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Monday's Twitch Rivals was a reminder that Killer Instinct should live again

There are still no plans for a new Killer Instinct sequel, but if Monday's Twitch Rivals tournament showed anything, it's that the Xbox team should make it happen.

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It's been almost eight years since the Killer Instinct franchise was resurrected. The game was largely overshadowed by the Xbox One's rocky launch period, one mired in bad PR. In 2021, though, Killer Instinct is fondly remembered as one of the last gaming generation's best (and often overlooked) fighting games. On Monday, it was celebrated through an epic Twitch Rivals tournament, one that served as a reminder that gaming is richer for having Killer Instinct in it. And yes, Killer Instinct needs to come back.

Monday's Twitch Rivals tournament was first announced last Wednesday, March 27. Fighting game streamer and Killer Instinct aficionado Maximilian Christiansen (a.k.a. Maximilian Dood) announced that he would be holding a special tournament called "Killer Instinct Lives!" in conjunction with Twitch, where many of the top KI players would be invited to take part in the exhibition. The prize pool was a modest $5,000 USD, but there was something more important on display: a community's passionate love for their fighting game, a game that they still hold out hope will one day return.

The story of Killer Instinct is a complicated one. Many remember the aforementioned Xbox One launch, widely considered one of the worst periods of public relations in modern gaming, stemming from Microsoft's stance on DRMs for used games. For fighting game fans, who felt as disrespected as many other sections of players, it meant that the Xbox-exclusive Killer Instinct was to be seen as an affront. Judgement was passed immediately. Evo 2013 was remembered for Killer Instinct debuting to deafening boos. It looked like nobody was going to give it a chance.

Then something funny happened. Killer Instinct ended up being pretty good. Much of that was a credit to developer Double Helix, who crafted an excellent reboot of Rare's old-school SNES fighter. Characters were reimagined, the combo system was modernized, and the fighting was balanced and fun. At the time, I criticized it for a lack of variety and game modes. In hindsight, I also judged it more for the Xbox One's stiff D-pad than anything else. However, many of those issues were addressed over time. Xbox wasn't planning to release Killer Instinct as a full product. The plan was to make it last a generation. It was a plan that seemed ill-fated after Double Helix left the project following an acquisition by Amazon.

Then Iron Galaxy took over and what started off as a decent fighter gradually began to morph into the fighting game that defined the Xbox One generation. Iron Galaxy built on the foundation laid out by Double Helix and began to add legions of new fighters, many of them introducing brand new mechanics that shook up the game in new and exciting ways. Cameo fighters like Halo's Arbiter and Battletoads' Rash soon joined the fray. The roster became more complete and Killer Instinct became whole.

All that led to Monday's Twitch Rivals 32-player tournament, which culminated with Brian "Hologramx" Ruiz's Thunder facing Dayton "Wheels" Jones' Gargos in the Grand Finals. Fans were treated to a clinic, featuring heavy-hitting combos, Combo Breakers, and Shadow Counters. Hologramx looked to have the series in hand with an early 2-0 lead, but Wheels' skilled Gargos play, in which he combined well-timed blocks with Gargos' pesky minions, allowed him to reset the bracket. Hologramx would ultimately take the second set 3-1, concluding an outstanding tournament.

This was the kind of tournament that could only happen under a unique set of circumstances. First off, Killer Instinct is a joy to watch as it is, thanks to the work that Iron Galaxy put into it. Secondly, it needed the netcode to make it work. If anybody recognized the importance of strong online play in a fighting game, it was Iron Galaxy. Lastly, it needed the passionate community to make it captivating. Every person in this tournament from eventual winner Hologramx, to FGC celebrity players like David "Ultradavid" Philip Graham and Brandon "Tuboware" Brockman, to the people calling the action, including Maximilian himself, has been passionate about Killer Instinct and what it has contributed to the fighting game community.

Monday felt special. It felt like catharsis for a fighting game world that continues to be rocked by COVID-19's impact on live tournaments. More than that, though, it felt like a plea to the Xbox team to make Killer Instinct live again. As of November, Iron Galaxy stated that they have no plans to work on a new Killer Instinct. Does that mean somebody else will take up the task? Will Iron Galaxy eventually be brought back into the fold? Will KI come back someday? The community hopes so, especially because, if nothing else, some of the right people appeared to be watching on Monday night.

"The thing is, today proves that KI still lives," Maximilian said at the end of the night. "There's still people playing it, there's still amazing commentators, and amazing developers that went into the time to make this game the absolute ridiculous fighting game spectacle that it is on a viewership level and on a gameplay level, which is why I love Killer Instinct so much."

Whether the Xbox team opts to revive Killer Instinct for the Xbox Series X generation remains to be seen. If they don't, though, we do know one thing: The passionate Killer Instinct community will keep playing, their fire for the game will continue to burn, and they will continue to voice their desire to #BringBackKI.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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