with other moves to produce combos. For instance, you do your opening move for two hits, then hit the ‘autodouble’ button for three more hits, then hit the finisher for two more. MASTER COMBO! Longer combos have more impressive names, and are harder to pull off. They culminate in the over-20-hit Ultra Combo that usually finishes your opponent off. This is all mitigated by the combo breaker. The guy getting pummeled has a move that interrupt the combo, and the longer it goes, the easier it is to pull off (you have more chances).
There’s more to this game than that, though, no mercy moves, humiliations, general silliness that I won’t go into here. I ended up playing this game a whole lot in the arcades, mostly because it was similar enough to Street Fighter that I could pick it up really easily, and different enough that I really enjoyed it. It also didn’t hurt that at my local arcades the game was ridiculously popular for a long time, and there were often crowds gathered around. And crowds meant that you got to play against real actual people, which is absolutely the best way to play any fighting game, and, in the days before the Internet, the best way to pass around notes and learn everyone’s moves and finishers.
Later on, I would actually be able to purchase this game for my Super NES. Normally arcade to Super NES ports suffer greatly, but this game came through remarkably similar to the arcade version, which was no small feat. But the real icing on the cake was that this game was compatible with the XBand modem. And what that meant is that even though the players in my neighborhood quit playing this game pretty much as soon as they started I still had an entire nation of willing opponents, each ready, willing, and able to flog me repeatedly. Which kind of sounds like it’d be a frustrating thing, but it really taught me a lot about the ins and outs of the game by collaborating with real actual people. Strange, I know, but that’s how we did it way back in the ’90s.