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Killer Instinct Gold

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Reviewed by Scott McCall "Coming to the Nintendo Ultra 64 in the fall of 1995" was the advertisement that the original Killer Instinct arcade game often displayed. Back then, little did we know that the Nintendo 64 would go through not one but two launch delays. At the 1995 E3 show, Nintendo also caught most people off-guard by announcing that Killer Instinct would be available for the Super NES and Game Boy -- and not the Nintendo 64. In early 1996, the sequel to the game was launched in the arcades. Killer Instinct 2 was met with mixed opinions from the gaming world. The aesthetics of the game were nowhere near as impressive as when the original KI arcade came out. There were also many changes to the gameplay system. Enter Killer Instinct Gold. Many gamers were still hopeful that the 64-bit version would be a port of the original game. Alas, those hopes were smashed when Nintendo showed KI Gold at the 1996 E3 show. The game appeared to be a port of the KI2 arcade game. After all, wouldn't it be better to port the newer fighting game to the system? But KI Gold is more than just a direct port of KI2. You can think of Killer Instinct Gold as an enhanced version of Killer Instinct 2. Killer Instinct Gold entered the video game market in a prime position. A terrible version of Mortal Kombat Trilogy was released a few weeks earlier. Nintendo and Rare hoped to capture the attention of the video game world with a better-than-the-arcade port of Killer Instinct 2. While MK Trilogy had tons of missing animation, unbalanced play and horrible sound, Nintendo knew that its baby would easily become the king of N64 fighting games and would not disappoint. The Killer Instinct series has never been liked by die-hard fighting fans because of the huge-hit combos and because random button mashing can lead to cheap moves. But the fact of the matter is, the Killer Instinct series is one of the most popular fighting series out there. In fact, it's probably more popular than all the other fighting games, except Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat. Killer Instinct 2 contained a slightly different cast of fighters than the original Killer Instinct. Therefore, that means Killer Instinct Gold contains the same fighters as KI2. The fighters returning from the original to the sequel were Glacius, Spinal, TJ Combo, Sabrewulf, Fulgore, Jago. The new fighters to KI2 and KI Gold are Kim Wu, Tusk, Maya, and the boss Gargos. Unfortunately, Riptor, Cinder and Chief Thunder did not make the trip from the original KI to its sequel. These fighters were rumored to be hidden in Killer Instinct Gold, but because of space limitations, the only "hidden" fighter is Gargos. One of the most impressive facets of Killer Instinct Gold is the huge number of options available to the player. First of all, there are many modes of play: Arcade (one-player game against the computer or two-player game against one another), Team (each player chooses a team of 2 to 11 characters to fight to the death), Team Elimination (a team member can only be eliminated by an Ultra, Ultimate or a Knock Off), Tournament (two to eight players can play a "round robin" tournament where the winner keeps on fighting), Practice (you get a full Super Bar to attempt any move you want against a dummy), Training (one of the coolest additions to the game; you are taught different theories of the KI fighting engine), Focused Training (you can skip ahead to a lesson instead of going through all the previous ones) and Options. Besides all those fighting modes, there are a ton of options in KI Gold. Most of the options are divided into "levels" that can only be accessed after you complete the game on a certain level of difficulty (or if you enter the cheat code to get all the options). The options are Game Speed, Difficulty, Training Difficulty, Controller Setup, Game Pak Options (Load/Save), Music, Random After, Time Limit, Throwing and Blood! And we haven't even gotten to any of the "level" options yet! The Level One options are Throw Damage, Easy [Combo] Breakers, Invisible Tag and Aerial Camera. The Level Two options include Full Super Bar, Full Breakers and Powered Finishers. The Level Three options consist of Missiles, Fast Fireballs and Autodoubles. The Level Four options are Early Ultimates, Knockdowns, Quick Openers and Cheap Juggles. And the Level Five option is Blocking. As you can see, never before has a game offered so many options. You can make the game a whole new fighting experience just by toggling some of the aforementioned options on or off. Before we get into how the actual gameplay of Killer Instinct Gold works, we should probably discuss the control first. KI Gold gives you the option of using either the digital Control Pad or the analog Control Stick. It's almost like a catch-22 situation, though. Some players complain the digital Control Pad is too stiff and the analog Control Stick is too sensitive. Your best bet is just to loosen up that digital Control Pad. Even though you can set the button configuration to however you want in KI Gold, the default configuration is probably your best bet. As you probably already know, the button system consists of six buttons: Fierce Punch and Kick, Medium Punch and Kick, Quick Punch and Kick. The default configuration sets the Quick Punch as B, Medium Punch as Left C and Fierce Punch as Top C. The bottom row has Quick Kick as A, Medium Kick as Bottom C and Fierce Kick as Right C. Some people may complain that the C buttons are too small or are too close together, but you shouldn't have any problems with it. Let's go on to the meat of the game. Contrary to what people who don't like the Killer Instinct series may say, KI Gold contains arguably the most sophisticated and strategic fighting engine out there. At the core of the fighting engine is combo theory called the Auto-Double. An Auto-Double is a single move which can be performed at certain times in a combo to provide an extra hit. To perform an Auto-Double, it depends on which Opener you used. To automatically double up the hit on your opponent, you just have to press one button down from the valid Opener. So if you opened with a Fierce Punch, then you could immediately press Medium Punch or Medium Kick for an extra hit. By using the Auto-Double theory, you can quickly turn a triple combo into a super combo (four hits). There is also a Manual-Double. The difference between an Auto- and Manual-Double is in the timing. Auto-Doubles are done with jump-ins. Manual-Doubles are started with a Fierce Kick or Punch followed up with a Medium Kick or Punch. Now there are multiple ways to continue the length of your combo. You can't just keep doing Auto-Doubles unless you link together some moves in between. A Linker will hit the character again but will not knock them down. This means you can perform another Auto-Double. You can also add an End Finisher, which is a special move to end a combo sequence. Another way to extend your combos is with a Juggle. Juggles are extra hits which you can sneak in. You might be able to juggle your opponent with a special move or even a throw. The strategy doesn't stop there. How fair would a multi-hit combo be if you couldn't break out of them? Enter the Combo Breaker. You just can't perform the Combo Breaker anywhere, though. It can only break a combo during an Auto-Double or a Manual-Double. If your opponent is doubling up with a punch, then you must do the Combo Breaker motion with a kick. If they're doubling up with a kick, then you must do the Combo Breaker motion with a punch. Manual-Doubles are harder to break than Auto-Doubles, which helps fix the problem of people whom have become quite skilled with Combo Breakers. Performing combos with Manual-Doubles, Pressure Moves and Super Linkers provide for some nearly unbreakable combos! A new addition introduced in Killer Instinct 2 is the Super Bar. Your Super Bar builds up every time you get hit. After building up your Super Bar, you can perform special moves such as Super Linkers and Super End Finishers. A Super Linker, which requires three Super Bar Blocks, will add five hits to your combo instead of one hit. And a Super End Finisher will hit four to six times at the end of the combo. One of the main complaints with the original Killer Instinct game was the dreaded "turtle" fighters. "Turtlers" are those whom just block the whole time and only hit you after they block you. Fortunately, Killer Instinct Gold contains several improvements to counter turtlers. Besides the aforementioned Throws, which are a new addition to the Killer Instinct series, there are also Pressure Moves. Each character in the game has a Pressure Move that is designed to be performed on a blocking opponent. Performing Pressure Moves on a turtler will fill your Super Bar. If you manage to hit with a Pressure Move, you can follow it with a Super Linker or Super Finisher for a nearly unbreakable combo! Combos, combos and more combos are not the only part of KI Gold. There is also an extremely sophisticated countering system. The first part of the system is the Rock, Paper, Scissors Priority. No, your character's don't stop fighting and play the childhood game. Every character has three Special Moves represented by this game. For example, if you're playing as Tusk against Sabrewulf, and Sabrewulf keeps hitting you with his Sabre Wheel, which is his "rock" move, then you should counter with your "paper" move, which is the Web of Death. Other parts of the countering system include Through Projectiles and Air Counters. Every character in the game has a Special Move which can go under, over or through projectiles. And when both characters are jumping, the Air Counters come into play. Fierce beats Medium, Medium beats Quick and Quick beats Fierce. But wait there's more! There's still Slow Motion End Finishers, Air Doubles, Ultra Combos, Really Long Ultras (70+ hits), Mini-Ultras, Ultimates, Knockoffs and Parry moves! And, oh yeah, we didn't even talk about Pressure Breakers, Ultra Breakers, Shadows Combos and Speed-Up Combos! We'll let you learn those on your own, though. If you're one of those people who have to learn by doing and not reading, then Killer Instinct Gold has a great Training mode for you. Some of the techniques outlined above, including Special Moves, Combos, Combo Breakers, are taught to you for each fighter in the Training Mode. Of course, you'll have to learn some of the most advanced techniques on your own. As you can tell, Killer Instinct Gold has one of the most sophisticated fighting engines around. Almost every move can be countered and almost every combo can be broken. Those unfamiliar with the fighting series may think that's unfair, but considering the huge number of possibilities, it's a matter of performing the right move at the right time. And that's definitely not as easy as it may seem. One of the neat things about Killer Instinct Gold is that beginning fighters can have a lot of fun in the game despite not understanding any of the fighting theory. Most critics of Killer Instinct say this is one of the game's biggest flaws. A beginner can come up to the game, just move the stick around in circles and press some buttons to pull off combos and super moves almost in the double-digit range. Because of the advanced fighting theory, though, an experienced KI Gold player should have no trouble handling a beginner whom just presses all the buttons. Although some people were disappointed that KI Gold is an enhanced version of KI2 and not a combination of KI and KI2, it makes for an extremely balanced fighting game -- unlike Mortal Kombat Trilogy. And even KI Gold has an improved fighting engine over KI2 with new moves and techniques. One of the most odd things about Killer Instinct Gold has to be that those who didn't like the arcade version of Killer Instinct 2 are finding themselves loving the home version of Killer Instinct Gold. Go figure. You have to admit it. You were extremely impressed by the original Killer Instinct's visuals back when it first hit the arcade. Now you also have to admit that you were underwhelmed with Killer Instinct 2's visuals. Killer Instinct 2 in the arcade had grainy graphics, a camera which didn't zoom out, and no 3-D fighting arenas. All of those problems were fixed and then some in Killer Instinct Gold. First off, all the arenas in the home version are completely 3-D. That means doing moves which send your opponent in the air will rotate the camera by so many degrees. This subtle touch is very effective in the game. And, amazingly enough, all the arenas look just as good if not better than their arcade counterparts even though they're made out of polygons. On some levels, because of the way the camera turns sometimes, an object can obstruct your view of the fight sometimes. This is not really a major gripe, though. Killer Instinct Gold also brings back the "aerial camera" to the series. That means the game will scroll out to make your fighters smaller as you get farther and farther away from each other. No more confined fighting arenas. The game also looks considerably better than the grainy KI2 in the arcades. Whether or not this is the result of anti-aliasing is anyone's guess. For fast, smooth gameplay, look no further than KI Gold. Also, hardly any animation is missing; it would take quite a discerning eye to notice any missing unlike MK Trilogy. And the game moves at an extremely brisk pace, which can be slowed down or sped up. All the sparks and fireworks that go with certain moves also made the jump from arcade to home. A critical gamer may also seemingly notice slowdown when there's a lot happening. But, believe it or not, the slowdown was put in for a dramatic effect. As amazing are the graphics are in KI Gold, the sound is even more surprising. With other Nintendo 64 games lacking in the music department, Killer Instinct Gold comes through with flying colors. The music is almost exactly like the arcade (a few samples were changed), and it doesn't loop as quickly as you think it would. In some respects, it's even better than the arcade. While the arcade version had mono music, the Nintendo 64 version is in full stereo sound. From the game's riveting techno tracks with full-blown lyrics to heavy metal (with an awesome MIDI guitar) songs to the more orchestrated tunes, KI Gold does not disappoint even the most jaded gamer in the music department. All the sound effects appear to be in the game, too, although they are nothing to write home about. As far improvements to Killer Instinct Gold go, there sure aren't very many that can be mentioned. Sometimes the camera can be a pain and obstruct your view (particularly in Combo's or Tusk's board). It would have been nice to fix that. The graphics and sound are awesome otherwise. The gameplay is extremely sophisticated and balanced. So what can be improved? Pretty much nothing. Killer Instinct Gold is at the pinnacle of 2-D Killer Instinct fighting games. I'm sure many gamers, including yours truly, would love to see a completely 3-D KI game. But that would require redoing the gameplay from the ground up. Maybe that might not be such a bad idea since we have the best version of KI at home now. If you weren't a Killer Instinct fan to begin with, then this game will more than likely not change your mind. It may open your eyes a little wider, though. For us millions of KI fans out there, we have an arcade-perfect port of KI2 and then some. With graphics better than the arcade, sound better than the arcade, and gameplay better than the arcade, Killer Instinct Gold is a KI fan's dream come true. The only thing more alarming other than how good KI Gold is probably has to be just how much better this game is than Mortal Kombat Trilogy.

Graphics: 4.5 out of 5 Sound: 4.6 out of 5 Control: 3.9 out of 5 Gameplay: 4.2 out of 5 Lastability: 4.5 out of 5 Overall: 4.3 out of 5

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