Tag Archives: killer instinct

FGC #455 Weaponlord

Here come some weapons!This FGC series has been all about games that aped Mortal Kombat in an effort to reclaim the hearts and wallets of the youth of America. Some games copied the superficial, some copied the attitude, and some did their best to emulate the gameplay involved. All took different routes, but all managed to copy something about the original Mortal Kombat formula. These are all games that, if not for Mortal Kombat, would be very different animals.

And that isn’t always a bad thing.

Weaponlord is, indisputably, a game influenced by Mortal Kombat. Right from the start, we’ve got an edgy font describing a tournament led by a hulking barbarian warrior that is out for blood and/or conquering the known world. Press start, and you’ll be treated to a bloody battle between warriors that may end in a fatality. Do you enjoy tearing body parts off people? This is better than Time Killers (though, granted, the same can be said of poking yourself with a sharp stick). And, complete with a hasty Genesis port, it seems like Weaponlord exists solely to ride Mortal Kombat’s coattails straight to the Successful Fighting Games’ Ball (monocles are mandatory).

But Weaponlord did not start with Mortal Kombat. Weaponlord started with Street Fighter 2.

Weaponlord’s lead designers, James Goddard and Dave Winstead, were originally from Capcom. Remember Dee Jay? The Jamaican street fighter that was the only Made in America character on the roster? Well, you can attribute that Maximum dancer to Goddard. And given this was the start of the fighting game scene, Goddard and Winstead knew a thing or two about fighting games, and wanted to bring the genre into the next century. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, their goal was to leave the arcade behind, and bring the competitive scene into everyone’s living room. These pioneers wanted to see battles online.

Too bad they were about a decade too early.

Korr Blimey!Goddard and Winstead did not have enough support at Capcom to realize their vision, but Namco was ready to fund such an endeavor. Unfortunately, the only reliable online console play infrastructure at the time was XBAND, which was, naturally, based on dial-up technology. This offered a challenge to the creators of Weaponlord: how could you design a high-octane fighting game that relied on the same connection that could barely download a JPG? (I experience a certain level of pride when I consider how I am now responsible for a website where just one GIF would likely crash my original AOL-based computer.) Goddard and Winstead had to do their best to create a game optimized for 24K (seriously, not even 56K). How did they manage to pull that off? Simple! They added weapons (hey, that’s in the title!).

A number of fighting games treat weapons like bonus limbs. Even in worthwhile, non-Time Killers based games, items like metal claws or someone’s stimulating new bat are still treated exactly like another fist. And, in a way, this makes perfect sense. Street fighters routinely hold an elbow up to defend against literal great balls of fire, a thrown knife or katana is clownshoes by comparison. But, in anything resembling reality, punch properties are very different from sword stuffs. Some games revel in this difference, but the typical crouch and block was still standard for weapon-y fighting games of the 90’s. But Weaponlord decided to do something a little different. A parry system was created, so fighters were encouraged to cross swords and defend offensively (kind of like in the later Street Fighter 3). This not only created a system wherein swords actually seemed to do sword things (like in the movies!), but also allowed for some micro breaks in the action where a lagging modem could catch up. The player watches radical sparks fly over clashing warriors, and the RAM just has to produce a simple parry, not an ineffective seventeen hit string on a dude sitting there blocking. Everybody wins!

Belly buttonThat takes care of one memory issue, but if you wanted a videogame in 1995 to look good, you had to limit the number of characters, too. Weaponlord features big, chunky heroes and villains, and the graphics are pretty dang swanky for the same system that could barely render a raft without slowdown back in the day. Unfortunately, that meant a roster of merely seven fighters. And this isn’t even a Mortal Kombat situation, wherein there are seven fighters, but two or three more additional, unplayable bosses. Seven is all you get! But, as a compromise, Weaponlord’s fighters all have at least nine (or so) special moves, a number practically unheard of even today. And that’s special! There is a lot to learn about each individual fighter, and, if you’re the type that really likes to specialize in a “main”, then have at it. It will take you forever to master just one lord o’ weapons.

So, while Weaponlord may initially appear to be simply another Mortal Kombat clone (and one that, given the artistic style, was also trying to ape Todd McFarlane so bad), it was very much its own beast, practically from the ground up. It was created by people who knew what they were doing, knew exactly the market they were aiming for, and knew precisely how to adapt to the environment they desired. A weapons-based fighting game with online functionality was going to be the future of gaming, and Weaponlord was poised to not simply be a Mortal Kombat clone, but the next, real Mortal Kombat that changes the face of fighting games.

And then it crashed and burned, because who the hell had an XBAND!? What the $^*% is Catapult Entertainment?

Weaponlord seemed to do everything right for specifically what it wanted to do, but where it wanted to be simply didn’t exist yet. The arcade scene would still be healthy for another few years, and online play wasn’t established enough to push Weaponlord past the glut of unremarkable fighting games of the era. It may have earned the cover for Gamepro one month, but Weaponlord was not on the top of everyone’s Christmas list. Without an arcade presence, Weaponlord languished as yet another console fighter practically indistinguishable from Fighter’s History. The seemingly inevitable sequel teased in a number of Weaponlord’s endings was never to be…

Except…

Namco, publisher of Weaponlord, did happen to release a weapons-based fighter again shortly thereafter…

THE SOUL STILL BURNS

And Soulcalibur is a franchise that isn’t shy about acknowledging its origins…

This specific soul still burns
Mostly burning

But what of the creators of Weaponlord? Well, James Goddard stuck around the industry, and he wound up working on another game that many called a Mortal Kombat wannabe…

This has nothing to do with souls

And considering Killer Instinct is easily the game on Xbox One I have played the most, I’m going to say that title worked out.

What does this all mean? Well, basically, without this back in the 90’s…

WHAMMO

We wouldn’t have this…

Now we're back to burning

Today and on my Playstation 4.

Not all “copies” are bad. Sometimes the popularity of another game is what allows a new game to exist in the first place. And sometimes the innovations of that game lead to all new experiences that endure for years to come (and then let us fight a robot lady). Mortal Kombat may have konquered the world with its innovation, gameplay, cast, blood, and humor; but it birthed a lineage that went to some exciting places. Some of its progeny may have been forgotten to the ages, but they all fit in the rich tapestry that is…

Oh screw it, I’m done with this MK retrospective series now. Need to grab a controller and get back to delivering some sweet uppercuts.

FGC #455 Weaponlord

  • System: Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. The Genesis version is apparently a port of the originally intended Super Nintendo version, so your best bet is likely the ‘intenda.
  • Number of players: May our next game be a single player title.
  • OuchFavorite Fighter: Remind me to make a game starring warring barbarians, as the outfits required seem to all be variations on “throw some fur over those naughty bits”. That said, Jen-Tai is basically Red Sonja, and her default standing stance shouts, “You hit me with your sword, and then I break your face.” That is exactly what I want from a game titled Weaponlord.
  • Story Time: I want to say this is one of the earliest fighting games to have a dedicated “story mode”, and not simply “be happy your character has a unique ending”. It’s not that different from your typical (and offered) arcade mode, but it does change slightly depending on who you choose to kill along the way. Killer Instinct 2 arcade would ape this kind of storytelling in its arcade version a year later, so that’s another point for Weaponlord being ahead of its time.
  • What’s the Password? This is also the rare fighting game that saves your progress in story mode with passwords. That… feature didn’t catch on.
  • Did you know? I joke, but the XBAND was fairly successful for its time. The company also hosted a promotional tournament featuring various games on its service, which led to Peter Kappes of Orlando winning a grand prize of $200, a custom player icon, and the honor of being the first person in history to win a national tournament over a videogame console.
  • Would I play again: I would be very happy with a Weaponlord 2, but this Weaponlord is a little too roster limited for my tastes. I’m a random select kind of guy! And speaking of random…

What’s next? Random ROB is back to randomness, and has selected… Asura’s Wrath for the Playstation 3! Asura is gonna get his revenge! Please look forward to it!

We're done

FGC #453 Killer Instinct

KILLER INSTINCTMaybe Mortal Kombat was successful simply because it had a little support…

Nintendo has a weird history with the arcades. Donkey Kong is amazing. Donkey Kong is a game that is still, to this day, played in arcade cabinets across our nation’s seven remaining arcades. But past Donkey Kong? The likes of Clu Clu Land, Balloon Fight, or friggen Ice Climber never made a remotely similar smash. Even Donkey Kong’s sequels, DK Jr. and Stanley’s Big Adventure, received lukewarm receptions compared to many of their contemporaries. Pac-Man wound up with some warmly received sequels, but there was never a Ms. Donkey Kong to put Nintendo at the top of the arcade again.

But it could easily be argued that Nintendo didn’t ever need to rule the arcade. Sure, it would be nice to have more money and a market 100% held in Mario’s fireball-tossing hands, but Nintendo so totally dominated the console market that it seemed almost quaint that companies bothered with that other hardware. And when your Street Fighters or Mortal Kombats finally had to make their way to people’s basements and bedrooms, it was Nintendo holding the keys to the door. Nintendo would get a piece of that arcade dough one way or another, it just might need to send out an issue of Nintendo Power to remind its loyal base it was time to get hyped about that game they played at the mall a year ago. And don’t forget to promote Mario Paint if there are a few pages left!

COMBO REGULAR!But it seems like the cradle of the baby N64 Empire decided to include an arcade pacifier. Back in 1994, Nintendo struck up a deal with WMS Industries, the parent company of Midway, and started development of arcade cabinets based on Nintendo 64 architecture. Excuse me, at the time, it was known as ULTRA 64. Cruis’n USA was born of this union, and, just to prove that Nintendo was a “mature” and “serious” company, we also saw Rare create Killer Instinct, a fighting game more than a little inspired by Mortal Kombat.

Killer Instinct had it all. You want stylish fights that employ the cerebral combo system of Street Fighter? We got that! And you can even dial-a-combo if linking a special move to a sweep kick is a little too complicated. Oh! And great special moves! Totally unique for every character! Unique punches, kicks, and even combo breakers, too! But there’s blood! So much blood! These fighters are blood balloons, just like in Mortal Kombat, and you can even do fatalities. They’re called “No Mercies”, but every character has two, and a cool CGI movie plays afterwards. It’s rad! We’ve got stylish finishers with Ultimate and Ultra Combos! And funny finishers with our Humiliations! And the final boss? If you thought Goro was a menace, you’re going to love Eyedol! And you can even play as him if you know the code! Killer Instinct is jam-packed with every fighting game convention you could ever want.

In fact, it almost seems like Killer Instinct was designed by committee to be the “ultimate” fighting game. Not only did it adopt practically every beloved trope from the genre at the time, but it also seemed to lean heavily into disguising its own flaws. The sleek, “metallic” graphics of the Ultra 64 might look futuristic… but they can’t render a human being that looks human. But does that matter when you only have four humans on the roster? Do you want to play as “the ninja” or “the girl”, or do you want to try out the dinosaur, skeleton, werewolf, fire elemental, ice alien, or robot? B. Orchid looks vaguely monstrous, Hot stuffwhich is probably why you’re more likely to pick one of the roster’s literal monsters. Nobody wanted to see this engine’s M. Bison, they went straight for a hulking ogre with a club. In a way, it seems obvious how Killer Instinct was calculated to be the king of the arcade.

And, honestly, that was a break from about 90% of fighting games released in the 90’s. So many games were chasing the tails of Street Fighter and then Mortal Kombat that it seemed like a great many shot out of development studios before even the tiniest bit of polish. In fact, that was likely seen as a feature, not a bug, as if Fighter’s Generic Championship actually wound up being a hit, then they’d make it an actually good game for the Super Fighter’s Generic Championship Turbo upgrade. Much like many gaming fads, a number of games superficially copied what was popular in the genre, but did very little to capture what truly made those games great in the first place (see also later fad examples: GTA, Skyrim). Killer Instinct had all the refinement of a real fighting game release, and the arcade rats of the time responded in kind. To this day, there are those that claim Killer Instinct is one of the best fighting games ever made.

Unfortunately, the Ultra 64 was not one of the greatest systems ever made.

Killer Instinct featured an attract mode that advertised it would soon be coming to your living room through the new, amazing Ultra 64 home console, available shortly. It… was not to be. The Ultra 64 was delayed at least a year past its original mark, and Killer Instinct gradually became old news (oh, hello Mortal Kombat 3). In an effort to not lose on this investment, Nintendo decided to port Killer Instinct to the Super Nintendo for the 1995 Christmas season. It was a blisteringly compromised port, and, give or take a rad black cartridge, it was arguably a complete waste. This isn't the SNES versionOkay, maybe it wasn’t utterly terrible, but a healthy chunk of what made Killer Instinct into an arcade juggernaut was left on the cutting room floor. Maybe it was yet another secret advertisement for the Ultra 64, though, as apparently the SNES wasn’t going to be able to capture the “arcade experience” for much longer…

But if Killer Instinct was ported to the SNES, what would the Ultra 64 have to offer? Killer Instinct 2 was rushed into arcades the following year, and three new human characters were added to the roster, because someone finally figured out how to render a face that didn’t look like it had recently encountered a shovel. And it was a success! It was not nearly as revolutionary as its predecessor (and, in a world where Nintendo didn’t need to promote its latest system, it likely would have “only” been a “super turbo edition”), but it did offer new and interesting twists on the genre, like an insane combo system and branching endings. Thus, there was a new Killer Instinct all ready for the release of the newly-dubbed N64.

And then we got Killer Instinct Gold with (roughly) the launch of the N64.

And then the N64 was a distant second behind the success of the Playstation. And the Playstation’s FMV magic made JRPGs the hottest new genre. And the fighting game fad faded into nothing. And Killer Instinct was never seen again.

It’s pretty obvious what happened: Killer Instinct was supposed to prove the worth of the N64 and Nintendo’s own dominance in the fighting genre… but, despite Killer Instinct doing everything right, the winds of popularity changed directions, and KI was left out in the cold. While KI’s contemporaries went on to see sequels even during the fighting game-lean Playstation 2 years, Killer Instinct sat inert for decades, only returning in 2013 when Microsoft needed a new way to showcase dinosaurs fighting skeletons on its latest gaming hardware. This version of Killer Instinct saw support for a solid five years, and given the overall success of the project, a Killer Instinct “4” would not be the most unusual announcement.

And it just goes to show that all Killer Instinct needed was a little support from its corporate masters, whether they be Nintendo or Microsoft or whoever is next (maybe… Google?). People like Killer Instinct. It is a good franchise. And, in another world, it received the same consistent support as Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat. In that world, Killer Instinct 9 is just gearing up for another reboot, and we’re all anxiously anticipating what crazy bionic implant Sabrewulf is going to get next.

But, in this world, Killer Instinct was doomed by its rulers. In this world, we’re just left to wonder what other games suffered the same fate…

FGC #453 Killer Instinct

  • NO MERCYSystem: Arcade for the big boy version, and then Super Nintendo for the itty bitty version. There was also an even more widdle itty bitty version on the Gameboy, too. Oh, and I suppose we should count the Xbone promotional port of the arcade version. That’s probably your best bet.
  • Number of players: One plus punch equals two.
  • Favorite Fighter: This is a tough one! Glacius is my boy, as a teleporting uppercut is satisfying and useful. But I also might side with Riptor, the first lady of fighting dinosaurs. It’s Dinosaurs vs. Aliens here at Killer Instinct.
  • Imitation is Flattery? Cinder the fire dude is very similar to the eventual Mortal Kombat boss/hidden kharacter Blaze. Spinal the super battling skeleton may as well be Meat of Mortal Kombat 4. And don’t get me started on the similarity between later versions of Reptile and Riptor. Good thing MK never had a werewolf!
  • What’s in a name? The big, scary company that is responsible for the Killer Instinct tournament is known as Ultra Tech. While they are responsible for amazing innovations like reanimating the dead and firing up killer robots, they do seem to be unequivocally evil in the overall plot. This is kind of odd given the whole thing was supposed to promote the Ultra 64.
  • Race Relations: T.J. Combo is very subtly treated extremely terribly by the Killer Instinct narrative. He was a successful boxer, but became disgraced, and was forced to “return to the ghetto” (per in-game bio) for Killer Instinct 1. Then, he was injured during KI, but was caught in the time travel shenanigans of Killer Instinct 2 because he was at the Ultra Tech building “looting”. BOXING!The reboot makes T.J. Combo more “good” and less “greedy”, but still predominantly maintains the same “disgraced boxer” status. This is in sharp contrast to characters like Cinder, who got upgraded from “criminal” to “decorated special forces operative”. I wonder what is different about T.J. Combo from the other fighters that seems to keep him narratively down?
  • Did you know? Eyedol’s ending is a parody of Blanka’s Street Fighter 2 ending, wherein a mother discovers her long lost son has become a fighting monster. Blanka’s real name is revealed to be Jimmy, but Eyedol winds up with “Billy”. Why? Well, say “Billy Eyedol” out loud.
  • Would I play again: I should think so. As a novelty, yes, but the game is pretty good for a 90’s fighter. Now I just need to get that Eyedol code working again…

What’s next? Humiliations are funny and all, but have you ever seen someone fighting with clay? Please look forward to it!

SKELETON!