Killer Instinct 2 Classic review – the vintage fighter returns with online play on Xbox One

In 1994, the original Killer Instinct took arcades by storm. The next year a downgraded but respectable Super Nintendo port followed, along with a GameBoy version. The home games helped maintain enthusiasm until Killer Instinct 2 arrived in arcades in 1996. The Nintendo 64 would see a mildly stripped-down port called Killer Instinct Gold that year.

The true arcade version of Killer Instinct 2 has never been available on home consoles… Until now. Like Killer Instinct Classic before it, Killer Instinct 2 Classic comes bundled with the purchase of Killer Instinct 2 Ultra Edition on Xbox One. The $39.99 bundle gets you eight characters in the new Killer Instinct, plus Killer Instinct 2 as a standalone game. Killer Instinct 2 Classic even gets online play, making it a more viable alternative to Killer Instinct Season 2. Read on for gameplay details, hands-on video, and exclusive screenshots!

Even more killer

Both Killer Instinct arcade games were amazing for their times, featuring huge CG-rendered sprites and backgrounds (with a few genuine 3D elements mixed in), typically memorable Rare soundtracks, and a great cast of characters.

Killer Instinct 2 represents a big step forward from the first game though, introducing many elements that carry over into Killer Instinct Season 2. One of those is the Super Meter at the bottom of the screen. Once the meter fills, players can perform Super versions of normal special moves – these became Shadow Moves in Killer Instinct Season 2. Throws, a staple fighting game move, also debuted in Killer Instinct 2.

The roster of 10 characters and one boss (playable via code) includes seven returning characters from the first game. The less popular fighters Chief Thunder, Cinder, and Riptor sat Killer Instinct 2 out, but all three come back in Killer Instinct Season 1 and 2. New combatants Maya the Amazon, Kim Wu the Asian martial artist, and Tusk the Barbarian replace the sidelined characters in Killer Instinct 2.

Fast-forwarding to Killer Instinct Season 2 again, Maya takes center stage as one of the first two Season 2 characters. Based on teaser silhouettes, it looks like Kim Wu and Tusk are unlikely to join the new game until Season 3.

Killer Instinct 2's single-player mode consists of an ascending ladder of opponents, much like the Mortal Kombat arcade games. The final battle pits players against Gargos, a fireball-tossing gargoyle. The Gargos battle is particularly challenging because you can't just defeat him by depleting his life.

After knocking Gargos down to zero health, players must also catch him with either an Ultra Combo or a combo that includes an uppercut. This will knock him off the bridge and win you the game. The game cruelly doesn't tell you how to beat Gargos, so your first meeting with him will likely end in frustration. I had to dig through some FAQs to discover the combo requirement. At least the endings tell some interesting stories.

Xbox One enhancements

Developer Code Mystics has added a number of options and unlockables to the Xbox One version of Killer Instinct 2, many of which were also present in the first Killer Instinct Classic. When you launch the game, you'll navigate a main menu that includes such features as options, leaderboards, and extras.

The options are truly extensive. You can remap any of the game's six attack buttons, although there is no option to map a press of all three punches or kicks to a single button, unlike Killer Instinct Season 2. The Game Settings menu allows the difficulty to be adjusted. The "Extra Easy" difficulty is actually beatable by an inexperienced player, assuming you know how to handle the final boss. You can even disable finishing moves or access the arcade operator's Test Mode.

Graphically, players can choose between the original 4:3 aspect ratio or (inadvisably) a stretched mode. By default, the game has a Raster graphical filter (listed as a "Scaling Effect") enabled. This simulates the scan lines of a monitor, but it looks awful. I suggest turning off Scaling Effects entirely and enjoying the game's beautiful CGI-rendered sprites in their original glory.

When playing in full-screen mode, you'll be able to choose from several widescreen borders to fill out the screen. At first, you can only play with random borders. To unlock specific borders, you'll have to play through the game with those characters. I was saddened by the absence of the actual cabinet bezel art as a border, until my research revealed that the real arcade machine only had black space on the bezel (sides of the monitor).

Beating the game with a character also unlocks that character's full-motion video win sequence, ending(s), and sprites. The sprite viewer lets you play any of a character's animations – a fun and unusual feature in an arcade port. You can also listen to Killer Instinct 2's excellent soundtrack (which has vocals!) right from the start.

Finally, the game has a built-in screenshot function. At any time you can pause and take a picture for posterity. You can build a library of stills right now to share with friends once the Xbox One's promised screenshot feature finally rolls out.


Of course, the real standout enhancement is online multiplayer, which didn't make the cut in the first Killer Instinct Classic. The Xbox One's beloved matchmaking system does a great job here. After initiating matchmaking, you can choose to play single-player until the system finds a game. In this scenario, the game resumes your previous single-player game if you had already been playing (as opposed to starting a fresh one). It sure beats just sitting around staring at a matchmaking screen.

The game supports local multiplayer as well, natch.


Killer Instinct 2 Classic has its own Achievement list worth 1,000 GamerScore. You'll need to beat the game with every character including Gargos, perform all of their Ultras, and beat 40 AI opponents per fighter. The toughest Achievement involves beating the game without continuing, which I hear is fairly doable with Spinal.

Besides those 40 wins Achievements, one other Achievement turns up the grind by requiring players to spend 400 credits (continues). That will take several hours of grinding. Not the kind of Achievement a retro bonus game like Killer Instinct 2 needs, but I suppose it could have been worse.

Overall Impression

I'm so glad that Microsoft has finally seen fit to release an arcade perfect version of Killer Instinct 2 at home. They also made the wise choice of hiring Code Mystics to do the job, resulting in flawless 60 frames per second emulation and great bonus features. The game itself holds up quite well – especially thanks to the addition of online play.

The downside to Killer Instinct 2 Classic is the same one that affects the first KI Classic: you can't buy it by itself. Treating these Classic games as downloadable content for the new Killer Instinct Seasons wouldn't be so bad if players could buy the $20 Combo Breaker Pack (opens in new tab) and then upgrade to the Ultra Edition at any time for another $20. That would be logical, right?

For some reason, the option to upgrade from Combo Breaker to Ultra Edition with the first season was only available for a week earlier this year. It seems likely that a Season 2 Ultra Edition upgrade will only happen during limited time sales as well. So if you really want Killer Instinct 2 Classic, you're much better off buying the Season 2 Ultra Edition right from the start.

We'll be back soon with a closer look at the Killer Instinct Season 2 Ultra Edition!

  • Killer Instinct Season 2 Ultra Edition – Xbox One – ? MB – $39.99 – Link (opens in new tab)
Paul Acevedo

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!

  • Bam
  • Lol i cant delete my post wtf
  • Try not to do that first post nonsense. Read the article and make a real comment with multiple words and a point (please).
  • Mortal kombat is the best fighting game.. Not killer instinct
  • True :))
    Paul i wanst doing that ... Why do you thought i posted a second time ?? About The article ?? ;) cause it still ! Does not let me Change The comment ..
  • Opinions are opinions.
  • and why you say that? any reasons or you have never played many fighting games? because I am sure there are more fighting games than KI, MK and street fighter for example Real Bout fatal fury, is one of the best fighting gamer ever made, and then any other SNK fighting game: the OLD king of fighters, rage of the dragon, or Matrimelee, or Gaour Mark of the wolves... are just better than mortal kombat... for many reasons I could list. but then in my opinion... even Primal Rage could be better than Mortal Kombat.  
  • Well...won't go for full 1000G then
  • Still got that Game on my pc witch runs xp :3 hop ms wont release it as an x1 exclusive
  • What ?! Killer Instinct is an Xbox One exclusive. Who plays brawler on a desktop, anyway?
  • people with controllers
  • Hahaha exactly;) people with controllers and
    - those games sometimes look better
    - got all dlc content in one release mostlz
    - and are much cheaper ( old games ;) )
    - and thanks to , steam and humbe bundle we get amazing deals :p
  • Why don't they just give up on that game?
  • Because there is always a market for good classics
  • Because killer instinct is boss AF and combos are also boss AF...I mean this game is just amazing and with cinder coming back I am all in.
  • Yea, Cinder was/is the best.
  • you mean Ciner was easy to use... which is far from "best", but of course being easy means anyone can use it even if they are bad :)
  • #awesomeness!!! Played all the classics on all the platforms, so this is really cool
  • I use to be good at this game! What happened to me? With KI3, I'm even worse! Can't move beyond button masher!
  • Same here, you're not alone.
  • why does "full screen mode" even have borders?
  • Full screen often refers to a 1:33:1 aspect ratio, from the time before widescreen.
  • Why pay for it when you can get it for free on the N64 emulator for laptop?
  • Because that's software piracy, and also many people don't connect their laptops to their HDTVs, have two controllers for them. To say nothing of the Achievements, online play, and other extras of this version. Emulation is great, but when you start refusing to pay for things because you'd rather download a ROM, you're just piratin', which is a nice way of saying stealing.
  • Any game that is over 10 years old and released as FREEWARE is not pirating.... Your point is invalid and wrong
  • who said that? oh yeah you are making it up, show proof of what you say next time. and again, run it in an emulator if you want... I am sure you will have playing alone by yourself because it doesn't have online multiplayer... and I doubt you have real friends. also there is one reason why ggpo or supercade were good once and are still great... because they offer online multiplayer, games being ported to consoles like Street Fighter III: Third Strike and offering a better stuff over ggpo, killed some userbase. because consoles were more comfortable to use than a computer...
  • Killer Instinct is not Freeware. It belongs to Microsoft. Hence, the Xbox One versions of the game. Good try with the invalid thing though, that was cute.
  • Guess his definition of freeware means anything that he can get for free whether it's by pirating or stealing.
  • Brawler on a pc. Lol.
  • PC supports several controls, you don't have to use mouse and keyboard for brawlers. In fact, you can use a superior (IMO) joystick with brawlers if you want.
  • The term brawler is used to refer to the beat 'em up genre, not this genre, which is 'fighting games" or 'fighters.' Also, as others have pointed out, controllers and arcade sticks work just fine on PC. It's better to pay for games legally but there's nothing wrong with playing any kind of game you like on a PC or any other system.
  • I played both KI and KI2 in the arcade back in the day. I've been wanting a home version for a long time. The Super Nintendo version of KI was good not to mention the CD that came with the game was awesome, which I still have. Killer Instinct Gold was also good on the N64. So far I've seen only one Stage Ultra in KI Season 2. That's on TJ Combos stage. If you do any characters Stage Ultra command at the far left of the screen you'll get it. It's pretty cool.
  • Don't mean to be pedantic, but it's obvious most WPC users are not gamers. That's fine.
  • That statement would more likely be wrong than right.  Gamer's aren't defined by platform anymore so its not exclusive to PCs and consoles.  Phones are a perfectly acceptable platform and anyone who's played Angry Birds or Wordament is technically a gamer.  Maybe not in the  old school, "play until your thumbs bleed" sort of way but... Also, you may have posted prior to this happening, but look up top....the "P" is silent :)
  • Mortal kombat is king
  • Nah Bruh. King from Tekken is King! Mortal Kombat looks good, but I'd prefer it if they updated the graphics of MK3 a la Street Fighter HD Remix. Gameplay wise, I think they did a good job in 9, but Fatalities, it just...doesn't look right to me. I prefer the older ones on that front. As for controls, KI, MK, and street fighter basically play the same way. Tekken is easier on the Thumbs.
  • Anyone else itching for an HD port of Mortal Kombat on the XB1?
  • Hell yeah. It's called Mortal Kombat X. Look it up it comes out early 2015 and it's going to be f'ing amazing! I love KI too.
  • The super Nintendo version was awesome back in the day
  • Yeah, it was amazing given the power and memory limitations of the system.
  • My only reservation in buying the $40 package, and securing KI 2 arcade, is that I rarely play season 1. I usually break out KI when friends come over which is more rare these days with family and work. It's surprising that buying the arcade versions for season 1 and 2 are restricted considering you can buy everything else piecemeal already. Definately looking at getting season 2 ($20) though.
    Unrelated- did you guys do a review of D4? I was thinking about picking that one up.
  • I wanted to review D4 but things kept coming up. It has some UI issues but the story and quirkiness mostly make up for it.
  • So basically we are buying xbone to play these old fashioned 90s games?Oh come on,first thing that comes in our mind is today's realistic gaming graphics when we think about consoles...i dun understand why they are even releasing such classic games that too for $40
  • Please...classics beat modern games amy day. I love that we are getting classics.
  • It's not $40, you just have to buy the new KI's Season 2 Ultra Edition to get it. KI2 is a bonus for people who really like Killer Instinct. And while you might not be interested in playing older games, that doesn't mean other people don't enjoy them.
  • Season 2 should be cheaper for those who paid $40 for season 1. It's more or less dlc
  • Its same amount of content if not more (KI2 having online multiplayer and KI1 doesn't) than season 1.
  • Still, its more like an add on. Should be a little cheaper considering when the first one came out they spoke nothing of "Seasons".
  • It's like an add-on in the same way Season 1 is an add-on. They both include an identical level of content, so while we'd all like it to be cheaper, the price is justified. $20 for 8 characters is fine, especially since those characters get to participate in matches against the first batch of characters. You can always hold out for a Season 2 sale - since Season 1 had a sale once, we can expect Season 2 will likely have one sometime next year. But waiting's no fun. :) Also, Seasons have been announced since before the game even launched. See this article from August 2013.
  • Hi Paul, Thanks for the great review.  A couple minor corrections: The default border art actually changes each time you enter the game.  You must finish the game with Gargos if you want the option to change it to be Gargos all the time.  The same applies for all other characters.  The cabinet's side art featured Orchid.  So, if you want the border art to look like the cabinet side art all the time, complete the game as Orchid and then go to the Border Art options and select her art. Also, in the "Play While I Wait" option while waiting for an online match, it will simply resume whatever game you last had in-progress, if any.  Once you finish that game, or if you didn't have a game in-progress when you selected that option you will be able to access the character select for a new game
  • Hey guys! Glad you saw the review. I was actually talking about the bezel art that surrounds the monitor on arcade machines, but I had blanked on the word. Bezel art is the perfect widescreen border for vintage arcade games, except poor KI2 had no bezel art on the sides. I changed that section to be more specific, as well as incorporating your corrections on the borders and "Play while I wait" feature.
  • Should of add KI one. I think more players would of enjoyed that over KI2...
  • Killer Instinct Classic (KI1)  came out November 2013 as a part of Season 1 Killer Instinct 2013 Xbox One. Killer Instinct one as you call it (I call it Killer Instinct Arcade and Killer Instinct 2 Arcade :) ) is mentioned in the article.  
  • The KI arcade games should have been sold seperately for $5 each. 
  • I really like how when you click resume game, it takes you right into the game. No loading.
  • And the music is great
  • So I installed KI2 for free last Weekend just to get cockblocked when it came to actually playing it. Whenever I made a Character selection ( 8 from S1 / 2 from S2 ) I was prompted to shell out money OR was informed that the Character Story was not yet ready. Did I miss something?
  • Only one character in Killer Instinct is free at any given time. Right now It's TJ Combo. The Season 1 characters are the only ones who can currently be played in Arcade mode. The Season 2 characters will gain Arcade mode support at a later date. With the current free character, you can play Survival Mode or multiplayer.
  • The achievements on this are a lot easier than KI Classic 1. You can turn the difficulty down to very easy on this and it actually has an effect unlike KI Classic 1 :)
  • Used to love this game, but season 1 and 2 has spoiled me too much, feels a bit dated now.
  • Why can't I find anybody to play this game with me? :(