Here lies an assortment of random questions that a SFIV player might want to know about Killer Instinct, without reading the entire guide. It should give you a good feel about KI as a game, and how it relates to SFIV, in short, easily digestible chunks.
How much is Killer Instinct like Street Fighter IV?
Quite a bit. Footsies look very similar, complete with good crouching MK buttons and several good zoning characters with uppercut anti-airs. Movement, jumping, cross-ups, throws, frame traps, and all the standard SFIV goodies are very active elements of all fights. The main difference is that Killer Instinct is quite a bit higher paced, since meter builds very fast and characters have much scarier (and safer) mixups in general, and every time you hit someone, you enter KI's unique combo system, where defenders can combo break if they guess or react correctly.
Why should I care about Killer Instinct?
There are lots of excellent fighting games on the market, and it would be presumptuous of me to tell any player why they must care about KI. However, I can tell you what hooked me (and many others) on the game, and you might find some common ground.
- The characters and stages look really cool.
- The combo/counter breaker system is a really different mindgame than anything done in any other fighter, and I was really intrigued by how that impacted the philosophy of fights.
- Breaking shadow linkers with the 1-2-3 parry rules looked really fun.
- Lots of moves were safe, and the game was incredibly fast-paced, which makes the game a hybrid of SF4 and Marvel in a lot of ways.
- The constant switch between offense and defense (trying to figure out how to combo break the instant you get hit) is really mentally engaging. There's never down-time in any KI fight.
How much work is it to learn KI's combo system?
If you understand SFIV, not very much. While there are links, the vast majority of KI's system involves canceling normals into special moves, and then canceling special moves back into normals. If you vary the strength of these attacks a bit to make it difficult to combo break, you've basically learned enough about the system to begin playing competently. The real nuance in KI's combo system is using the combo breaker (and counter breaker) systems well, but you can default to guessing on these elements and still have lots of fun with the game.
Does this mean a beginner can mash buttons and get large combos? Isn't that scrubby?
Nah, it's not scrubby. The system will output a combo even if a player simply does multiple circle inputs and presses random buttons with the controller, yes. However, these combos will not likely win them many matches. They'll probably be easily breakable and they won't be using enders effectively, either accidentally ending combos really early or not ending combos at all, leaving lots of damage on the table. The combos advanced players use are constructed with carefully chosen pieces; they'll often consist of some difficult links and multiple variations on timing that require some practice to input consistently.
So wait, every time I hit my opponent, they can break my combo? Isn't that stupid?
Not really. In fact, the mind games surrounding the combo breaker system are incredibly fun to participate in, and unlike anything in other fighting games. Trying to break and failing earns you a lockout, and you can't try to break again for at least 3 seconds. It's a 1 in 3 guess for the defender (assuming correct timing), so it's not a winning play to guess long term, and a lot of the combo moves are right on the border of human reaction, making combo breaking a very difficult skill to apply effectively. The offense can "counter break" the defense's combo break attempt for a pure trump card at any time (though it stops the offense's combo and they're punishable if they're wrong), which makes for an exciting mental tug of war. And finally, the offensive tools in KI are very strong. Even if your combo is broken, it won't be long before you get another chance.
How good is the online play?
The KI netcode uses a rollback model like GGPO, and is very stable. While netcode is never perfect, Killer Instinct has, in my opinion, the best online experience out of all the high-profile fighting games on the market and plays a big part in the health of the game.
How good is zoning? How good is rushdown?
The focus of the game is primarily rushdown. There are a few characters capable of pure zoning in the game, and they can do it effectively enough to place highly in tournaments, but even they have competent rushdown tools and most archetypes in the game are hybrids.
Are there vortexes ?
Yes and no. Yes because some characters can earn hard knockdowns and land a really ambiguous crossup on you, and then finish their combo into another hard knockdown. But more importantly, no because most of the knockdowns in the game are soft knockdowns, and every time your opponent starts a combo, you have an opportunity to combo break.
How balanced is the game?
It's pretty good! KI is full of a lot of very interesting characters, many of them unlike a character in any other fighting game, and all of them feel very strong. Some might be slightly stronger than others, but no character is so bad that they can't place very highly in a tournament. The game is also under constant flux, so balance patches come out once per month. Several fighting game veterans are on the development staff, making sure that the dumb stuff gets removed while the fun stuff stays.
Are there unblockables?
Yes. Glacius has a special move that is strictly unblockable and leads to a combo, for example, but he can't do it if you're already in block stun. In KI, you block projectiles away from the point character, so there are no left-right unblockables to my knowledge. There are, however, one or two difficult-to-execute high-low unblockables in the game, although they are not commonly seen in tournaments as of now.
Are there character-specific combos?
Very, very few. Some very small hitbox issues aside that only affect one or two moves in the game (and are constantly being addressed by the developers), all combos will work on all characters once you land the initial hit. Characters do have differently sized hitboxes, however, so some crossups work better on certain characters than others, for example. Also, the characters have static hitboxes that do not sway in their idle or reel animations. After years of playing SFIV, isn't that nice?
Are there option selects?
Yep. You can't really get rid of these things (it's debatable why you would even want to), but the preference for rushdown and pressure on soft knockdowns means doing safe jumps into OS is far less common than in SFIV, and you definitely don't need vast knowledge of safe jumps and OSes to apply pressure to characters in this game. That said, you can option select people if they try to do slow reversals or backdashes if you have researched a particular setup, and you can buffer whiffed normals into special moves in the neutral game, just like SFIV.
How does the input system work? Is there plinking ? Can you kara moves?
The input priority system works in reverse to SFIV. Lower strength moves take priority over higher strength moves, so pressing all three punch buttons will get you a light punch. There is no plinking in KI, although there is a special input buffer which allows you to execute shadow moves even if your two attack buttons are not on the same frame. Kara attacks are possible (for example, Sadira can kara throw using her web traps in instinct mode), but they are definitely not nearly as prevalent as kara moves in SFIV.
Are there input shortcuts? Can you mash DPs?
The only special moves in KI are quarter-circles, shoryukens, and non-charge back-forward or down-up. So there don't need to be special shortcuts for 360s or half-circles, or charge partitioning, or any of that stuff. That said, the shortcut does execute a shoryuken, but if you finish your input on down or down-back, your move will not come out, which greatly impacts your ability to mash the corners and execute a DP. There is a reversal window that makes reversals pretty easy after a knockdown (the window is greater than out of block stun), so if your opponents wants to reversal, it's going to come out.
Is there a comeback mechanic?
Yes, KI has something called "instinct mode", which is a character-specific comeback mechanic. You earn it by taking damage or breaking combos, and you'll probably get two uses of its 15-second window per match. It's not always higher damage or faster movement; in fact, usually, it's something that requires planning and skill to implement into your game, like an extra move or mobility option. Even so, the best instincts in the game will change the complexion of the match considerably, just not in a Marvel level 3 X-Factor kind of way.