Killer Instinct Season 2 – Riptor First Impressions and Beginner’s Guide

Riptor - Fulgore's Stage Stare
Standard

‘Tis the season to be jolly…and also very much the season to rip the flesh off your opponents velociraptor-stylee. Say hello to Riptor, December’s Killer Instinct Season 2 character.

A returning fan favourite character from the original Killer Instinct with some creative new twists to her original design, Riptor, or to give her full title, the ‘Riptor Advanced Combat and Infiltration Unit’, is a cybernetically enhanced velociraptor. I’ll repeat that again in caps for coolness’ sake; RIPTOR IS A CYBERNETICALLY ENHANCED VELOCIRAPTOR. Fuck yes indeed.

Developed as a rival bio-military asset to Ultratech’s Terminator-like Fulgore units, Riptors are designed to be all-terrain infiltration attack units that are used to attack as frontline weapons in jungle environments – i.e. places where the more expensive and delicate Fulgore units don’t function as effectively. In other words, she’s fast, lethal and absolutely one hell of a clever girl.

Her personal stage, Hatchery 09, is a dark mountainous rocky path outside a presumably top-secret Ultratech facility. The dark purple hues of the stage create a lush yet sinister mood, complete with the flickering orange embers from the burning wreckage of a crashed aeroplane and bright yellow phosphorus trails from a salvo of missiles which rain down on the stage when an Ultra is performed.

Mick Gordon’s music on this stage has taken more of an orchestrated and cinematic turn, which is great – it’s full of bold brass and jagged string strikes, which sound like something that could be right out of Jurassic Park.

In my opinion though, this is the first musical track in the game that is just ever-so-slightly disappointing; due to my own unhealthy fascination with dinosaurs and the knowledge that Mick has a consistently impressive track record of producing some brutally heavy robo-themed metal beatdowns, I was champing at the proverbial bit for some epic new metal chugs ‘n’ dubstep wubs. After the djent-flavoured hypnotic brutality that was Kan-Ra’s theme, the more subtle orchestral treatment of Riptor’s theme feels a little anti-climactic – but nonetheless, it still sounds very cool.

So without further ado, let’s tear open Riptor’s command list and feast upon the juicy moves contained within.

Dino-might

Riptor - Riptor's Stage Roar

My, what big teeth you have Grandma Riptor…”All the better to beat you up with my dear…”

As you might expect from a terrifying robo-raptor, Riptor is primarily a rushdown character – she wants to get in close to snap, claw and tear away at her opponents with her claws, talons and teeth. She’s extremely fun to play; you get to hit a lot of button combos very fast and frequently in a similar fashion to Sabrewulf, and completely overwhelming your opponent with a flurry of claw slashes, bites, headbutts and tail whips feels incredibly satisfying. However, thanks to that lethal techno-tail of hers, as well as some other tricks up her scaly sleeves, Riptor also has some interesting ranged/keepaway options, as well as some context-specific projectile attacks, making her stand apart from previous rushdown fighters.

Incidentally, Riptor’s command list is almost entirely preserved from her original one back in 1994, so those players who mastered her control inputs in the original game will feel right at home here…as long as home feels like a fire-breathing 6’2″ muscly mass of teeth and claws.

Everybody Walk…ahem, Run the Dinosaur

Riptor - Riptor's Stage Running

Run Riptor, Run!

Okay, so let’s start with the basics. The first thing you’ll immediately notice when playing as Riptor is that you’re actually playing as a fucking dinosaur – neat huh? Once that monumental fact has sunk in, the next thing that you’ll notice pretty quickly is that Riptor is the only character (so far) who can run both forwards and backwards. That’s great news for you, and not so great news for your opponent – i.e. Riptor’s lunch.

Known as the Primal Run and the Survival Run, these two run manoeuvres offer up some special and command attack options; this is naturally a fantastic thing, as it allows you to get in close, slash/claw/maim/tear/disfigure your opponent for a bit before running backwards to get some breathing room when you need it. I found that the two most useful attacks to pull off when in Primal Run were hitting Heavy Punch to get Riptor to shoot out a jet of flame which is great for opening combos, whilst Heavy Kick makes her lash out her tail to tackle your opponent to the ground for a hard knockdown.

What’s fantastic about the backwards-moving Survival Run in particular is that it allows you to apply pressure to your opponent even when retreating. Just like with the Primal Run, pressing different attack buttons when running backwards allows you to quickly get an unanticipated strike in – particularly useful if you’re being pursued across the screen. Heavy Punch makes Riptor spit out a slow moving downward fireball projectile behind her, whilst Heavy Kick performs a whip-like tail attack to a pursuer which can launch them into the air, arcing over your head only to leave them sprawled out on the floor in front of you like some kind of prehistoric buffet. Time to turn up the heat.

Heavy (Flaming) Metal

Riptor - Fulgore's Stage Fire Breath

Flames are a girl’s best friend…or, well, something along those lines anyway.

Okay so running around the screen is cool and everything, but just what can Riptor do when she’s up close and in for the kill? Well, her Light and Medium Punch attacks aren’t particularly spectacular, but her Heavy Punch causes her to shoot out a stream of Flame Breath from her viciously sharp jaws. This can be used as a great combo opener on its own, from both standing and running positions, or defensively as an effective and quick way of creating space. You can hold the button down/press three times to get a five-hit opener which you can then cancel into a special move and keep the combo rolling.

On the more defensive side of things, pressing Back + Heavy Punch shoots flames upwards in an anti-air fashion, and pressing Down + Heavy Punch arcs Riptor’s flame jets towards the ground. Crucially, Flame Breath can be used to destroy incoming enemy projectiles as well, which can be great when faced with an endokuken-spamming jerk from across the screen…grr…

Riptor’s kick attacks are similar to her punches in the sense that whilst the Weak and Medium attacks are okay, it’s the Heavy Kick which felt the most useful to me. Known as the Tail Zip, this is a powerful tail swipe which has really good range, making it useful as a poking tool/opener which can then be cancelled into combo, as well as having the additional benefit of slightly reeling your enemy in closer to you, regardless of whether the attack hits or gets blocked. Additionally, Pressing Down + Heavy Kick makes Riptor go for a low Tail Zip, which is a good way of quickly getting a heavy knockdown.

Having said that, to get slightly technical for a second, Riptor’s close-range Medium Kick (actually, it’s a headbutt if we’re being picky, but what the heck) is also worth bearing in mind when you’re in very close proximity to your opponent, as it is +1 frame advantage on block; meaning that if you’re opponent blocks the attack, it actually works out in your favour timing-wise. In other words, you’ll recover one frame faster from performing the attack animation than it will take for your opponent to recover from performing their block animation. It might not sound like much of an advantage, but trust me it is; without getting too technical, any time that you’re in position where you have frame advantage, no matter how small the number of frames, it’s always a good thing, as it means you’ll be able to potentially recover attack faster than your opponent will. So if you’re up really close to your opponent, that close-range Medium Kick could be just the thing you need to get a combo going.

Both Riptor’s flame and tail-based attacks become enhanced whilst in her Instinct mode, as we shall see later on. Before we talk about that however, let’s have a look at Riptor’s third movement state if you will; the Predator Stance.

You Got Time to Duck?

Riptor - Maya's Stage Tail Stings

Riptor – prehistoric robo-revenant and amateur labotomist since 1994.

By pressing Left Trigger (All three Kick buttons) Riptor crouches close to the ground in what’s known as the Predator Stance. This is a special attack position which opens some additional ranged options to Riptor’s moveset – it’s great because it provides you some alternative longer distance openers and attacks to contrast with your standard rushdown attacks. One of my favourite moves from the stance is the brutal Tail Sting move; pressing Medium Punch whilst in Predator Stance makes Riptor stab forward with a trio of overhead Tail Stings, which can be great for catching out opponents who are tending to just block your low attacks.

You can make one move whilst in the Predator Stance before Riptor reverts back to her normal position, meaning that you can’t indefinitely attack or run in this ranged position for extensive periods at a time. As a result, you’ll want to carefully pick when you want to use it. From my experience, it’s best adopting the Predator Stance when you’ve got a bit of space between you and your opponent, or you risk getting battered in the time it takes Riptor to transition from stance to stance.

Handily, you can still walk forward (just not run) whilst in the Predator Stance, which makes it a fantastic way of dodging projectiles and gradually getting in close on characters like Glacius, Kan-Ra and keepaway Jagos who would prefer you to be trapped at the far side of the screen.

Knowing when to drop to the Predator Stance is a vital part of using Riptor effectively; in fact, some of her moves automatically transition to the Predator Stance upon block, so knowing how to operate from this deadly crouched position is a must. Before we get to that however, (don’t worry, we’ll bring all these tactics together at the end) let’s talk about those special moves that Riptor’s been hiding up those scaly reptilian sleeves of hers.

Roar Power

Riptor - Riptor's Stage Shadow Shoulder Charge

Shadow Jago – mere milliseconds away from the world’s most painful headbutt…

Looking broadly at Riptor’s special moves, they can be roughly divided into two groups. You’ve got three moves which fall firmly in rushdown territory; Shoulder Charge and Talon Rake and Clever Girl, whilst Tail Flip is slightly more of a ranged option, albeit one that’s slightly easier to punish if blocked. Naturally you’ll want to be playing Riptor in rushdown mode, but the Tail Flip and some of her Predator Stance moves can be used as great poking tools to pressure your opponent from further out.

Let’s start with the Shoulder Charge (the following control inputs assume that the player is on the left side of the screen). Performed by pressing Back – Forward + Punch, this move sends Riptor lunging forward for a brutal headbutt; It’s a good combo opener, linker and when used as an ender, the move acts as Riptor’s wall bounce combo concluder.

What’s interesting is that if the Shoulder Charge move is blocked, then Riptor automatically transitions to Predator Mode, allowing you to potentially get in a rapid-fire mix-up before your opponent reacts; it’s essentially a second chance to land an attack if your first fails. If they blocked your Shoulder Charge low, then quickly press Medium Punch for some eye-pokingly painful overhead Tail Stings. If they blocked high, press Light Punch for some low and nasty Shin Bites instead.

Riptor - Riptor's Stage Clever Girl

Riptor’s always up for a good game of catch the ninja.

Clever Girl is a ground bounce attack, which is a great mid-combo linker, a decent opener, and (you guessed it) Riptor’s launcher ender. Performed with Quarter-circle Back + Punch, Riptor violently head-butts her opponent into the air, before grabbing them in her jaws to slam them back onto the ground, allowing you to recapture your opponent and keep on pummelling if you’re mid combo, or launch them straight up if you’re using it as an ender.

Riptor - Riptor's Stage Shadow Tail Flip

BUNDLE!

The Tail Flip is an overhead forward-roll attack, performed with Quarter-circle Back + Kick, that functions as Riptor’s knockdown ender. In addition to its use as an ender, the Tail Flip is also good as a combo opener from range as the move is one of Riptor’s further reaching attacks. Be aware though that move has quite a significant number of recovery frames, meaning that if the Tail Flip misses or is blocked by your opponent, you’ll be vulnerable to a battering yourself.

Riptor - Riptor's Stage Talon Rake

You know, I really think those toenails could do with a bit of a trim…

The Talon Rake is Riptor’s damage ender – Riptor launches up at her opponent and, as the name suggests, claws at them with her viciously sharp talons. Useful as a combo opener, linker and a hard-hitting ender, the move is performed by pressing Left – Right + Kick.

What’s really cool is the fact that if the Talon Rake is blocked, in a similar manner to the way the Shoulder Charge operates, you have the chance to potentially get in a sneaky mix-up attack immediately after. If your opponent blocks the attack, you bounce backwards back in the air – in a similar fashion to the way Sadira bounces off her opponent when her Heavy Widow’s Bite is blocked. Whilst you’re still airborne, pressing one of the Punch buttons launches a fireball projectile down at your opponent, which is a great way of making the Talon Rake a tad more safe, and potentially catching your attacker off guard in the process.

Riptor - Maya's Stage Fireball

Maya didn’t take too kindly to Riptor’s post-curry breath.

Heavy Punch sends the fireball flying fast at a long angle, Light sends it down in a slow but acute angle and Medium is somewhere in between at a steadily-paced 45-degree angle.

Alternately, pressing one of the Kick buttons whilst in the air after a blocked Talon Rake makes Riptor perform a Tail Flip instead. Light Kick lands the Tail Flip in front of your opponent, whilst the Heavy Kick version sends the move over your opponent’s head to land on their far side. Possibly the most useful option is the Medium Kick version; depending on your timing, the Medium Kick Tail Flip acts as a mix-up which can land either in front of or behind your attacker, making it a perfect cross-up tool. It’s a really effective way of catching your opponent off guard, time and time again – trust me.

Riptor - Riptor's Stage Instinct

Forget road rage – this is Riptor rage. Way, WAY worse, trust me.

Last but not least is Riptor’s Instinct mode – Rage. Activating Rage makes Riptor run faster in both directions, and her fire and tail strike attacks have increased range. Her tail starts sparking electricity and has an increased attack range for all her flame-based attacks and tail strikes; the extended tail strikes look particularly cool as Riptor’s tail segments into separate sections which reveal more of her intricate robotic skeleton. When you’re in your Instinct mode, you can play Riptor at a slightly extended range, which is great if a keepaway/zoning character is managing to keep you at arm’s length and you need a way of fighting back, or you can ramp up the rushdown pressure to ridiculous levels due to your increased speed. Both methods work pretty damn well at turning a battle in your favour.

Dino Crisis

Riptor - Glacius' Stage Shadow Shoulder Charge

To quote the great Arnie, “What killed the dinosaurs? The Ice Age!”

I personally found Riptor to be quite a hard character to get to grips with. She has a mixture of rushdown-style Left-Right-Punch/Kick special moves, but also some which require Quarter-circle Forwards/Backwards + Punch/Kick inputs. She’s pretty much the only character to have these style inputs in the same command list, and for quite a while this really messed with my head. I’d find that in the flow of combat I’d often struggle to pull off the moves I’d intended, and as a result, the first couple of hours spent getting to grips with the rhythm of her fighting styles was frustrating and awkward; completely whiffing moves after successfully getting a combo opening or dropping combos before I could finish them (story of my life).

Riptor - Fulgore Uppercut

Ultratech’s internal side-by-side product comparisons were always pretty bloodthirsty affairs.

However, even when I’d somewhat managed to get my easily perplexed head around her controls, playing online matches with Riptor was still pretty tough. Although Riptor is very adaptable to the various combat challenges thrown down by each fighter, I found that I would struggle against Glacius and Fulgore players in particular. In fact, up against a skilled zoning character, I sometimes found it difficult to get in close and dish out pain – such is the plight of any rushdown player when faced with an expert zoner attacker I suppose, as your only option really is to try and get in close. When you do manage to get in close to your attacker however, you can apply pressure pretty relentlessly; going for hard knock downs with the Tail Zip and Tail Flip, setting up recovery traps with the Flame Carpet and punching out fast chains of Shoulder Charge, Clever Girl and Talon Rake.

A Goddamned Sexual Tyrannosaurus

Riptor - Maya's Stage Head Cock

Snarl for the camera.

The main piece of advice I’d give to fellow noob-level Riptor players (like me) is that you have to be prepared to adapt to your mistakes as fast as possible. Like with any aspect of Killer Instinct (and fighting games in general) you need to be constantly thinking several steps ahead if possible, anticipating both your own mistakes as well as your opponents. The further that you can mentally plan ahead, the better. This is especially true when playing Riptor. I found that as I gradually became more confident and familiar with her capabilities, a key thing I noticed about my most successful Riptor victories was that they were the ones in which I managed to consistently seize upon the opportunities to get in cheeky second chance mix-up attacks that resulted from my Shoulder Charge and Talon Rake attacks being blocked. Don’t be disheartened if your opener attempts are blocked; you can quickly seize control back with some Shin Bite or Tail Stings.

The triple Heavy Punch attack of Fire Breath is a great combo opener (it’s also a great aerial opener as well), and it was the most common way I’d find myself starting off my dino beatdowns, but beware your opponent cottoning onto it. It’s an easy to recognise set of Heavy Punch attack animations, so you’ll want to avoid solely using it as way of opening your combos, or you’ll most likely find yourself being combo-broken very quickly.

Riptor - Riptor's Stage Tail Zip

Riptor’s certainly a very tail-ented fighter…I’ll let myself out.

Whilst we’re still on the topic of flambéing-based fun, Riptor’s Flame Carpet is a great tool to use immediately after you’ve delivered a hard knockdown to your opponent – if you time it right, it means they have to instantly block upon recovery. Whilst they’re blocking, you can go for a low/overhead attack and hopefully start another combo off, or attempt to land a cross-up as they’re stuck in block or hitstun. However, once enemies are in really close range you won’t have time to roll out the Flame Carpet as it has quite a long start-up animation, so just go for the standard Flame Breath attacks instead.

Like I briefly mentioned earlier, the Predator Stance is awesome for adding some ranged poking tools and combo openers to Riptor’s arsenal, but it can be hard to integrate into your plans on the fly. I found that unless I was at least half or full screen away from a character, it was often too risky to try and manually drop to Predator Stance when in close quarters combat. Better to stick to her normal and special moves when up close and personal I reckon.

Riptor - Maya's Stage Grab

Looks like Maya did find her worthy prey after all…

I think my initial problem with Riptor may have been that I was trying to play her pretty much identically to the way I play Sabrewulf; relentlessly rushing my opponents and hoping to overwhelm them with a barrage of non-stop attacks. Whilst this certainly is a viable (and successful) strategy for Riptor, I’d say that she’s probably best when operating ever so slightly further out than Sabrewulf; you want to be close enough to pressurise effectively, yet with enough distance to leave all your options open. Riptor’s a clever girl, and success with her will depend on whether you’re as clever as she is at exploiting not only your enemies mistakes and stumbles, but your own.

Rip-roaring Raptor Ruckus

Riptor - Riptor's Stage Win Pose

Insert ridiculously loud Jurrassic Park T-Rex roar here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n3ylBgdURzs

So there we go – Riptor is another fun, interesting and unique rushdown character that compliments the existing Season 2 line-up. That’s all the Killer Instinct Season 2 characters for this year, but according to the classic ‘post credits’ tease in Riptor’s launch trailer, it looks like in January we’re going to be reacquainted with the delights of Shadow Jago in some form – or, to give him his full title, the Herald of Gargos. Gulp. In the meantime, enjoy Riptor and have a rip(tor)-roaring Christmas.

Five Nights at Freddy’s – Review

FNAF - Title Screen
Standard

(Reviewed on iPad)

 Bear Thrills

Five Nights at Freddy’s is one of the most frightening and intense games that I’ve had the joy/horror of playing in recent years, yet it’s also one of the most hilarious. It’s an impressive indie horror game, made solely by the talented Scott Cawthon, that’s packed full of dichotomies; it’s horrifyingly tense, yet incredibly simplistic, ridiculously fun to watch, but utterly terrifying to play yourself. Though it’s short, small and simple, Five Nights at Freddy’s is a memorable and very effective horror experience that is to be savoured.

The game is basic; it’s essentially just an extended barrage of brutal jump scares that you must endure, but unlike a lot of horror games built upon similar premises, you are utterly helpless in some rather unique and interesting ways. You can’t run, hide, shoot or even move in Five Nights at Freddy’s – your character is sat at a desk and totally vulnerable at all times – and you’ve only got a few feeble ways of protecting yourself from what’s after you each night – a nightmarish gang of terrifying anthropomorphic animatronic mascots.

It sounds like a cheap and gimmicky one trick pony by all means; something that would get old in five minutes, let alone five nights. Yet somehow, the game’s cunning design and presentation, backed up with a cast of delightfully horrific and surprisingly charming robotic antagonists give the game a vividly gut-wrenchingly tense atmosphere that is both delightful and terrifying to jump into again and again and again and again…

The Bear Necessities

FNAF - Help Wanted

Five Nights at Freddy’s is a ridiculously enjoyable combination of brutal jumpscares mixed with an asphyxiating and overpowering sense of dread and tension. With darkly-humorous writing and bizarre charm weaving throughout every aspect of the game’s design, it is both terrifying and hilarious in equal measure.

The game’s design and set-up is very simple and, in my opinion, absolutely brilliant. You play as a night-time security guard, who has accepted a new job as the night watchman of Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, a family pizzeria in the style of real life 1980’s American chain diners such Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre and Showbiz Pizza Place. These establishments were well known, for those who don’t know, for having other entertainments alongside their standard restaurant sections, such as bowling alleys and video game arcades for the families and their children to play on when they’d finished scoffing their pizzas.

Most fantastically of all, however, was the fact that the main hook of these restaurants was that they featured a big performance stage where a ‘live’ band of anthropomorphic animatronic animal mascots (check out video of The Rock-afire Explosion below if you don’t believe me), would mime and pretend to sing along to songs as a pseudo party band whilst hungry families wolfed down their margaritas. It sounds absolutely ridiculous I know, but it’s true; as a Brit growing up in the ’90s, the best entertainment our local Pizza Hut offered in my youth was an outdoor plastic slide in the shape of a dragon – I thought it was awesome, but I see now that I’ve clearly been missing out.

Like these robotically-enhanced American diners that Five Nights at Freddy’s is based on, Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza is host to it’s own animatronic mascot, the eponymous Freddy Fazbear of the game’s title. An all singing, all dancing giant grinning animatronic bear, Freddy is there to entertain the children and families at the pizzeria, along with his motley crew of friendly robot chums; Bonnie the rabbit, Chica the chicken and last, but certainly not least, Foxy the pirate fox (naturally).

FNAF - Starting PositionDuring the day, as the trailer suggests, the restaurant is a place of joy – the animatronics smile, sing songs and entertain the families and children with gleeful abandon. However, when you’re turning up at 12:00am for the graveyard shift, it’s a very different story.

The previous security guard (known online in fan circles as the Phone Guy, and who is brilliantly voiced by Scott Cawthon himself) has kindly left you a series of answerphone messages to settle you into your new job and to detail your night-time duties. Whatever happened to him you might well ask, and why exactly did he stop being the old security guard? Well, you soon start to get a pretty good impression of his whereabouts as the game progresses…in a nutshell, it’s not good.

The Phone Guy nonchalantly explains that due to problems with the animatronics’ joints locking up as a result of them having to remain in stationary positions during the restaurant’s opening hours, the robotic mascots are allowed to go into a free-roam wandering mode at night. If that nugget of info makes you have some serious second thoughts about that new job you’ve just accepted, wait until you get a load of this next bit. According to their operational protocols, if the animatronics encounter anybody in the restaurant after dark, they will not see them as a customer, but as an animatronic that’s flouting procedure by not wearing their costume over their metal endoskeleton – a very strict no-no during restaurant hours.

The correct course of action for such an egregious offence is to force said offending naked endoskeleton (read: terrified and screaming human being) into a spare animatronic costume post-haste. That might not sound too bad a corrective action at first, but trust me, it is – these are costumes filled with metal rebars, wires and all sorts of other painful sharp and pointy components, the Phone Guy rather unsympathetically drawls by way of explanation. In other words, it’s a pretty painful death.

Bearing all this rather worrying information in mind, quite why your character decides to stay on for the full week’s shift is beyond me, but nonetheless, he does, and it’s your job to survive the Monday to Friday night grind. Sheesh…and you thought your job was bad…

Goldilocks and The Four Scares

FNAF - Office Left Light

What’s fantastic about Five Nights at Freddy’s is that you are utterly, utterly helpless. Well… actually, that’s not quite true – I’ll explain. All you’ve got to do in each night/level is to survive until 6:00am when your shift is over. Easy. Only…it’s really not.

The game plays as a point and click interactive strategy horror title. As the night-time security guard, you’re sat in the pizzeria’s security office with a tablet device in your lap to watch the restaurant’s security camera feeds on, and independent door and light controls to the left and right sides of you. These are the only tools at your disposal to stop Freddy Fazbear and his troupe of terrors from grabbing you – the camera feeds, the doors and the corridor lights. Nothing else. You can’t move, hide, get up and run, or even cower in the corner of the room and pitifully wet yourself like Otacon in Metal Gear Solid (though you’re still free to do that in real life should the need take you of course). You’re rooted to the spot, and totally exposed to an unsolicited robotic greeting.

I know what you’re thinking – sounds simple right? Just close both doors, breathe a sigh of relief and wait things out until the morning light. No problemo. Well, unfortunately, there’s a catch (isn’t there always huh?). For whatever backwards reason, the Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza restaurant you’re working in isn’t hooked up to the mains – everything runs on a single power generator that has a very limited amount of juice left in the tank. Just barely a single night’s worth in fact. Every device you need to use requires power (visually displayed by the onscreen usage indicator) and having several devices and controls running simultaneously will put an even greater strain on the rapidly dwindling power supply.

Closing both doors and hoping to sit things out till morning is certainly the first thing I (along with countless others no doubt) tried to do when first playing, but it’s practically akin to signing your own death warrant in gloopy leftover pizza mozzarella. Having both doors closed is particularly power costly, and you’ll soon be left in darkness hours before the end of your graveyard shift with no way of defending yourself. To put it bluntly, you’re absolutely fucked beyond belief.

FNAF - Bonnie Black Eyes

Five Nights At Freddy’s is all about jumpscares. While these, as a horror device, are perhaps the easiest and cheapest tools in the developer’s arsenal to get a player freaked out and on edge, the way they are implemented in Five Nights At Freddy’s feels particularly inspired.

Normally, once you’ve spooked a player with an unexpected and particularly nasty shock in a game, they’ll be more resistant to being scared in similar fashion again as they’ll now be expecting to be surprised. Keep overdoing the scares this way and you’ll soon have the player second-guessing when they’re going to be shocked or attacked, often anticipating further attempts to scare them quite successfully – therefore greatly reducing the effectiveness of the jumpscares rather rapidly.

What Five Nights at Freddy’s manages to do really well is to not downplay the jumpscare side of things; it instead embraces them as an integral part of the experience rather than just a cheap gag, much like, say, a giant animatronic bear squeezing the life out of a terrified security guard. They aren’t just thrown around willy-nilly for a quick shock every once in a while, rather, the jumpscares are instead built up very stressfully for maximum impact.

As we’ve already established, as the security guard, you’re rooted to the spot, and completely vulnerable to a fatal over-enthusiastic robo-grasp at all times in the office. You’re unable to do anything except painfully wait and watch the robots get nearer and nearer, with nothing to defend yourself with except quick wits, fast fingers and hopefully a great deal of luck. Although you can close the doors to temporarily ward off the intrepid intruders, it’s only ever really delaying the inevitable; the doors, cameras and lights are by no means a feasible solution to your problem. In fact, now that I think of it, the game has a sort of George Romero ‘slow zombie’ (the only type of zombie if you ask me) style feeling of overwhelming dread and inevitability that permeates throughout the whole experience; you know that chances are one of the animatronics out there is going to get you eventually, but you don’t know when and which one. You can’t shake that screaming paranoia in your mind that you’re stuck, afraid and open to attack all the time. This sensation of complete paralytic horror is incredibly effective, and it’s what sustains the terror and tension when playing. When a game can really make you feel truly vulnerable, it’s both a terrifying and electrifying experience.

If an animatronic gets it’s heavy furry paws across the threshold of your office, then you’re dead. Done. Finito. The last thing you see before you’re grabbed is one of the robot’s insane faces suddenly lunging forward and screaming in your face – the ear-splitting shriek the animatronics emit when they grab you is extremely loud and jolting, and very effective at startling you even after you’ve been grabbed and forced into spare Fazbear gang costumes countless times already.

FNAF - Chica TablesHowever, the really clever aspect to Five Nights at Freddy’s is that in order to make it past even the first night on the job, you have to learn to fight your natural instinct to keep the doors shut. In order to have sufficient power to make it through each night, you’re going to have to keep the doors to the security office open as much as possible, only closing them when absolutely necessary – when one of the Fazbear posse is right outside, leering in at you with bulging cartoony eyes and wicked toothy grin bared wide. The entire game is an exercise in extreme self-restraint; one which will quickly shred your nerves to pieces – like an animatronic robot devouring a pizza, or a lone security guard for example…

By stripping away a great deal of the agency a player normally takes for granted in other horror games, (even other non-combat focused ones such as Amnesia: The Dark Descent or Slender: The Eight Pages) Five Nights at Freddy’s manages to ratchet the tension to such unBEARable (sorry, I had to) levels very quickly and keep the player on edge at all times when playing, with no let up whatsoever. The atmosphere preceding each scare is deliciously agonising, so that when you are inevitably next grabbed by an animatronic, you’re still shocked and still really dreading it each and every time. Playing the game is (alert – bad analogy incoming) like being blindfolded and bracing yourself for a punch to the stomach; you know the blow is coming and it’s going to hurt, but not knowing exactly when is the really agonising part. The threat of pain is a greater fear than the actual pain sensation itself…or something cool sounding like that anyway, you get the drift.

However, unlike actually being punched in the stomach whilst blindfolded, the constant pressure and fear of that next animatronic pounce from the darkness unknown keeps Five Nights at Freddy’s extremely entertaining.

So yes, the game can be essentially boiled down to being just an endless string of jumpscares, coming at you over and over again. But that’s kind of missing the point. The jumpscares on their own aren’t really the interesting bit, rather, it’s the way the that game makes you feel practically helpless to stop them in those awful pressure-cooker moments of stress before they happen – that’s what personally keeps me playing. Whether you can make your very limited resources stretch out through another night shift is a deliciously uncomfortable panicked blur of resource management and wide-eyed frantic screen-tapping. It’s some stressful but pretty special stuff.

Also – it’s a small point, but an important one, so I’m going to indulge myself here – in amongst all the rapid-fire scares, there’s some clever little easter eggs to be found at various points, which add more background detail to just what the hell is going on and why these robots might be playing up and stuffing people into objects they shouldn’t be stuffed into. Although they are quite easy to miss (and actively looking for them isn’t advised if you want to survive), they hint at something much more sinister and unpleasant behind all the ongoing jumpscares and night time hijinks, which when discovered will make you feel even more on edge whilst you’re fighting to stay alive in that cramped security office. Don’t get me wrong, it’s no Silent Hill 2 style story revelation by any means; there’s no uncomfortable slow-burning atmosphere eeriness, plot twists or crazy eleventh-hour reveals, but there are some clever in-game clues about the lore hidden about in Five Nights at Freddy’s that suggest a more nefarious level of detail to events than what is initially presented. All of which really doesn’t help your on-going dread and paranoia when playing.

The Scare Bear Bunch

FNAF - Bonnie Staring

Without a doubt, it’s the four animatronics that have already made the game such a cult indie horror classic. Freddy, Bonnie, Chica and Foxy are the life and soul of this indie horror gem, and their freaky ‘n’ furry grins will be forever burnt onto your irises after playing. Scott Cawthon has somehow managed to create some of the most terrifying, memorable and fascinatingly daft antagonists you’re likely to be screamed at by in a horror game. In the relatively short space of time since the game’s original August 2014 PC release date, Five Nights at Freddy’s has deservedly become a massive talking point in the horror game/let’s play community on YouTube, almost certainly down to the universally freaky blend of hilarity and horror that the four fiendish mascots bring to the game.

There’s just something so uncomfortably freaky about the animatronics; their glassy staring eyes, their fixed contorted grins and the way that they seemingly take great pleasure in toying with and messing with your mind. The fact that each animatronics’ individual personality comes across with no dialogue, save their loud shrieking, eerie moaning and, of course, Freddy’s ominous chuckling, is impressive.

FNAF - Chica StaringTo recap then, let’s go over the creepy cast again. Along with the titular Freddy Fazbear, you’ve got the delights of Bonnie the bunny (the one I found the most frightening in my opinion), Chica the chicken and Foxy the pirate fox to keep you company on your solitary graveyard shift. Each animatronic has their own particular tendencies and characteristics that you’ll need to learn and prepare for if you ever want to see the morning light again. Or, to put it another way, if you don’t want to see said morning light from the blood-splattered insides of a metallic bear costume, then you need to know just what you’re tango-ing with here.

FNAF - Bonnie Door

Bonnie and Chica will tend to be the most active of the robots; each will frequently move up and down the corridors to your office throughout the night. Each animatronic is just as deadly as each other, and if any of them get into your office, then it’s game over, but having said that, Bonnie and Chica are both a bit more predictable to deal with and slightly easier to defend against than Freddy and Foxy.

FNAF - ChicaThis robo-rabbit and cyber-chicken duo will more often than not just go back and forth between the various rooms and corridors in a loose beeline to your office, just standing there below the cameras and taunting you by staring straight down the lens. They will try and get in from time to time, but providing that you’re diligently checking those cameras, and using the lights to check the blindspots just outside your doors when you think they’re close, you’re usually alright.

FNAF - FreddyFreddy is a bit sneakier than Bonnie and Chica, and to say ol’ Fazbear is the leader of the gang as it were, he’s rather a shy fellow, preferring to skulk around in the background. So shy in fact, that it was an absolute nightmare of its own trying to grab decent screenshots of him for this review piece!

Freddy will often hang back and let the other animatronics do the bulk of the pestering. He prefers to hide in full darkness, making him hard to spot on the cameras save for his faintly glowing eyes. He’ll usually come to get you once all the power is out to deliver a final coup de grace, but on occasion he will saunter up to your door and grab you, so you can’t discount him as a viable threat at any point.

While you might not see him until it’s too late, you will certainly hear him. Freddy’s got this hideous gleeful and deep Frank Bruno chuckle that you’ll frequently hear reverberating down the corridor many times, signifying that he’s on the move. The first time you hear it, it’s an instantly blood-chilling moment – it sounds frightening in a ghostly otherworldly way. You won’t forget anytime soon, trust me.

FNAF - Foxy Staring

Last but not certainly not least is Foxy, who’s arguably one of the most frightening animatronics out to get you. Foxy’s kept in a separate location from the other three robots (who all start off stood together in the main dining room stage) so you won’t know he’s even there at first, the curtained off Pirate Cove area is his home. Unlike the other three animatronics, Foxy has been decommissioned; he’s rumoured to have been taken out of service after the dreaded ‘bite of ’87’.

Foxy adds another set of rules and variables to worry about along with dodging the other three robots – he’s designed to catch out those who try to skimp on monitoring the cameras by just checking the areas immediately outside the doors with the corridor lights from time to time.

Foxy’s cunning mechanic is that he’s aware of how often you’re looking at Pirate Cove on the monitors to check up on him. As you play, you’ll encounter him gradually at first, before he becomes an ever more persistent menace. The Phone Guy will casually inform you on the second night of Foxy’s modus operandi, whereupon you’ll catch a glimpse of a twisted figure with a rictus wolfish snarl grinning maniacally back at you from behind the parted purple curtains. I still find his Jack-Nicholson in the Shining-style grin to be mesmerizingly frightening even now, having played the game countless times.

Your only way of fending him off is to make sure that you’re diligently checking Pirate Cove frequently enough to hopefully keep him behind those curtains for as long as possible. Forget to check on him, or get too distracted with another of the robots and he’ll start to move when you’re not looking, sneaking ever so slightly further and further out his enclosure each time.

FNAF - Foxy Corridor

After a while, if you’ve not been keeping your electronic gaze on him as much as he’d like, Foxy will bolt straight down the corridor to your office with a hideous shit-eating grin twisted across his face, bursting into your office and loudly screeching in your face faster than you can say “Bob’s your FUCKING HELL THERE’S A GIANT PIRATE FOX IN THE ROOM TRYING TO TEAR MY FUCKING FACE OFF!” Yes – that fast.

FNAF - FoxyIf you’re lucky, you might catch a quick glimpse of him in the camera feed and be able to quickly punch the door control just in the nick of time if your reactions are sharp. But normally, once you can hear him clattering down the corridor towards you or catch a frightening glimpse of him darting past the camera, it’s usually far too late. Even if you do manage to get the door closed, he’ll bang on it with his hideous pirate hook a couple of times, which for whatever reason drains a significant amount of your precious generator power (not to mention your sanity) On top of that, he’ll then reset back to his original Pirate Cove position, meaning that if you’re lucky enough to have survived his swashbuckling advances, you’ve got to keep checking up on him all over again.

Bear-riers to Entry

FNAF - Chica Attack

With all this horror and hilarity going on each night, what’s not to like you might ask? Well, the main problem that I found with the game was that sometimes, no matter how diligent, careful and patiently observant you try to be, the game can get extremely unfair and hard in the later nights. What makes the game feel so cruelly difficult is that there seems to be a great deal of luck as to what actually happens in each round. On the early nights, providing you’re checking everything on the cameras regularly and learning when it’s okay to leave the doors open and when it’s not, things feel highly stressful but just about manageable.

Get to the later nights, and it’s a different story. It can feel nigh-on impossible to win by the time you get to night four or five, when the whole gang is out in force, strolling nonchalantly about and being more persistent than ever. The cameras start to malfunction and cut out really frequently, leaving you with very limited visibility other than what you can see directly outside of your office doors, and the passage of time on the in-game clock seems to crawl by at such an agonisingly slow pace that you’ll question whether each night was six minutes or six actual real life hours. Okay, maybe not, but you get the point.

Each night’s events feel totally out of your hands, which really adds to your sense of helplessness and despair. You only need Foxy to come out a few times and bang on your door to whittle down your power levels to absolutely nothing and you’re absolutely screwed, or get stuck with Bonnie or Chica repeatedly hanging around for ages outside one of the doors and Five Nights at Freddy’s starts to feel less like a game and more like a kind of chancy slot machine, only with creepy animatronics trying to yank you out of your seat every few minutes and steal your paltry winnings.

However, it’s that very unpredictability which makes the game so much fun to play in the first place. If you knew exactly how long that pesky Bonnie is going to lurk outside your door, or just how frequently it is that you’re going to have to check Pirate Cove to keep the maleficent Foxy at bay, then the game wouldn’t be half as frightening or tense. You’ve just got to do your best to stay calm, stick to your plan and not become a gibbering mess while desperately hoping that you make it.

Whether you win or lose a night will be down to mere seconds. Usually, your game will play out like this; the time will be at 5:00am, and you’ll be down to your last dregs of power…when the lights eventually shut off and you’re left in darkness. If you’re unlucky, you’ll just hear some approaching heavy plodding footsteps before Freddy jumps out at you, but sometimes you’ll just see his illuminated eyes staring back at you from the gloom as he begins to play an eerie child’s music box version of the Toreador Song.

FNAF - Toreador Song

As long as he doesn’t grab you and keeps playing the tune at this point, you’re still alive; you’re still in the game, and the clock might just roll round to 6:00am and you’ll live to monitor the cameras another night. However, there’s no indication at all of just how long Freddy will play the song for, and the minute it’s over, you’re dead. You’re powerless, you have to sit there in the darkness with all your fingers and toes crossed, and hope beyond all reason that you’ll make it. It’ll go right down to the wire whether you’ll survive, or get stuffed into a spare robot costume once again.

When you actually do see the time roll around to 6:00am to signal that you’ve survived another horrific night (complete with a rewarding celebratory cheer sound effect), it’s hard not to let out a loud whoop of joy. It’s such a euphoric rush to have survived what feels like, at times, a fiendishly impossible challenge.

Bearing Up

FNAF - Bonnie Restaurant

Having extensively watched the game being played online by others before first playing it myself, I was quite sceptical about how well it would translate onto a touchscreen device. I thought that playing the game on my iPad would be a completely inferior way of experiencing this game in pretty much every way. However, to my surprise and delight, the mobile version’s touchscreen controls work incredibly well, and compliment your in-game activities to a particularly good degree.

The security guard actually uses a small tablet-like device to check the cameras in-game, so pressing through the cameras using on-screen touch controls actually felt incredibly immersive – particularly when playing in the ideal horror game conditions of a pitch-black room, late at night, headphones on and turned up loud. Additionally, as each night only lasts for a couple of minutes (although they’ll feel agonisingly long when you’re playing them of course), having the game on a mobile device makes it very easy to pick up and play for short gaming sessions. Particularly useful when you prefer to take your jumpscares on the go and freak out passers-by.

Also, it’s hard to tell just how the difficulty compares to the PC version. As your only way of surviving each night is to have quick enough reaction times to spot the animatronics down the corridors or outside your door, I can’t help but feel that the response/attack times of the Fazbear gang must have been slowed down somewhat from the PC version in order to compensate for the slight delay and generally inaccuracy of touchscreen controls. That’s not to say that the touch and swiping controls of the mobile version aren’t smooth and responsive, but there were times where I felt like things were just slightly more cumbersome on the iPad’s touchscreen in comparison to the PC’s mouse and keyboard controls.

Personally, as cool as I find motion and gesture controls on touchscreen devices to be, being a lifelong console gamer at heart, I find that I pretty much always prefer tactile button controls and inputs to touchscreen controls everytime. Swiping with your fingers to look around the office and check the doors works perfectly fine with the iPad’s touchscreen controls, but it does feel a tad more clumsy and a less accurate method of control compared to the keyboard and mouse inputs of the PC version…particularly when you’ve got to hit the door and light controls like crazy on the later nights to prevent being forced into yet another Fazbear costume.

Additionally, with the iPad having a smaller screen than your typical PC monitor, there’s several slight visual problems which quickly become apparent with this mobile port of the game. For example, on the iPad, you can either be looking at the left door, the right door, or down at your in-game tablet for the camera feeds. However, in the PC version, you can see both doors on at once without having to turn, making things feel much smoother and easier to manage when the pace and frequency of the animatronic attacks really ratchet up on the later nights.

More significantly, when you’re in the camera view, the camera/map overlay takes up a great deal of the screen real estate, which can detract somewhat from the playing experience. In fact, you only have a thin bar of space on the left hand side of the screen which is unobscured by the camera/map layout. This means that you’re often having to peer round the map to look at the already dark and fuzzy camera screens (which are hard enough to make details out on anyway) in order to observe all the horrible goings-on from Freddy et. al. It’s not a huge deal, and due to the smaller size of the iPad’s screen (not to mention mobile screen displays), there’s not really any other way that the map could feasibly be integrated into the display without some degree of overlap.

Plus, when you are finally caught by Freddy and his furry friends of doom, the death animations play at a much lower framerate on the mobile version, so they don’t look quite so intense as the PC version. Often the animation will lag to the point it looks like just looking at a static kill screen image, which does feel rather chintzy, and takes away from things a tad. However, it’ll still be enough to have you jumping out of your skin when Bonnie creeps into your security booth or Foxy sprints down the corridor, trust me.

FNAF - Bonnie Attack

In terms of replayability, if a mere five nights at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza aren’t enough to meet your animatronic jumpscare needs, then never fear…well actually, just keep on fearing now that I think about it, as there’s an additional sixth and seventh nights you can unlock – the weekend shift, if you will – after you’ve beaten the five standard nights. Interestingly, the seventh night is a custom level of sorts, where you can manually set the A.I. intelligence/difficulty of each robot. Surviving ’till 6:00am with all the gang set to level twenty (the max difficulty) is extremely challenging, but it can be done.

Overall, from a mobile game perspective then, it’s an incredibly entertaining and memorable horror experience, a port that has surprisingly translated really well from the original mouse and keyboard experience of the PC version to the touchscreen gestures of the iPad screen; making it perfect for extended play, or brief pick up and play sessions.

The Honey Pot

Five Nights at Freddy’s is an absolutely essential purchase if you’re into your scares, and like me, you love horror titles that are built around player vulnerability and that feeling of being totally powerless to fight back. Despite the simple gameplay fundamentals of watching cameras and closing doors to avoid the same repeating jumpscares from the animatronics, Five Nights at Freddy’s is a really special horror experience.

Due to its unpredictably nerve-wracking design and its twisted mix of horror and humour, the game has quickly become one of my favourite games to play as of late (as you might well have gathered by this point). Even though it’s quite a short game, thanks to it’s fast pace, good controls and intelligent UI design, this mobile version of the PC game actually works out to be a great pick up and play title whenever you feel in need of a quick and violent jump or two, or you simply fancy an extended evening of animatronic terror. I just wouldn’t advise playing it on your morning commute however, as you’ll be terrifying the other passengers with your terrified yelps.

The game is just so much damn fun, whether it’s your nervously sweating buttocks planted in that security office hot seat, or whether you’re watching some other poor sod getting scared out of his mind on Twitch. It’s lovingly put together with so much heart, which can be felt in all aspects of the design, that even when you’re on the receiving end of yet another point-blank shriek to the face from Freddy, you can’t help but feel charmed by the whole thing.

Thankfully, for those of us who don’t have enough bloodthirsty animatronic animals in our lives, a sequel, Five Nights At Freddy’s 2 has already been released on both PC and mobile platforms. So, remember to keep an eye out for that review, but don’t forget to keep checking those cameras too. Speaking of which, you were of course remembering to keep checking the cameras whilst reading this review weren’t you hmm? Right? RIGHT!?

FNAF - Freddy Hat

FNAF - Freddy Attack

FNAF - Freddy Face

FNAF - Freddy Eye

FNAF - Game Over

Killer Instinct Season 2 – Kan-Ra First Impressions

KI - Kan-Ra Lab
Standard

Mummy-Mia!

Another month, another new Killer Instinct character to learn; it’s time to peel back the bandages on November’s fighting neonate, Kan-Ra.

Despite being teased by Iron Galaxy as #NotAMummy on Twitter, Kan-Ra is, ironically, exactly that; he’s a mummified age-old rotting Babylonian sorcerer. His decaying body is held together by his multitude of rotting bandages, which he uses as useful fighting appendages, naturally. His stage, the Forbidden Archives is pretty nifty too, featuring a special Stargate-like ‘death portal’, as dubbed by fans, which acts as the special stage ender/ultra.

He’s a bit like a long range zoning version of Thunder (with a generous pinch of Spinal and Glacius thrown in for good measure), only with bandages instead of tomahawks for weapons. Kan-Ra has been described by the Iron Galaxy developers to be the hardest character to use in Killer Instinct so far, and he certainly can feel very complicated when you first pick up the controls. I’ve been learning Kan-Ra’s command list via that most instructive of methods – being repeatedly punched in the face – so hopefully I can offer up some noob-level advice for those looking to get to grips with this ever-crumbling combatant.

Everyday I’m Grapplin’

KI - TJ Bandage Grab

GET OVER HE- oh wait, wrong game. My bad.

Described as a ‘trap-grappler’ by the Iron Galaxy developers, Kan-Ra is definitely a bit of a challenge to get to grips with. Kan-Ra’s normal attacks are generally underwhelming, he doesn’t cash out an awful lot of damage compared to other members of the cast, and you’ll have to work hard to set up and pull off even the most basic of combo chains. However, much like Season 1’s most complex character, Spinal, those players who take the time to master this sorcerer’s skills will be able to maniacally cackle along with Kan-Ra himself as you absolutely dominate your opponents from afar.

Kan-Ra is a long range zoning character who has the ability to quickly divide up the playing field into heavily defensive zones with his traps, making it a challenge for those characters who have to get in close (like TJ Combo and Sabrewulf) to deal damage. Ideally, you want to be playing Kan-Ra at the full screen distance away from your opponent, zoning your opponent and putting as many traps between you and them as possible.

Unlike a mix-up character such as the aforementioned Spinal or Fulgore, Kan-Ra has to overtly block off areas of the stage with various environmental and projectile traps. Yes, you’re still hoping to catch your opponent off guard in a similar fashion to a mix-up character by making them stumble unknowingly into your traps, but there’s less surprise involved here, as your strategy is always visually apparent on the stage. The idea is to force your opponent through your tightly woven nest of traps; to make the other player really anxious about their character’s placement and proximity to your devious deathtraps, and to bamboozle them into having to decide between blocking, attacking and trap dodging all at once.

What a Load of Old Trap

KI - Scorpion Tail

Scorpion sand stinger to the groin. Poor TJ, I’m wincing just thinking about it.

The most important ace you have tucked up those rotting sleeves of yours as Kan-Ra is probably the Sand Trap. By simply pressing Heavy Kick to perform a Sand Punt, Kan-Ra will kick out a cloud of sand directly in front of him as an attack, which also places a Sand Trap on the ground simultaneously; you can also get a Sand Trap by performing an anti-air Sand Geyser by pressing Down + Heavy Kick, or Heavy Kick in the air to perform a plummeting aerial Dune drop attack, similar to sultry spider queen Sadira’s Widow’s Drop move.

The Sand Traps can grant you access to special attacks and moves, whilst also operating as hazardous no-go obstacles for your opponent to avoid. These Sand Trap moves range from manoeuvrability boosts (you can conjure up giant sand hands to springboard you super far across the stage) to extensive projectile and zoning techniques; performing the Whirl move (Quarter-Circle Forward + Punch) whilst stood on a Sand Trap for example, will send a fast-moving hurricane projectile across the screen, which is particularly useful when you want something to hurl at your prey from long distance.

Additionally, you can use the Sand Traps to really put pressure on your opponent in other clever ways; a favourite move of mine is to conjure up a barbed scorpion tail from a nearby Sand Trap to sting my attacker (Down-Forward + Kick), which if it successfully makes contact, inflicts a ‘Curse of Weight’ on your opponent, temporarily slowing their movements. The Light Kick version is an upward-aimed anti-air sting, whilst Medium Kick jabs the stinger out in a horizontal fashion, allowing you to prod and poke to your heart’s content from a variety of angles. You can only have one Sand Trap out at a time however, so being accurate and flexible with its placement is key.

KI - Swarm

Kan-Ra’s Swarm attack – delightful. Need a breathmint?

The other major trap attacks that Kan-Ra has are the rather disgusting Swarms (Quarter-Circle Back + Kick). Kan-Ra can exhale these clouds of locust-like insects which act as air traps/static projectiles for your opponent to avoid. The shadow version of the move gives the Swarm the ability to slowly home in on your opponent, which is great at putting the pressure on your attacker and ideally forcing them to move into another position; preferably one where you’ve already laid down a Sand Trap in advance. Unlike the Sand Trap, you can have up to three Swarms out at a time, one for each strength of attack, so you can be a bit more liberal with your sandy fly vomiting.

KI - Spike Kan-Ra

If you two don’t stop prancing around in front of that death portal right now, then somebody’s going to get hurt…

The best tool in your mouldy arsenal for creating space between you and your opponent is the Spike special move (Quarter-Circle Forward + Kick); as the name suggests, it’s a big spiky ridge of sand that you can use to shunt your opponent around the map with. Each strength of the attack launches your opponent slightly differently; Heavy Kick sends them away from you, Medium launches them towards you and Light version launches them really close to you, ideally, into a previously placed Swarm projectile.

KI - Antlion

Sadly, Kan-Ra’s aerobics classes never really managed to take off.

Performing the Spike move will also drop a Sand Trap at your opponent’s feet, regardless of whether they have blocked the attack or not, meaning that you can quickly summon a scorpion sting or antlion bite right on the finishing spot after the move. What’s particularly great about the antlion attack is that if it is unblocked and successfully connects with your opponent, it will instantly pull you in from across the map and allow you to go straight into a combo. Once you’ve finished dealing out your damage up-close however, you ideally need to quickly scuttle back to the far side of the screen as you can quickly feel overwhelmed when caught in a close-quarters brawl, particularly when fighting against an angry and pissed off Sabrewulf.

KI - Sabrewulf Leash

Kan-Ra – keeping dogs on their leads since 520 B.C.

Rounding out Kan-Ra’s special attacks is the Clutch move (Quarter-Circle Back + Punch), a vital part of your Kan-Ra pugilist vocabulary. It’s Kan-Ra’s damage ender, so you’ll be wanting to use it a lot as he isn’t great at dealing out really heavy-hitting combos; played correctly, victory will come from a series of smaller but well executed combos instead.

Kan-ra throws out his tentacle-like bandages for an extended grapple move, which hoists your opponent high into the air before slamming them back down onto the floor. Each strength of the attack alters the angle of the grab; Heavy Punch performs a high anti-air grab, Medium Punch is at about a forty-five degree angle from the ground, and Light Punch goes straight out in front. The shadow version is particularly nasty looking, as Kan-Ra will repeatedly slam your opponent back and forth around the screen for a five-hit combo, which is both hilarious and brutal. You actually have to be fairly close to make a grab with this move, despite what you might think from the screenshots – if you’re any further away than about quarter of the screen from your opponent then the grab likely won’t connect.

KI - TJ Wrapped

Sorcerer, fighter and excellent gift-wrapper too.

Finally, Kan-Ra’s Instinct mode is called the suitably biblical sounding Curse of Drought, which upon activation, the description delightfully notes that Kan-Ra’s body begins to continually leak sand. Although that is neither a pleasant mental image, nor something that sounds like a particularly useful trait to have as an Instinct ability, it’s actually great news for the Kan-Ra player, as it means you can temporarily use all of your sand-based attacks, leaps and traps without first having to place down a Sand Trap.

Threadbare

KI - Dog Food

Dog Food.

So what’s the catch? Well, as you might expect with a hardcore zoning character, Kan-Ra really struggles when up-close and personal in fights. You can definitely cope whilst playing him at short ranges from your opponent, but it’ll be hard work, and without the versatility and heavier damage output that other ranged characters such as Glacius and Fulgore have, things will start to feel pretty desperate if you can’t keep your opponents at arm’s (or should that be bandage’s?) length.

Kan-Ra’s throw is a bit weak in comparison to the other characters’, and it doesn’t particularly give you much breathing room for a specialist zoning character either. However, by performing a throw, you give your opponent a stronger version of the scorpion stinger Curse of Weight, which will noticeably slow them down for a slightly longer period, giving you time to get in and keep attacking, or fall back to lay more Sand Traps and Swarms. Slowing down your attacker also makes their combos a lot easier to read, giving you a much greater chance of getting correct strength combo breakers.

Although you do have a sort of teleport-like ability, Sacrifice (triggered by pressing all three kick buttons whilst a Sand Trap is active), whereby Kan-Ra can disintegrate into a cloud of sand only to re-appear at your last Sand Trap, it’s not really fast enough to particularly get the drop on your opponent unless it happens to be really close by, plus, as the name suggests, the disintegrating explosion actually causes damage to you as well as your opponent, so it’s not something to repeatedly fall back on. It’s more of a last-ditch escape attempt you can use to escape a beating in a corner…again, most likely from a very angry Sabrewulf.

Fight Like an Egyptian

KI - Back Pain

On the other hand, Kan-Ra found great success as a chiropractor.

So, here’s a few things I’ve picked up on a very basic noob level that might be helpful to a struggling Kan-Ra player to let you kick some sand in your enemies’ faces…both literally and figuratively.

From my own experimenting, Kan-Ra’s Whirl attack is remarkably easy to get air recaptures with, allowing you to quickly keep pummelling an enemy who’s been flung into the air with a Spike launcher, or stuck on a mid-air Swarm. If you can get your opponent stuck in a corner, then alternating between the Whirl and Swarm attacks is a fairly safe way of keeping the pressure up and keeping them wedged up in that corner whilst you deliver a beatdown before retreating. Alternatively, with a bit of practice, you can use the Spike ender to launch them up and out of a corner and recapture them mid-air with a Swarm or hurricane to continue the pummelling in the opposite direction.

KI - Buzz Saw

Bandage buzz saw beatdown. Ouch, ouch, ouch.

A particularly useful command normal that Kan-Ra has is a nasty-looking spinning bandage buzz saw move which can be performed by pressing Back + Medium Punch. This is a great combo opener, and also when blocked it’s a good tactic for creating a tiny bit of space if your opponent is trying to get in close. Another great way of getting into a combo is to use Medium or Heavy Punch on their own for some long-ranged normal attacks which you can cancel into a combo linker, or Down + Medium Punch, which can be cancelled into a Spike linker to combo from a distance.

Just fooling around with him in Survival matches like this led me to pull off several 30-hit plus GODLIKE combos with ease, which felt great. Online however, things were much more difficult as expected. Playing against the teleporting characters Spinal and Fulgore can be very tricky indeed. You’ll constantly be fighting to create some space on the screen, only to have them just pop up right beside you and dodge any traps you’ve laid. However, with a bit of practice (and in my case, a great deal of luck), you can still usually deal out a fair bit of punishment if you’re observant, and your Swarm traps are very useful for absorbing any ranged projectiles they might send your way.

The Long and Short (Bandages) of It

KI - Kan-Ra Laughing

I think what makes Kan-Ra difficult to use for me personally is the fact that you’ve got to be aware of a lot of separate systems all at once whilst simultaneously trying to read your opponent. You have to be totally confident with his full set of moves, and know exactly what angles your attacks will and won’t reach, plus, when you have an opponent in mid-combo punishment, knowing which direction the combo ender will send them flying off to is vital if you want to recapture them. Whilst all this is going on, you want to be aware of where your Sand Traps are, and where your insect Swarms will best be placed, and trying your best to keep your attacker at the other end of the screen. Not only that, all the while you have to keep track of what your opponent’s doing, what strength combos and linkers they are prioritising, when to try and throw in a cheeky C-C-C-COUNTER BREAKER! etc. It’s a lot to mentally juggle, but if you can get to grips with Kan-Ra’s fiendish trap mechanisms, then you’ll find yourself being able to totally dominate the screen space and your opponent with fiendish glee.

If you’d like some noob-friendly advice and observations on the previously released Killer Instinct Season 2 characters, TJ Combo and Maya, then feel free to click on the highlighted links to get my two cents on the first two fighters. As the comedically audio-gore heavy Ultratech advertisement teaser at the end of Kan-Ra’s trailer ever so subtly reveals, the next character to be released is the fan favourite dinosaur, Riptor. Well, I’m going to have a quick lie down in this comfy looking sarcophagus for the time being, but I’ll be ready to go exploring Jurassic Park with the cyber dino of the moment next month.