The Basics


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 buttonsEach character can use punches and kicks at 3 different strengths, for a total of 6 buttons. The strengths are "light", "medium", and "heavy", and are denoted by LP, MP, HP, LK, MK, and HK. Each of these buttons also has a colloquial name you may hear: in order, they are "jab", "strong", "fierce", "short", "forward", and "roundhouse"., 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 crossupCrossups are aerial attacks which hit behind your opponent's head, forcing them to switch their blocking direction. When mixed with attacks that hit on the front side, it can create offense that is difficult to block., 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.

Jago shows off a collection of close, far, crouching, jumping, and command normals.
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 overheadAn overhead is any attack that must be blocked high. All jumping attacks are overheads, but very few grounded attacks are, which means the defense will often default to a crouching block when both players are grounded. Overheads can be used as surprise offense against opponents who prefer to crouch block a lot. 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 startupStart-up frames indicate an amount of time that must pass before your attack is capable of hitting your opponent. The Killer Instinct training mode has built-in frame data that measures start-up slightly differently than listed in this guide; these LP attacks are listed at 4 frames of startup, indicating that they hit on the 5th frame., 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 attackA meaty attack is an attack that does not make contact with the opponent on the first frame possible, but rather connects near the end of its active window. This term is often used to describe attacking an opponent who is rising off the ground by hitting a button "on top" of their rising body, forcing them to stand up into an attack. or a frame trapA frame trap describes a state where you force an opponent to block an attack, and then immediately use another attack which is fast enough to interrupt any action the opponent tries. Slower normals for the defense means taking a bigger risk when pressing a button., 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 blockIf your opponent blocks your move but you recover before your opponent can retaliate, that move is safe on block. Safe on block moves form the cornerstone of most offense in a fighting game, as they are ways to attempt damage without allowing the defender to easily retaliate. 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.

Jago performs two chained crouching LKs, then converts his overhead into a basic combo from way outside crouching MK range.
Sabrewulf does LP, MP, and HP separately, then together as a 3-hit target combo, then shows it is special cancelable.

Lastly, let’s talk about canceling normals. Virtually every grounded normal in the game is special cancelableA move is special cancelable if the game allows you to input the command for a special move while your first move is making contact with a defender. The special move will immediately execute, "canceling" the recovery frames of the first move., 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 combosA chain combo is a normal that is canceled into itself by rapidly pressing the same button. For example, Jago can press crouching LP three times in a row to get a three-hit chain combo. (many characters, though not all, can chain their crouching LP and LK buttons together) and target combosA target combo is very similar to a chain combo, except the normals are not the same. For example, Sabrewulf can press LP, MP, and HP rapidly in sequence to get a three-hit target combo. Target combos are character-specific.. 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 damageChip damage refers to taking damage while blocking.; 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 edgeNegative edge refers to releasing a button rather than pressing it down. For example, if you press and hold a punch button, then input and release the punch button, Jago will throw an Endokuken; the release of the punch button will trigger the special move. in KI.

Sabrewulf does a mixture of target combos, Ragged Edge special moves, and normals. If you can't tell where one stops and another begins, you're not alone! We'll help clear that up.
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,A blocked move is safe on block if you get control of your character back before your opponent is able to hit you; if he tries to hit you, even with his fastest attack, you will always be able to block. Most safe on block specials will leave you at around -3 to +1 frame advantage on block. Because the fastest normal is 5 frames, -3 is safe against a considerable portion of the cast in this game, unlike some Street Fighter games where it is common to have a 3-frame normal attack that can punish such moves. so they can be used during your offense with less fear of being punishedA blocked move is punishable or unsafe if you do not get control of your character back before your opponent is able to hit you. If your opponent blocks a punishable move and plays correctly, he is guaranteed to land a hit on you. Some moves are only barely punishable by the fastest possible attacks, and earning your punish requires good timing. Other moves, such as powerful invincible "uppercut" moves, can be wildly punishable when blocked, even by very slow attacks. "Punishable" is the opposite of "safe on block".. 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 lowsA special move will crush another move if the special move's hitbox is purposefully designed to avoid certain attacks. Low crush and high crush, or alternatively lower body or upper body invincible, are common properties for special moves in KI., 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.

An assortment of KI special moves. They're all very strong.
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.

What else can you do?

Throws & Knockdowns