Killer Instinct Gold — Issue 38

A killer Nin­tendo 64 fight­ing sequel

It’s not been that long ago that Killer Instinct was still being rec­og­nized in the top ech­e­lon of fight­ing game series. But that was then, and this is now, and folks have a crit­i­cal eye toward the legacy of the defunct series. What folks really want to know: Where does KI Gold – the 2.5 sequel game – appear in that legacy?

I’m old enough to remem­ber the launch of KI2 and then Gold for the Nin­tendo 64 in 1996. I was heav­ily into fight­ing games then, still stick­ing with Mor­tal Kom­bat and look­ing for some­thing new to sup­ple­ment that fight­ing game itch. Enter Gold, which is an upgrade of KI2 for the home mar­ket. It’s a slight uptick in graph­ics, music and tweaks over the arcade ver­sion. The upgrades make it the bet­ter ver­sion of the game and push it toward must-have sta­tus for the N64.

Control-wise, KI Gold is easy to pick up and a lot more acces­si­ble than its pre­de­ces­sor. For con­text, I barely under­stood the combo sys­tem of the first game, but by the time Gold came along, I could hold my own against other KI mas­ters, such as long­time friend of GI David Rhodes. If I could actu­ally win some rounds and every so often matches against him, that’s evi­dence that the sys­tem is improved for casual fans. The con­cept of link­ers and chain com­bos made much more sense with a lit­tle in-game expla­na­tion, so this made the learn­ing process a lot eas­ier to grasp. The change in sys­tems was the best in terms of accessibility.

Gold’s graph­ics are a slight improve­ment over the arcade ver­sion and even more so over the orig­i­nal game. But, in com­par­i­son to other games on the mar­ket at the time, Gold doesn’t hold up par­tic­u­larly well. Putting it along­side other games avail­able at the same time, such as Tekken 2, doesn’t bode well for Gold. In par­tic­u­lar, there are janky tex­tures that snag and tear in the back­ground envi­ron­ments, which detracts from the oth­er­wise solid char­ac­ter models.

The sound­track, much like the pre­vi­ous game, car­ries the bur­den for the rest of the game. Rare’s sound depart­ment was known for pump­ing out good music, and Gold’s sound­track has quite a few bangers. It’s a lot of hard rock and a few techno tracks thrown in for good mea­sure, but it still holds up. In par­tic­u­lar, the char­ac­ter select theme – which was recre­ated for the 2013 revival of the series – is a toe-tapper and still sounds fan­tas­tic on mod­ern sound systems.

But, the per­ti­nent ques­tion still remains: Where does Gold rank in fight­ing game genre legacy? It depends. If you care about flashy com­bos and aren’t too much of a tech­ni­cal con­tent fight­ing purist, Gold is prob­a­bly your fancy. It’s got enough to draw the casual fan in, but it’s light on the tech­ni­cal aspect of fight­ing games that the long­time purist would be look­ing for. It’s fun to play and revisit from time to time, but if you’re look­ing to get bogged down in frame data and dig a lit­tle deeper, Gold isn’t going to be your color. Your best bet is to look to the future of the series, and let this instinct die out.

https://youtu.be/tevpZf962Os