Killer Instinct 2
Released 1996
Rare, Midway, Nintendo
Platform: Arcade, N64, XBox One Genre: Fighting 1 or 2 Players Rated: M
Playable Characters: B. Orchid, Fulgore, Glacius, Jago, Kim Wu, Maya, Sabrewulf, Spinal, T.J. Combo, Tusk, and Gargos (code only).
You can select the speed, scene, music, and character color at the character select screen.
A neat little touch on the ladder portraits: defeated characters appear bloody & bruised, upcoming opponents are looking away, and current opponents turn to face you.

Review by Jay Wilson

Killer Instinct 2 offers a unique twist that I’ve never seen implemented in any other fighting game that keeps it engaging twenty-two years later. Each character has five official combo enders, four of which can be executed in any order and unlocks the mini-Ultra to end the first round. The fifth ender only becomes available after successfully landing the previous four. Furthermore, each ender adds additional hits and damage to the ones that follow, and more importantly, it extends the game’s trademark Ultra Combos. So to get that spectacular 60+ hit Ultra finale, you have to prepare across the entire match. You have to remember which enders you’ve used, which ones you have left, and when you consider chip damage, mini-Ultras, misfires, combo-breakers, and basic four-hit Super Combos doing an excess of twenty percent damage, sometimes you just can’t get all five before they drop. Thus you have to settle for a lower hit count or perhaps a Fatality-inspired Ultimate Combo, which might change your character’s ending.

On top of the five combo enders, you also have to build twelve bars of super meter to execute the four super-linkers, and KI2’s engine interestingly does not award meter for stomping your opponent. No prize for beating little Timmy’s handicapped brother. Instead, Killer Instinct 2 awards meter for taking damage and for having your attacks blocked which translates into more interesting matches the more skilled your opponent because if you’re gaining meter that means your opponent is successfully hitting and defending against you. Now you’re faced with the choice of saving up for the four-score Ultra Combo or using the super now because you’re not entirely sure you’re even going to win if you hold back. And if your opponent also has a fully charged super meter, is he going to wait for his Ultra or use it now?

In that respect, KI2 becomes a game of chicken, and to reinforce this notion: long combos cannot be sustained unless the opponent’s life bar is flashing red. Throughout most of the match, two super-linkers and the intermediary doubles (more on that later) will end the combo prematurely. Only when the opponent is near death will it allow extended combos, so do you use the super moves for a whopping 58% damage and a measly 35 hit Ultra or get an 80-hit Ultra that does a measly 15% damage? Do you play for spectacle or efficiency? More importantly, what’s your opponent going to do? This separates Killer Instinct 2 from its competition and even its predecessor because in those games there is no other use for super moves other than dealing damage.

Ultimate Combos are special enders that kill an opponent when their second lifebar is flashing red. Strangely enough series protagonist, Black Orchid, does not have one1.
No Mercies return and are now considered Ultimate Combos even though they can be performed outside of a combo. It’s probably why everyone still refers to them as No Mercies.

And there’s something satisfying about holding back for the long Ultra, being on the brink of losing, and saying, “Okay, that’s it. I’m pissed,” then unleashing a combination that wrecks their life bar, allowing you to still murder them with an Ultimate. I’ve been able to participate in some exhilarating back-and-forth matches and made some dramatic comebacks. Likewise, I’ve had my spectacular momentum hit a brick wall as my opponent broke my Ultra Combo, and I stood stunned as that certain victory slipped away because I mistakenly thought Ultras could not be broken. They can. It takes a six-bar super move and lightning-fast reflexes, but it can be done. And the shock alone will give you quite a head start on that come-back. Trust me. I speak from experience.

I also appreciate the simplicity of Killer Instinct 2. The developers and fans throw around the term combo theory, but that’s being pretentious. Openers, linkers, and enders function exactly as they sound and have actually always been in fighting games. Killer Instinct just formalized the name. Autodouble is an arbitrary term used to describe the button tap that connects openers, linkers, and enders. It sounds more complicated than it is, so let me rephrase: autodoubles let you custom build your combos with your favorite special moves. Just string them together with autodoubles. What button do you tap to connect openers, linkers, and enders? Easy. Either a punch or a kick—it doesn’t matter which—one strength step down from the opener or linker that precedes it. For example, if you want to connect Orchid’s Tiger Slide to her Flik Flak, first open with a fierce Tiger Slide, autodouble with a medium attack because medium punch/kick is one step down from fierce, then finally hit them with a Flik Flak of any strength (preferably a fierce, though, because fierce Flik-Flak is one of Orchid’s five enders.) Boom. Four hit Super Combo. If you do the same thing with a fierce Air Buster, now it’s a five hit Hyper Combo, does 2% more damage, and you’re 40% of the way to a fully charged Ultra .

There are exceptions, complications, and more advanced techniques to add even more personal flair, including manual doubles, pressure doubles, and three-hit post-parry openers, but it all builds upon the basic combo structure:


Holding Back+QP will put your character into an accelerated stance which parries a handful of attacks after which you can use a special three-hit opener to launch a new combo.
Combo Breakers are now a 50/50 proposition with punches breaking kicks and kicks breaking punches.

The other major pillar of KI2’s gameplay is the rock/paper/scissors priority. Special move X will always beat special move Y. Move Y will always beat move Z. And move Z will always beat move X. And every character has an X, a Y, and a Z (or if you prefer, a rock, a paper, and a scissors). If Glacius is spamming his liquidize/uppercut, start spamming Fulgore’s eye laser. You’ll not only hit Glacius every time, but you’ll also be able to launch a full blown combo because eye lasers are one of Fulgore’s openers. Thus predictability gets punished and punished hard. Plus you only have to guess whether your opponents is using punches or kicks to break their combos meaning mindless repetition will make it difficult for them to get a combo going and even if they succeed, they’re likely to have it immediately broken. So more than other fighting games, Killer Instinct 2 encourages variety and mixups. That’s not to say you can’t memorize move-priority and punish mindless spam in other fighters. It’s just easier in KI2.

Since the characters are more strictly governed by global rules, they play very much like minor variations of the same theme, and I appreciate that cohesiveness. I can master Jago, then glance at Kim Wu’s movelist, and be able to play effectively right out of the gate. I started out with Sabrewulf all those years ago, and soon came to master each and every character, performing all the Ultimates, beating the game with each character, seeing most of the endings, and consistently reaching 61-64 hits with everyone. And I have to stress while they are extremely similar, there are features unique to each character. Some characters can roll or dash, others can’t. Some characters can’t throw, others have throws to reverse being thrown. Not every character has a projectile. Jago and Orchid have fake projectiles. Kim Wu has an air projectile. Fulgore and Spinal can teleport. Sabrewulf can howl to charge his super meter. Spinal can steal meter. Glacius can get life back. Jago can put some of his life in reserve and come back as a spirit. Minor variations on a theme, but variations none-the-less. TJ Combo is easily the most unique as he is the only charge character in the game with most everyone else being quarter or half circle inputs. It’s just a shame his character model looks ... gay?

With that said, most of my complaints revolve around aesthetics. Rare kinda goofed when rendering African-American lips and many a times, most notably in his victory screen, the aforementioned TJ Combo looks like he’s wearing lipstick which paints the eye patch and cropped tank top in a completely different context. I have also always disliked Maya’s pose at the character select screen. She stands straight and stiff like a pillar with her arm likewise hanging down, straight and stiff, holding her dagger. It’s static, lifeless, and boring—no expression and no character. It almost looks like a work-in-progress pose used to build and texture the 3D model and not the final render meant to serve as promotional art. Jago’s face seems weirdly elongated and squared—again, most notably in his victory screen—like he’s stylistically designed in an otherwise realistic game. In an industry that borrows heavily from other sources, Kim Wu’s is a blatant Chun-li rip off, and her tornado kick has an eerie mechanical quality as though she’s on a rotating platform. She doesn’t shift her weight or use her arms for balance. She just stands still with leg outstretched and turns 180°, sticks out her other leg and turns another 180°. And I’m not crazy about Maya’s Flip Kick or Jungle Leap for related reasons.

Characters can be knocked off roughly half the stages, but only at the end of the match and only if the final hit is a popup.
Win with an Ultra, Ultimate, Perfect, or still be on your first lifebar to get an animated (skippable) victory screen.

Characters knocked prone from a popup often land with their legs spread freakishly wide, and combine that with female characters Kim Wu and Black Orchid not wearing pants, it reeks of fan service. Orchid’s Ultra Combo mostly consists of her spreading her legs into the splits and performing a helicopter kick. Lord knows I appreciate the female body, but Orchid literally flashed characters in Killer Instinct 1, yet this game somehow feels more exploitative. And they’re not even sexy. Maya’s boobs look like elongated cylinders threaded through metal hooks at an unnatural angle with a skimpy piece of fur barely covering her nipples. Orchid has always been top heavy with overly erect deformed breasts that point too far north. It’s like Rare tried too hard, exaggerating their physique into something inhuman and wrong.

Those might seem like harsh criticisms, and they are, but that doesn’t keep me from playing Orchid and Kim Wu. Those two are firmly in my 2nd tier alongside Jago, Fulgore, and Glacius. Even the characters I don’t like, Gargos, Maya, Tusk, and TJ Combo, I still play, just not as often. And it’s not because of disappointing aesthetics either. Their movesets just never clicked with me. The Killer Instinct 2 designs are flawed, yes, but it’s not like the unforgivable, tasteless garbage puked up by Street Fighter IV, Soul Calibur V, and Mortal Kombat: Deception. I don’t want to even look at those games anymore.

I also don’t care for the throws in Killer Instinct 2. Again not a deal breaker, but they just don’t pack the same punch as its colleagues. Game sprites often look awkward interacting with each other because space limitations dictate that a few generic poses be used for everything, including the specific frames of another character’s unique throw. This is usually mitigated by running the animation quickly so the awkwardness isn’t on screen long enough to register. But the throws in KI2 seem slow resulting in very noticeable, uncanny valley interactions. It also doesn’t help that everything is an over-the-shoulder toss. No multi-hit E. Honda bearhug. No headbutt barrage from Balrog. Nor repeated face-presses from Zangief. Even Mortal Kombat II had Jax’s “Gotcha” grab and backbreaker for some variety. In fairness, Glacius does have a super move that grabs his opponent and hits multiple time ... tossing them from side to side to side.

Unlike most stages, characters can be knocked off the hidden Sky Scene at any time during the match.
Beating Gargos requires you to knock him off the wall for his cinematic death which can be a little flaky because not all the moves you think will do the trick actually do.
I've seen him survive an Ultra Combo.

For the same reason, many of Killer Instinct’s finishing moves, the Ultimate Combos, lack the power of even the MK1 fatalities. Jago stabs his defeated opponent with a spirit sword and likewise Glacius impales them with an ice lance, but there’s no appropriate reaction. Blood spurts, sure, but it’s superimposed on the character’s standard falling animation. Plus the lance and sword vanish the moment they strike. Kim Wu jumps up and should shatter the loser’s rib cage, which is unnervingly visceral made awesome by its sheer simplicity, but on this one I’m torn because on one hand the standard prone frame undermines it but on the other hand it does have a great life-ending crunch sound effect. At the very least, Spinal (a skeleton and Kim Wu’s rival) should literally break into pieces. But no, he lays prone like any other time he’s knocked down like every other character.

The more effective Ultimates feature the victor either burning their adversary to a crisp (Jago, Kim Wu, Orchid, Sabrewulf), dropping something massive on their head (Maya, Spinal, Tusk), or gunning them down (Fulgore, TJ Combo), and as you can see, there’s a lot of overlap from character to character. I know earlier I praised the similarities across characters, but finishing moves are one department I think there should have been more diversity. Spinal paradoxically has the best unique Ultimate where he steals his prey’s soul—still a generic reaction from the victim, but stealing a soul is such an abstract concept that you pay attention to the sparkly magic effects and not the single frame of falling animation doubling as the victim’s hover. But, then again, the competition is Maya’s shrink ray.

So, you probably won’t be surprised to learn Sabrewulf, who lacks a throw, and Spinal are my favorite, most played characters.

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1 Black Orchid later was given an Ultimate Combo for Killer Instinct Gold, the Nintendo 64 port of KI2.