Normals refer to the moves your character does by optionally holding a direction and simply pressing one button. If you do not hold any direction and press any of the six attack buttons, you will get one of two normals, depending on how far away from your opponent you are. If you are very close to them, you will get a close normal; these normals are typically used in combos and while pressuring your opponent. If you are not directly next to them, you will get a far normal; these normals are often used to control space and prevent your opponent from coming closer.
When you are jumping, your character has access to six jump normals, which are the same whether you are jumping straight up, forwards, or backwards. Street Fighter players will find that jump attacks serve familiar purposes. For example, jumping MK is often an excellent crossup, and jumping HK often extends downwards and is good for making contact with a blocking opponent. Your character also has six crouching normals. They are often fast, well-ranged pokes that are meant to take up space along the ground. Most crouching kicks will hit low.
In addition to this suite of close, far, jumping, and crouching normals, most characters will have one or two command normals, which require both a direction (usually forward or back) plus a button press. Most command normals will serve a very particular purpose for a character, such as hitting overhead or advancing them forwards during pressure.
Normals are the meat and potatoes of a character, as they form a large part of your character's offense. It pays to know which of your normals are fast or slow, which have long or short range, and which generate lots of block advantage. If you are new to fighting games, it can be overwhelming to try to learn a character's entire set of normals at once. In reality, most characters have a small handful of notable normals that are important to learn, and the rest are typically used sparingly, even by advanced players. When reading the character pages, be sure to look at the "Normals to Watch" section to get a sampling of which normals you should prioritize.
Let’s talk a bit about the speed of these normals. Every character has at least one normal that has 5 frames of startup, which is the fastest speed for a normal in Killer Instinct. Your 5-frame normal is always a standing or crouching normal assigned to light punch or light kick. Medium normals are slower than light normals, and heavy normals are slower still. In some Street Fighter games, it is common for some close-range heavy normals to be as fast as light normals on startup, but in KI, they are never faster than around 8 or 9 frames. This means that if you are trying to perform a meaty attack or a frame trap, your timing will have to be more precise if you use medium or heavy attacks.
In fact, many normals in Killer Instinct are slower than their counterparts in Street Fighter games. Most jumping attacks have a surprising amount of startup, requiring you to hit the button slightly earlier than a Street Fighter player might be used to. Jago’s go-to crossups, for example, are jumping MK at 8 frames and jumping HP at a whopping 12 frames. For comparison, most air attacks in Street Fighter games measure between 4 and 6 frames.
Despite this, Killer Instinct has some extremely powerful normal attacks. For example, if a character has a command normal that hits overhead, it is usually frighteningly fast and very long range, especially considering the damage that can come from the resulting combo if you do not block it. While there are some exceptions to the rule (for example, Street Fighter IV's Dudley has a command overhead that hits in an insane 15 frames), it is very uncommon for overheads to be faster than 20 frames and lead to a high-damage combo in Street Fighter games. But KI's Jago, for instance, has a back+HP command overhead with only 19 frames of startup that reaches farther than his crouching MK, is special cancelable into a safe on block move, and leads to the full combo system. When an opponent is cornered, this gives Jago a very simple but very powerful mixup that exemplifies Killer Instinct's potent offense.
Lastly, let’s talk about canceling normals. Virtually every grounded normal in the game is special cancelable, including command normals. This differs from most Street Fighter games, where command overheads are used for low-damage mixups to force your opponent to think twice, and far-ranging standing normals are designed to control space and chip away at approaching opponents. In Killer Instinct, if you hit with a normal, you will be able to find a way to convert it into a combo almost without fail.
Like Street Fighter games, some normals can be canceled into other normals. This manifests itself mostly with chain combos (many characters, though not all, can chain their crouching LP and LK buttons together) and target combos. For more information on how these properties can be used offensively, continue to the Combos section.
A special move is a move that requires more than one input on the analog stick in combination with a button press. Iconic special moves such as fireballs, shoryukens, and hurricane kicks are recognizable to any Street Fighter fan, and Killer Instinct has a very interesting collection of special moves. All non-throw special moves do chip damage; the amount seems to vary, but it’s at or around 10% of the damage of the special move, which is considerably less than Street Fighter games, whose special moves chip at around 25% of their base damage. Most special moves can be executed in one of three strengths depending on the button pressed, which will change properties such as the startup, the distance traveled, and how safe or unsafe on block they are. All special moves can be input using negative edge in KI.
Special moves in Killer Instinct are executed using either a quarter circle motion ( , ), shoryuken motion ( ), or back-forward motion ( , ). There are no half circles or 360 motions in Killer Instinct, and the back-forward motions do not require any charge time. This relaxation of special move commands simplifies the game down to its core more quickly and allows special moves to be input faster on reaction. The shoryuken motion can be executed using the shortcut made famous by modern Street Fighter games ( ), but mashing the move by rubbing the corners is not reliable as the game will not execute the special move if your last input was down or down-back. You can, however, cancel crouching normals into shoryukens easily using the shortcut.
There are a few important things to note about Killer Instinct’s special moves. The first is that special moves behave differently inside and outside of combos. Once you’ve entered Killer Instinct’s combo sequence, all your special move inputs will trigger moves that look and feel slightly different from how they act in the neutral game. This is discussed in much more detail in the Combos section. The second is that, to an uninitiated player, many of the special moves may be hard to distinguish from normals. For example, Jago’s Laser Sword special move might look very similar to his far standing normals, or you might mistake Sabrewulf’s Jumping Slash special move as a normal attack. This is especially true because Killer Instinct's combo system requires that normals and special moves be mixed fluidly and rapidly together. But once you get a little familiarity with the system, which we will work through together, these two potential points of confusion will become clear.
Special moves in Killer Instinct are very good. Almost all of the ones that provide pressure and lead to combos are safe on block, so they can be used during your offense with less fear of being punished. Fireballs are considerably more difficult to jump over than projectiles in Street Fighter games, as light strength projectiles travel very slow and heavy strength projectiles travel very fast, almost too fast to react to from a half screen away. Many special moves have hitboxes that let them crush lows, or become projectile or throw invincible. Jago, Orchid and others have a shoryuken special move that starts in 3 frames, faster than any normal attack. In short, there isn’t a bad special move in the game. Let's take a look at some of them.
The video demonstrates some of KI's special moves. Sabrewulf gets a high-low mixup from long range using the fast low Hamstring and overhead Jumping Slash special moves. While they are unsafe if blocked, reacting is very difficult and you will often have to make a guess about which way to block. Glacius summons two bouncing Hail projectiles, which don't disappear even if Glacius is hit, and then hits you with an unblockable Shatter attack while you watch. TJ Combo can use the armored Powerline to hit opponents from far away, or cancel Powerline into the terrifying Shoot Toss command grab which conveniently starts a combo. Kim Wu uses Dragon Kick as a lightning-fast horizontal move which can anti-air or hit grounded opponents. The fact that most special moves have so many good uses is one of the main causes for Killer Instinct’s very high-paced flow, where characters live on a dangerous border between Street Fighter fair and Marvel vs. Capcom broken. Check out the character overview page for more details on special moves.