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KI3 uses an 8-way joystick and a six-button layout like its predecessors. The actual gameplay itself remains similar to its predecessors as well.
The Killer Instinct tournament is organized into rounds that last 99 seconds. During that time, each player must attempt to take away both of the other player's life bars by doing physical damage to them. The first life bar is green, and the second life bar is red. Between life bars, there will be a brief pause as the fighter who lost their life bar gets up off the ground, but otherwise, the action is continuous throughout the entire 99 seconds. If the 99 second timer runs out, the fighter who has the most energy in their life bar will win.
Below the fighter's life bar is a super bar. The super bar consists of little boxes that appear as the fight progresses. the super bar provides a visual reference of a player's ability to do Super Moves. Super Moves are special attacks. The super bar grows when a player's attack is blocked by an opponent. It also grows for a player who is being hit by attacks.
In the arcade version, players will insert their credits and then push start. Players will then choose a fighter and the match will begin. Two players can compete against each other by inserting two credits before starting a match.
In the Gamecube version, the players can choose from one of the modes in the game.
- B - Quick kick (QK)
- A - Medium kick (MK)
- X - Fierce kick (FK)
- L - Quick punch (QP)
- Y - Medium punch (MP)
- R - Fierce punch (FP)
- Up - Jump
- Up + Forward - Forward jump
- Forward - Move right
- Forward + Down - Duck
- Down - Duck
- Down + Back - Block low
- Back - Move back, block high
- Back + Up - Back jump
In KI3, there are many different modes of play to choose from. Only the Arcade mode is in the arcade version of the game, all the other modes are exclusive to the Gamecube version.
In the Arcade mode, you'll go against various opponents. If you lose a match in the arcade version, you'll have to insert another credit to continue. In the Gamecube version, you can continue as many times as you need. A second player can join in by inserting a credit or pressing start on another controller.
In this mode you can fight with teams. Each player selects a team of 2 to 11 characters. The fight is over when one of the teams has been defeated.
This mode is similar to the Team mode, but a team member is only eliminated if they're defeated with an Ultra, Ultimate, or if they get knocked out of the arena.
Two to eight players can play in a tournament. This is where the winner of the fight stays on, and the others rotate.
Practice your skills, with a full Super Bar, against an opponent who doesn't fight back. Press Z to make a move list for your character appear.
This is a great place to start. The Master will teach you how to perform all of your character's Special Moves, some Combos, Combo Breakers, and Special Move Counters.
Practice each specific exercise found in the Training mode.
2 vs. 2
In this mode, four players will fight simultaneously with two on each team.
- Kim Wu
- TJ Combo
- Chief Thunder
The Gamecube version has a few changes from the arcade version. Some of these changes include:
- There are many new modes added.
- Eyedol and Gargos are unlockable fighters.
- Some of the finisher moves have been toned down a bit, most notably Riptor's finishing move.