Spinal was one of the characters in the first season of Killer Instinct that a lot of people eagerly anticipated. However, when he released, the steep learning curve of his character design and the widespread thought that he was low tier prevented gamers from giving him a proper chance. Whether these theories were true no longer matters, as Spinal received a few improvements to help ease players into his character design.
First and foremost, let's take a look at the official change log for Spinal:
- Color and skull logic: Spinal’s attacks have been color-coded to more clearly show what does what: Green attacks give you skulls, Blue attacks curse the opponent’s Shadow Meter and Yellow attacks curse the opponent’s Instinct Meter.
- Any time Spinal hits with a ghostly attack (green) he gains one skull.
- Searing Skull (with skull stock) projectiles are now colored Blue.
- Shadow Searing Skull’s projectile is now colored Yellow.
All of spinal's green attacks now reward one skull. That includes:
- Hitting with Crouching HP
- Hitting with any Spectral Manual
- Searing Skull (no skull stock)
- Spinal’s throw
- Crouching Medium Kick no longer sweeps and is now cancelable.
- Shadow Bone Shaker is now projectile immune.
- Throw Range increased slightly.
- Shadow Searing Skull applies its curse on the 1st hit instead of the 5th.
- Divekick causes a Ground Bounce when hitting an airborne opponent.
New skull use option:
- Spinal can now cancel all normal attacks (except c.HP and c.HK) into his run at the cost of one Skull.
The change in color for Spinal's skull attacks is essentially just a cosmetic change. If anything, it helps Spinal's opponents more than it helps Spinal players. It's now easier to determine what attacks drain which resources. It's a nice visual adjustment, but it doesn't really do much to improve Spinal.
What's huge for Spinal is the fact that any "ghostly" attack will now grant him a skull. That means any attack coated in green will give one skull to Spinal, including attacks such as his crouching Heavy Punch (HP). This automatically means Spinal has access to skulls in a much easier fashion. However, it also means that opponents will be more careful about getting hit by these attacks.
In the past, Spinal's crouching HP was primarily used as an anti-air. It didn't lead to a ton of damage, but in the right situations it would at least get Spinal back on the offensive. Now Spinal's opponents will likely be much more careful when it comes to jumping towards him. Getting hit with the crouching HP now means Spinal will gain a skull, and that's the last thing his opponents want. This also makes his Spectral Manuals more useful and less of a risk, and allows you to use his damage and juggle enders more often since you can gain skull with his Spectral Manuals mid-combo.
Couple all of this with the fact that his throw range has been increased and you can see that a good Spinal player will almost always have skulls available to use. Of course, with these changes means more ways to use Spinal's skulls. At the cost of a single skull, Spinal can cancel all of his normal attacks except crouching Heavy Punch and Kick into his run.
In practice, the skull-canceled normals felt very much like Sabrewulf's new Feral Cancel Instinct ability. It allows Spinal to heavily pressure an opponent in some very interesting ways. If you have five skulls, it becomes especially deceptive because you can continuously cancel Spinal's normals, then go for a throw to gain back a skull. It's basically the ultimate frame trap so long as you have skulls to utilize it.
The other big change is that Spinal's Divekick now causes a ground bounce when it hits an aerial opponent. This is great because it makes the attack useful in an air-to-air situation. Before the Divekick was only useful if you could bait out a throw, or in a few other very limited situations. Now it can be used as an air-to-air to start a combo that can lead to more skulls for Spinal, or drained resources for his opponent.
Spinal's Shadow Boneshaker (with projectile invincibility) and his Shadow Searing Skull (inflicting the curse on the first hit) are minor changes. However, these changes make Spinal a more well-rounded character. He has a great way to get through projectiles now, and you're essentially guaranteed to curse an opponent every time the Shadow Searing Skull hits. With crouching Medium Kick now leading into a combo, it gives Spinal even more utility. While we'd still like to see his Skeleport with complete invincibility on the way down (like Glacius' Puddle Punch), Spinal is definitely an improved character.