So let’s get into the nitty gritty that is Killer Instinct and look at the characters that were available to play at E3 2013. Unfortunately, the floor demo only had two characters to choose from, Jago and Sabrewulf. Still, there was enough depth in these characters alone to keep me playing KI all week long.
Jago is your requisite shoto clone for the game. He has a fireball, a dragon punch, a hurricane kick, and an additional move in his rapid sword slashes. Each of these moves can be done as a shadow move, nearly every one works as a linker and an ender and most work as an opener. He is simple, basic, and has all the tools you need to play a simple conservative KI match.
Jago’s fireball is perhaps his most useful tool in neutral game. When blocked, it gives about half of a stock of meter, 25% of your meter overall. Mixing the opponent up with different speeds of fireball is a great way to start the match with a full bar.
Jago’s shadow moves are best used as openers. They all have incredibly fast invulnerable start-ups that will easily get you in on the opponent. Yes, even his fireball super can do this. It’s not uncommon to see Jago players throwing out a wind-kick super in response to the opponent pressing any button and getting a full combo from there.
Jago’s wind kick and sword slashes are perhaps his best linkers. I personally preferred the wind kick as it has a lot of push back and works great as a corner carry move, as opposed to sword slash which pretty much keeps him in the same place. Jago’s wind kick combo ender causes a wall-splat hit-state. This actually allows you to continue comboing after your combo has ended (although doing so will greatly increase your knockout value). It’s a perfect move to use along with an instinct cancel.
Jago’s instinct mode adds additional frames of hit and block stun to his moves. It’s the block stun which is actually more important in this mode, as nearly every auto-double combos into nearly every other normal even without the instinct mode install. The additional block stun pretty much guarantees a full meter and a mix-up opportunity when you next put the opponent on block.
Jago’s dragon punch may be his most useful special move. It’s incredibly invulnerable, does a ton of damage, has a lot of forward movement, and can be used as a juggling linker if used as a shadow move. Not only that, but multiple shadow uppercuts can be comboed into themselves, much like Akihiko from P4A. It’s also his best ender, doing the most damage of all of his other enders by far.
You can actually play Jago a lot like you would play any other shoto character. His low forward has a ton of range and can cancel into his fireball and remember, blocked attacks build your meter at astounding speed. More importantly, his fireball can also be used as a linker! So you can just play footsies with the opponent and as soon as a low forward into fireball hits, you can go into any combo of choice! If the opponent mis-times a combo breaker you can easily get 50% damage or more off of this one simple poke.
Sabrewulf was the more interesting character of the two, but was also the character I had less time to play around with. He is a combination of a charge character and stance character. He has a command run with numerous followups, as well as many moves that work off of Back-Forward and Down-Up motions. Being that Killer Instinct is such an aggressive game, the charge time for Sabrewulf’s moves is incredibly short allowing you to insert them into your combos easily.
Sabrewulf’s most useful move is his command run itself. It’s incredibly fast and it allows you to cross through your opponent. This allows him to set up incredibly fast left/right mix-up situations after any combo. Sabrewulf also has a lot of aerials that work as cross-ups allowing you to keep the opponent guessing whenever you are on the offensive. Throw in a couple high/low mix-ups and a throw or two and Sabrewulf becomes incredibly difficult to block.
Sabrewulf’s notable specials include a jumping claw slash, a berserker slash style rapid slash, a charged claw swipe, and an anti-air slash. His anti-air has a lot more range than Jago’s, covering his entire head, but is a lot less useful. It doesn’t do much damage, can’t be used as a linker, and has less invulnerability. It can catch the opponent on wakeup, but it won’t lead you ito many combo opportunities.
His rapid slash attack, on the other hand, may be his best special. As a linker, it’s absurdly positive granting you time to follow up with just about anything, including other special moves. It also does a lot of damage and builds a lot of potential damage for an ender as well. Speaking of enders, it’s also quite possibly his best ender to choose from. It does tons of hits, tons of damage, and doesn’t knock the opponent away too far. It’s also great as a shadow move, starting up quick and invulnerable and being basically safe even if blocked. There’s really no bad time to throw this move out.
Unfortunately, his other two moves were less impressive. His jumping claw slash, while great for mix-ups after a cross up dash, is fairly telegraphed. It also doesn’t do a lot of damage and on whiff it’s easy to punish. The shadow version isn’t much better, having limited range and whiffing all together if used a bit more than half a screen away. I personally found that there was nothing this move could do that rapid slashes couldn’t do better.
Sabrewulf’s charged claw swipe command normal also doesn’t have a lot of use. While it had a lot of range, it’s incredibly slow and doesn’t gain any real useful properties when charged to its maximum level. It also knocks the opponent back too far to combo, and in a game that is all about combos, that’s not a good thing.
Sabrewulf’s biggest strength lies in his long range normals. His claw swipes reach easily beyond a character length away, and since his rapid slashes move him forward so much, nearly any random poke can be turned into a combo. His instinct mode allows him to exploit this, making all of his normal faster. In fact, instinct mode makes him so fast he can basically combo the same normal into itself infinitely. Of course, a smart opponent will break this, but if you bait out the opponent’s combo breaker you can literally combo heavy into heavy into heavy into heavy over and over and over again.
He doesn’t have a reliable way to build meter like Jago does, but he also doesn’t rely on his shadow moves nearly as much as Jago does as well. Other than randomly throwing out beserker barrage every so often to keep the opponent on their toes, you’ll more often than not find yourself sitting on a full meter. Sabrewulf excels when played in a relentlessly rushdown fashion. If you can get the hang of this odd combination of archetypes, then Sabrewulf can be an incredibly dangerous character indeed.
Unfortunately, Killer Instinct for the Xbox One hasn’t been given an official release date. However, we will be bringing you more information about the title when it becomes available. Be sure to be on the lookout for a Killer Instinct demo station at this year’s EVO.