Shoryuken @ E3 2013 – Killer Instinct Hands-On Part 1: Basic Combo Systems

By on June 17, 2013 at 11:31 am

E3 2013 gave us a chance to go hands-on with Double Helix’s new Xbox One exclusive fighting game, Killer Instinct. This revival of a fan favorite franchise takes the old Killer Instinct system and modernizes it for the current fighting game market. That means longer combos, fairer combo breakers, and incredibly aggressive gameplay.


The game uses the classic Street Fighter three button system of three punches and three kicks. It also uses its own version of the magic series, but in reverse. Dubbed “around-the-world” combos, heavy attacks can chain into medium attacks of the same type (punches to punches) which then chain into light attacks of the same type. Then, with some strict timing, you can connect a heavy of the opposing type (light punch to heavy kick) and continue the circle.

Special moves can be classified as either combo openers, linkers, or enders. Openers, performed with light attacks, are quick and increase the overall damage of a combo. Linkers allow you to transition into an auto-double, extending your combo, and enders tend to knock the opponent away, thus ending the combo, but cause massive damage in the process. Enders actually change as the combo gets longer, increasing in damage and flair. However, this change can also cause some enders to whiff. For example, Jago’s uppercut ender sometimes whiffs under the opponent at higher damage levels due to what I can only assume is increased forward movement.

For those new to the Killer Instinct, auto-doubles are essentially two hit strings that trigger once you use a normal after a linker or opener. They are very easy to connect with and very easy to cancel out of with another special move. In the new Killer Instinct, any normal can be used as an auto-double after a special move, with heavies doing the most damage and lights being the fastest and hardest to break.


Oh yes, c-c-c-c-combo breakers are back in the new Killer Instinct, and they are both simpler to execute and fairer in actual gameplay. Simply press the two buttons that correspond with a normal your opponent is using. For example, LP+LK will break light auto-doubles, MP+MK will break medium auto-doubles, and so on. Combo breakers actually deal damage, so they are incredibly dangerous at low levels of life. However, if you fail to combo break correctly (either with the wrong buttons or wrong timing) the game will lock you out from combo breaking for three seconds, allowing your opponent to go to down with his longest flashiest combo yet. The system is also nice enough to show you how you screwed up, with a red X showing up over your head if you pressed the wrong button, and an orange X showing up over your head if you timed the breaker wrong.

To make breaking a combo harder on your opponent, you can choose to use manuals rather than auto-doubles. Manuals are, essentially, linked moves that connect without canceling out of each other. Manuals can only be broken during their hit-stun, whereas auto-doubles can be broken at any point during their animation. Essentially, you are trading a bit of damage and ease of execution for making the combo much harder to break for your opponent.

Combo Breakers aren’t the only thing that breaks combos in Killer Instinct. As combos continue, a new Knockout Value bar starts building underneath the hit-counter. It fills faster when you use linkers and auto doubles that you have already used previously in the combo and when it fills completely the opponent simply drops out of your combo. The bar also fills incredibly quickly when juggling an opponent, so keep him on the ground as much as possible when doing your combos.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our Killer Instinct Hands-On series where we go over meter management, game flow and DRM.


Angelo M. D’Argenio A.K.A. MyLifeIsAnRPG got his start in the fighting game community as a young boy playing Street Fighter II in arcades down at the Jersey Shore. As president of Disorganization XIII, he travels the convention circuit presenting a variety of panels from discussions on gamer culture, to stick modding workshops, to fighting game comedy acts. He has a passion for looking at the fighting game community from an academic standpoint and has completed several studies on effective fighting game learning and the impact fighting games have on social circles. A six year veteran of the gaming industry, he also writes for Cheat Code Central and is a lead game designer for Ember Games. On Tuesdays, you can find him getting bodied by Chris G and getting mistaken for Seth Rogen at The Break.