I’ve always had a little bit of a problem with Season Passes for games. Agreed, they’re a good way to get all the content for a game, but realistically you won’t know exactly how good it’ll be until all the content is released.
What’s even more problematic is when you’re asked to review a Season Pass, as it inevitably leads to the question “when?” Should you base it on the first content that’s released? Should it be an on-going, evolving review? Should you score it based on each part released and update it as it goes along?
Having thought long and hard on this question, having been given the code for Killer Instinct Season 3 a while ago, I determined that the only way you can score a “season” of a game is in retrospect, once you have access to everything you’re paying for. Whilst the characters were drip-fed over the course of months, with the last being released in July, the final piece of advertised Season 3 content drops today, and so I’ve waited until now to provide Invision’s readers with an accurate review of Season 3 as a whole.
Those of you reading this probably already know what Killer Instinct is, but for those unsure, KI is a fighting game franchise hailing from the 90’s which had a revival in 2013 to critical acclaim. A systematic and thematic cross between Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, the 2013 reboot named simply KI is already well known for its combo-based gameplay and brutal, monstrous graphical style. Unlike the original, it has been released in microtransactional parts, with characters and content sold either individually or in “Seasons.” Season 1 was released in 2013, with 8 characters and an arcade mode for those characters. Season 2 came out in 2014/15, with another 8 characters and another mode for those characters.
Finally we get to Season 3; Season 3 contains 8 new characters to play as in both Multiplayer and the new Shadow Lords mode; released today. Until the release of Shadow Lords, these 8 characters could only be played in training or Multiplayer, with no single-player content whatsoever. I’ll go over each character individually before covering the single-player component.
Rash is a guest character from Battletoads, who can transform his body at will to attack his enemies. Being a giant toad with sunglasses, he’s pretty cool to look at and play as. He also has a multi-coloured alt skin which I loved as I couldn’t help feeling like each win was a little slap in the face. “Yes, you’ve just been beaten by a giant bodybuilding Rainbow amphibian.”
He also has a Conker outfit, based on Rare’s other well-known character. I approve.
Honestly, from my time with KI Rash was my favourite character, with some incredibly powerful combos and attacks which just scream to be spammed. From his tongue grapple, allowing for quick movement across the stage, to his Miley-like wrecking ball move, I found him to be pure fun.
A fast fashion-design student with flaming nunchaku, Kim Wu is a devastating warrior with “a friggin’ dragon.” She’s a spunky character with a surprising amount of weight behind her and pretty good range. Her jumping punches have some real power behind them with some awesome animations, and her Dragon Kata attacks are really cool, making button-mashing cool again. Her Dragon grasp also makes for an incredibly useful ability, as it flips her to the other side of the enemy for a flanking attack.
This hulking, hunching beast from Halo is a decent fighter for players new to the game, with a variety of attacks which deal heavy damage and keep enemies on their toes. He’s a no-brainer for Halo fans with a good move set to back him up and a decent ranged attack to keep enemies off balance.
Tusk is a heavy, dangerous barbarian with a great sword. If you want a character with some real weight behind him Tusk is a good choice, though be warned that many of his attacks simply can’t be cancelled to defend. Whilst he has a chance of a counter during said attacks, they do leave him at the mercy of your enemies. However, if you hit you’re sure to do some decent damage. He’s also got a steampunk costume and a kilt, so I’m a fan.
Vampiress Mira has slowly grown to be my second favourite character, due to her incredible speed and spinning multi-level playstyle. She feels a lot lighter than other characters in season 3, fluidly flying around the screen like an absolute beast tearing enemies to shreds. Regardless, her attacks have a satisfying edge which make her really fun to play. Her animations are also spectacular, with her metallic splatter bringing a different edge to the classic “vampiric” character.
Gargos is exactly what he sounds like; a monstrous, demonic living gargoyle with a heart of evil, and unsurprisingly he’s turned out to be the main antagonist of the Shadow Lords mode. Originally appearing in 1996’s KI2, he’s a massive character with a few interesting gimmicks in his move-set including the ability to summon minions and open portals for long-distance punching. Despite his size, he’s actually pretty quick on his feet (and wings.) If you’re looking for an obliterating powerhouse with a lot of interesting toys, Gargos is your guy.
Mister RAAM is probably my least favourite of the new characters, as in comparison he just looks bland. Granted, I was never a Gears of War fan, but regardless his look just isn’t that compelling as the others. What interests me about him is his size, which is comparable to Gargos, and his unique abilities which involve swarms of small carnivorous beasts. He isn’t particularly easy to combo with and his attacks are pretty slow, so you really need to use other means to beat your enemies.
Another favourite of mine, Eyedol was the final boss of the original Killer Instinct; a two-headed demon cyclops. Though recently zombified (and missed half his heads,) Eyedol has some amazing attacks and combos which feel amazing to pull off. He also definitely has some of the best alt costumes in season 3, with a Halloween variation which just made roll laughing. He’s heavy and slow, but awesomely powerful with his glowing club. I’m not usually a big fan of huge, heavy characters, but Eyedol is a fun exception to that.
There we have it, all 8. Whilst it isn’t a bad selection of characters, I do have a couple of qualms with them; mainly regarding their selection. Two of the eight are previous boss characters and three are guest appearances from other franchises. Now don’t get me wrong, I like a little fan-service, but because of this 5/8 characters feel like fan-service which I’m not part of. If you’re a newbie to the series, season 3 isn’t exactly going to be very accessible. Luckily, the variations between the characters are pretty stark, and despite many of them being big and heavy they do feel somewhat distinct.
Up until today, that was all that there was to Season 3. A bunch of characters. Due to the limitations of Killer Instinct’s business model, none of these characters could participate in a single player mode, leaving the “season” as nothing but a character pack. If I’d have reviewed it before today, I would have looked upon this as a poor value purchase, as it paled in comparison to the content of the other seasons despite the £15.99 price tag. There was a hole where single-player content should have been. Luckily their intention had always been to release Shadow Lords, a huge new game-mode full of single player content which combines old and new characters together in a world-spanning adventure.
The concept is this; Gargos has returned from a different dimension to take over the world and someone needs to prepare the fighters of the world to defeat him before he corrupts everything. It plays in some ways like a fighter-roguelite with a basic story, as you’re tasked to fight mimic versions of KI characters and Omens in order to weaken Gargos, before a final, world-saving final battle. Throughout your battles you earn items, powerups and Guardian beasts which give you extra, special powers, which you can use to craft even better items.
At the start of each “run”, you choose a Primary character from your bought characters, who acts as your Captain. You aim is to collect enough bits and bobs to help you power up your characters until the final battle, and for the most part it works incredibly well. It feels like the single-player mode Killer Instinct was missing, with heaps of story and some difficult choices scattered through a map-based adventure. Granted, you’re not exactly running around an open world, but as a method of linking a variety of varied and interesting fights it’s really a treat.
I only have two issues with the mode; the first is the fact that it almost feels like a method to encourage micro-transactions, as there are a variety of items you can buy with the premium KI currency; coins. However, as all items can be earned without this, I suppose it can be forgiven to a degree. My other issue is that of the 8 season 3 characters, you can only use 6 of them in the mode from the start. Whilst I understand stopping you from using Gargos or Eyedol for story reasons, I believe that if you’ve bought these characters as part of season 3 you should be able to play as them in the single-player mode of season 3! Call me old fashioned, but I like to be able to use what I pay for.
Overall, with the addition of Shadow Lords Killer Instinct: Season 3 is a pretty good value package. Most of the 8 new characters are distinct and fun to play, bringing a good level of variety to the existing roster and providing plenty of fan-service for fans of KI, Rare and Microsoft’s other games. The new mode is a breath of fresh air to the game, even if it arrived to the party far too late. In addition, the PC version runs incredibly well, with beautiful textures and frame-rates that would easily make any console-gamer jealous.
In short, I’m relatively pleased with how Season 3 of Killer Instinct turned out; after a slow start. I just hope that the inevitable Season 4 continues to build on this excellent framework with more modes and characters which remain compatible with Shadow Lords.
Killer Instinct Season 3 is available for £15.99 on its own, or in the definitive edition bundle with all the other content in the Definitive edition for £31.99 on the Microsoft Store.