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 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
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!