Killer Instinct: Spinal Outlook - Prima Games

Killer Instinct: Spinal Outlook

by Bryan Dawson

Killer Instinct fans have been waiting for nearly two decades for the revival of their beloved series, but even with the game finally available on Xbox One, not all of the classic characters were represented. Rounding out the first season of characters, Spinal will release very soon, with Fulgore following in March. While we wait for an official gameplay trailer this week, we learned some valuable information about Spinal from the Microsoft livestream last Thursday. Let’s examine what we were told and how that could impact Spinal’s gameplay.

Shield Absorb

Spinal’s trademark ability makes a triumphant return in the new KI. However, this time around, it’s much more important, because having skulls is a huge advantage for Spinal, which we’ll get to in a moment. Just like in previous games, Spinal can use the Shield Absorb to nullify any special or Shadow attack and create a skull for each hit of an attack it absorbs (for a total of five skulls if Spinal absorbs a full Shadow attack). However, if Spinal attempts to use a Shield Absorb on a normal attack, it will hit him.

The Shield Absorb has a little bit of startup, but minimal recovery, and it cannot be used while Spinal is blocking. This means it will be difficult, if not impossible to interrupt a normal attack canceled into a special move. You’ll have to use the Shield Absorb in anticipation of a special move, or once you see the beginning of the special move animation (assuming you have quick reflexes).

Something important to note is that the Shield Absorb counters all special moves, no matter the attack height. For example, Sabrewulf’s Run has three options: the overhead Jumping Slash, low-hitting Hamstring and the Running Uppercut launcher. If Sabrewulf is running at Spinal, it’s possible to activate the Shield Absorb and Spinal will nullify all of Sabrewulf’s options from his Run stance.


Skulls seem to be the meat and potatoes of Spinal’s gameplay. He can have up to five skulls at a time, with a variety of ways to obtain them. For every hit of a special or Shadow attack Spinal’s Shield Absorb nullifies, he receives one skull. Spinal’s throw also gives him a single skull, and one of his Enders gives him a number of skulls based on the level of the Ender. When Spinal activates Instinct, he instantly gains five skulls and they quickly replenish if he uses any.

Once Spinal has at least one skull, his gameplay drastically changes. All of his heavy special moves gain new properties when Spinal has at least one skull. For example, his heavy Shield Bash attack becomes projectile invincible, and his heavy Teleport can be canceled into a special move.

In addition to strengthening his special moves, skulls can be used as projectile attacks. Spinal can attack with a low skull, overhead skull or a skull with quick recovery, and while all of the skulls have relatively quick recovery, we assume that the skull with the fastest recovery may leave Spinal at an advantage or even with the opponent in terms of frame data.

When a skull successfully hits an opponent, it attaches to them, draining the opponent’s Shadow meter. If a Shadow skull is used (which doesn’t require Spinal to have any skulls at the ready, but uses one stock of the Shadow meter), it drains an opponent’s Instinct meter. Skulls can stack, meaning that if an opponent gets hit with several skulls in rapid succession, they can kiss their Shadow meter goodbye.

To top it off, Spinal can combo into and out of his skulls. We don’t know how much the KV meter will increase when a skull is used, but you can expect Spinal to give up some damage if he opts to use a few skulls in a combo. Even with the assumed loss of damage, it will be worth it in many situations, since you can stop an opponent from having Instinct available or remove their ability to use a Shadow attack or Shadow Counter.


Spinal’s teleport (Skeleport) returns, but it’s undergone a few changes. First and foremost, where Spinal teleports is relative to the opponent’s position. More than likely he’ll have a teleport directly behind the opponent, directly in front of the opponent and then probably about half a screen in front of and possibly behind the opponent.

The teleport’s primary use is to get Spinal into and out of sticky situations. When you have at least one skull, you can cancel the teleport into a special move, which we assume is uninterruptible. That could mean all kinds of things, but most notably, it probably means Spinal has an easy way to get in on any character in the game.

In addition, the Shadow version of Spinal’s teleport can be used in the air. We don’t know what other properties the Shadow variant(s) will have, but we do know that Spinal can’t use the teleport to play a defensive runaway style. Still, the fact that he has an aerial teleport again means that you can probably use it to throw off an opponent’s anti-air timing, even if you have to use Shadow meter to do it.

Slide and Dive Kick

Spinal already has a low-hitting and overhead skull projectile, but he’s got a low-hitting slide attack and an overhead dive kick to go along with those. To help balance him out, both of these attacks are unsafe if the opponent blocks, but the dive kick can be made relatively safe if you connect with the very tip of it.

Both of these attacks are considered Openers and lead into a full combo. It’s also safe to assume you can do some overhead/low shenanigans if you mix in Spinal’s low or overhead skull with the slide and dive kick. If you thought blocking against Sabrewulf was difficult, you may be in for a rude awakening when pitted up against a solid Spinal player.

Shield Bash

The Shield Bash that originated in the first Killer Instinct is back. At least one variation of the Shield Bash is safe when blocked, and if Spinal has a skull at the ready, the heavy Shield Bash is projectile invulnerable. Beyond this, not much is known about the Shield Bash.

In previous games, Spinal could cancel the Shield Bash into the slide. However, if the Shield Bash can’t be canceled in some way, even if that trick is included here, it won’t be much of a benefit because the Shield Bash can be blocked low. At the very least, with Shield Bash being safe, Spinal has at least one solid option when canceling a teleport into a special move. Of course, it’s very likely that canceling a teleport into a skull will be a very good choice as well.

Instinct Mode

Spinal’s Instinct mode gives him an immediate five skulls, and the ability to quickly replenish skulls once they’re used. This can be looked at very similar to Sadira’s Instinct mode. As soon as Spinal activates, the opponent has to play defensively. With virtually unlimited skulls for the duration of the Instinct mode, and the fact that skulls have low recovery, Spinal should be able to mount some crazy offensive strategies once Instinct is active. This will definitely be something we look into more once Spinal is available.

Ghostly Manuals

Every character has a unique combo trait, and Spinal is no different. His trait allows him to easily attach a Manual to any Auto-Double. If you press the same button strength following an Auto-Double, after a short delay, Spinal will attack with a Manual of that strength. For example, if you use a light punch Auto-Double and then press light punch again, Spinal will follow the light punch Auto-Double with a light punch Manual. The timing to break it is just as strict as a normal Manual.

General Gameplay

In addition to everything you’ve read, Spinal has a Command Normal overhead to add to his overhead/low mix-up game. If it’s anything like every other Command Normal overhead, he’ll be able to cancel it into a special move to make it safe. And while it may seem as though Spinal has everything, Double Helix has made sure he’s balanced by limiting him in a few ways.

Spinal has no dash, similar to Glacius. In its place is the ability to run. The run can be canceled into any attack in Spinal’s repertoire, which actually makes him one of the most mobile characters in the game, despite the higher learning curve to do so. However, his normal attacks have short range and moderately slow startup. He has a few standout normal attacks that will be used more often than not, but he won’t be able to rely on his normal attacks to mount much of an offense.

It also seems as though Spinal will have a hard time once he’s knocked down. We don’t yet know which attacks offer full invincibility (if any), but the lack of a dash means that he will have a hard time getting away from anyone.

We’ll have a full rundown of Spinal and his early strategies as soon as he becomes available to the public. Current speculation places his release late Thursday or sometime Friday.

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