Friday, 21 June 2013

Games: Killer Instinct: Count von Sabrewulf

Hello and welcome once again to another dose of werewolf trivia!

As promised, we are still staying in the world of gaming, since there have been a few interesting announcements made recently and we will remain in it for at least one more post. So if you don't like games - well, too bad for you, I guess, because here we go! Today's spotlight is:


C-C-C-C-Combo Breaker!

Killer Instinct, developed by Rare and published by Midway and then Nintendo, appeared in 1994 as an arcade fighting game, later getting a port to the Super Nintendo (SNES) and the Game Boy Pocket consoles. In appearance and gameplay, it resembles the two other popular arcade fighting games of the time, Tekken (1994) and Mortal Kombat (1992). As well as having borrowed a system of finishing moves from Mortal Kombat, the game shares a lot of elements present in its 1987 predecessor, Street Fighter. Its popularity led to the creation of a sequel and a series of comics by Acclaim Comics. On June 10th, 2013, during Microsoft's press conference, it was announced that the franchise will see a reboot as a digital-only game exclusive to Microsoft's brand-new console, the XBox One. The revamped version is currently slated to appear in November 2013. But first things first.

As with other such fighting games, the gameplay is based on the player controlling one of many available characters with the goal of winning against computer-controlled enemies in one-on-one combat. Killer Instinct features a varied cast of playable characters, each of whom have their own stage and theme music. Also, every character has a backstory and a final solution to the plot points that may have appeared in it at the end of the arcade mode, which is basically a reward for beating the game.

Story-wise, the action takes place in the non-specifically-defined future, where all the governments of the world have been turned into megacorporations. One such megacorporation - called Ultratech - likes to conduct what we would call immoral experiments, mainly dabbling in human DNA with the aim to create supersoldiers. They even go as far as discovering the technology to build bridges between different dimensions, which results in them freeing an ancient evil, Eyedol, from his prison in Limbo. Having created a few "failed experiments", Ultratech is staging its annual Killer Instinct fighting tournament both to test their creations and the participants in brutal combat, offering lush rewards to whoever succeeds in winning against the final challenge - Eyedol himself.

Count Dracula? Not this time!

Of course, I wouldn't be writing about a game if it didn't have a werewolf twist to it. Meet Count von Sabrewulf - or simply Sabrewulf, for short. He is one of the participants of the Killer Instinct tournament. From his backstory, we learn that at some point in his life he was bitten by a wolf and subsequently contracted an aggressive strain of the lycanthropy virus. The changes he underwent every full moon resulted in his being cast out of human society and him becoming a recluse. He has apparently spent a number of years alone in his tower keep. Nearly losing all hope of being cured after failing to revert back to human form, Sabrewulf is contacted by Ultratech who convince him to participate in this year's Killer Instinct tournament, promising to give him a cure for his lycanthropy if he is victorious. Having no other choice, Sabrewulf decides to take part in the competition.


Sabrewulf has the appearance of a greyish-blue bipedal humanoid wolf, with muscular arms and torso and an exceptionally thin waist. The only piece of clothing he wears is a torn rag (of various colours which can be picked in the character selection screen) that seems to be what remains of a shirt he used to wear. He has no tail, his eyes glow yellow and his attacks revolve around the sharp claws of his hands and his fangs. One of his moves involves him arcing back and howling. He moves primarily on two feet, but he can be seen crouching and on all-fours when blocking and biting. He doesn't speak during combat, the only sounds that can be heard being snarls and growls of all sorts, but in the comics it is stated that he can communicate despite his wolf form. Upon winning a match, Sabrewulf is seen sniffing towards the direction of the fourth wall. After that, a cutscene plays where Sabrewulf is shown all bloodied, tearing away at a piece of meat (the remains of the enemy, perhaps?) before throwing it away to triumphantly look at the camera. Sabrewulf's stage appears to be one of the many chambers of his gothic tower keep, with an old-fashioned fireplace in the middle, a shield and an old painting hanging on the wall. Every character in the game also has their theme music and so does Sabrewulf. Keeping with the idea of him being a count and living in an old castle-like keep, his theme is dark and the main melodic line resembles the sound of a harpsichord, or organs, which adds to the Gothic feel of the character.

After the player beats the arcade mode by defeating the last boss, Eyedol, Sabrewulf is shown returning from the tournament, having obtained the cure for his lycanthropy from Ultratech. As he approaches his home, the sun rises and he shapeshifts back into a human, finally able to return to living a normal life.

But not all is well that ends well...

In 1996, after the huge success of the first game, Killer Instinct 2 was released as an arcade-only title, but was later also ported to the Nintendo 64 under the name Killer Instinct Gold. The story of the sequel continues from where its predecessor finished, but unfortunately not all of the endings we saw in the first game turned out to be canon. After Eyedol is defeated by Orchid in front of the Ultratech building, a dimensional rift opens and transports most of the characters 2,000 years into the past. At the same time, Gargos - Eyedol's rival from the ages past - is set free from his prison in Limbo and released upon the world. Trapped in a primordial world, the characters battle against each other for the right to face and defeat Gargos - or simply to find a way to return to their homes.

It's probably safe to say that the endings retcon hit Sabrewulf the hardest. Remember that part where by winning the tournament he obtains the cure for his lycanthropy? Yeah, well, you can now pretend like it never happened. The official story of the sequel reveals to us that apparently Sabrewulf was defeated somewhere during the Killer Instinct tournament and severely injured. In this state, he was then captured and imprisoned by Ultratech who began conducting their gruesome experiments on the poor werewolf. They implant him with cybernetic arms and slowly drive him insane. Once Sabrewulf is sent back in time, the only force pushing him forwards is the thirst for revenge, since the hope of finding a cure for his condition after Ultratech's deceit is now almost gone.

The graphics of the sequel have been improved in comparison to the first game, so Sabrewulf looks a little different. His model is now a bit more detailed, he has cybernetic arms and no longer wears the rag from the previous game on his chest. Instead, he is clad in torn shorts of various colours which, I assume, can be chosen on the character selection screen like before. Sabrewulf's moves have remained a combination of tooth-and-claw attacks, but he now seems to spend less time on all-fours, blocking only with one arm. The howling move seems to have returned as well. After defeating an opponent, the cutscene shows Sabrewulf howl over what seems to be human remains against a backdrop of a full moon.

This time, there are two possible endings to Sabrewulf's story, each of them not even moderately satisfying. I guess the developers wanted to avoid writing themselves into a corner like they did in the first game, so that no more plot holes would occur. Which outcome the player gets depends on whether the player decides to spare Glacius or finish him off during the arcade playthrough. If Glacius is killed, after defeating Gargos Sabrewulf steps through the "Timeshift" portal and goes back to his time. Having still not found a cure, he loses all his hope and lives on in misery. If Glacius is spared, after defeating Gargos Sabrewulf bitterly regrets leaving his foe alive. At the same time, having found no cure, he succumbs to the beast within and the last remains of his humanity disappear.

Sabrewulf obtains a cure for lycanthropy in one of the unused endings.
From the information I've managed to gather, it appears that there were two other possible outcomes to Sabrewulf's story, but both of them were scrapped somewhere along the way. These two endings were to be dependent on the player destroying a part of the stage where Sabrewulf fights Glacius - in this scenario, if the proper part of the stage was destroyed, Sabrewulf would salvage technology from the wreckage of the alien spaceship, which would allow him to discover a cure for his lycanthropy. With that, the ending scene would feature Sabrewulf drinking the cure and becoming a human once and for all. But, I guess, this would make no sense - like in the case of the first game - if the developers wanted to ever continue the franchise in any form, Sabrewulf being one of its main characters. The second scrapped ending involves Sabrewulf sneaking into the alien spaceship in order to find a cure, but getting killed by the aliens once he has been found.

Sabrewulf in the Killer Instinct comics

In 1996, riding on the wave of the popularity of the franchise, three comic books and three specials were published by Acclaim Comics. Because I don't have those comics in my possession and there seems to be very little info about them on the web, I won't go into too much detail concerning their story. Generally speaking, it seems that the plot of the comics follows the events of the first game, with a few plot twists here and there. Sabrewulf, of course, appears in these comics, his motivation for participating in the tournament the same as always - to obtain a cure for lycanthropy. Knowing, however, that Ultratech will not give it to him just like that even if he wins the tournament, Sabrewulf is then helped by Black Orchid. The two sneak into where they figure Ultratech could be holding the cure. After defeating some enemies, the impatient Sabrewulf grabs the first thing he thinks is the cure and chugs it down, but instead of turning into a human, he becomes a giant monster and bursts out of the Ultratech building. Apparently, in the next issue, he is back to normal and this plot point is dropped completely. Also during the events of the comics, Sabrewulf at some point fights with Jago and wounds him, which subsequently causes Jago to become a werewolf himself. Desperate to find a cure, Orchid asks the Ultratech scientists for help. In reply, they state that the only way they can reverse the process is if they obtain either Jago's DNA from before when he was infected or the DNA of a blood relative (how exactly this would work in developing a cure I don't know). In the end, this plot point's only purpose is to establish that Orchid is Jago's long-lost sister, thanks to which the whole situation can be happily resolved.

The werewolf of E3

On June 10th, 2013, during Microsoft's press conference at the annual E3 convention, it was revealed that the Killer Instinct franchise would be rebooted later on this year as an XBox One-exclusive title, available as a digital download only. The gameplay that was shown during the presentation featured a fight between Sabrewulf and Jago. At this point, since the game is still in development, there are no details concerning the plot of the game, so we don't know if it will just be a remake of the first game or if it will have a completely new story (or maybe no story at all?). Rumour has it that the game will be free to play, but that characters will have to be purchased individually. Although Sabrewulf and Jago are so far the only characters that have been shown, the graphics look really, really good and the fighting takes place in a beautifully detailed arena. At the moment, the game is slated to appear in November 2013, being on the list of XBox One's release titles.

Sabrewulf leaps into battle and roars at the start of the fight.
Compared to the previous games, Sabrewulf's appearance has also been reworked to match the evolution of graphics on gaming consoles. His model is so detailed that you can see the scars on his skin and even veins on his muscles (not sure if this is such a pleasant sight, though). Sabrewulf now looks like you would expect your every run-of-the-mill crinos werewolf to look. Except you probably wouldn't expect him to be blue. He is muscular, but his waist is no longer incredibly thin, giving way to a more realistic design. He now has a mane stretching from the top of his head down his back, braided into three braids on each side of his face, some chest hair and a few tufts of fur here an there, mainly on his limbs. An interesting addition which was not present in the previous games is the fact that here Sabrewulf appears to have a short tail (which, unfortunately, can't be seen from the screenshots posted in this article). Kudos to the developers for that, it's nice to see a crinos werewolf with a tail that doesn't look quite silly. The only thing that looks a bit clumsy are his feet, but it's a detail that is generally lost during gameplay, because of nice animation and seems to look weird just in screenshots. His cybernetic arm implants are also gone, which would suggest that maybe this is a remake of the original game or is a part of a different continuity. Then again, I have also been reading some bizarre stuff about Sabrewulf supposedly ripping out the implants by himself after giving in to the beast inside him and then regrowing his natural arms with the use of dark magic, but I couldn't find when exactly this was supposed to happen.

When it comes to clothing, as an homage to Killer Instinct 2, Sabrewulf wears the same kind of pants he used to wear back in 1996. This time, however, he is also wearing leather bracers on his wrists and some bloodied bandages underneath. In a mirror match, the colour of the pants changes to dark blue, the character's eyes are red (compared to the original yellow ones) and he is of a slightly brighter shade of blue.

But why is he blue?

There is no longer any doubt - this time Sabrewulf's fur is definitely blue. Although he has always been kind of blueish in colour, the significance of this may go deeper than just the creators' fancy. It dates back to 1984 to a ZX Spectrum game called Sabre Wulf. The game was developed by Tim and Chris Stamper - the later co-founders of Rare - and featured a blue wolf called Sabre Wulf. This wolf would then become the inspiration for Rare's Killer Instinct werewolf, Count von Sabrewulf. In 2004, Rare developed yet another game under the same title for the Game Boy Advanced, in which the blue wolf made his return and was also placed on the cover of the box. Looking at all of this, it is safe to say that Sabrewulf is Rare's homage to the Sabre Wulf series of games and this time, with the advanced graphics engine at their disposal, they could make him blatantly blue without making him look super silly.

So now that we know why Sabrewulf is blue, we can move on. One last thing I wanted to mention at this time is the way he behaves during a fight. Sabrewulf is still a beast and he is now more ferocious than ever before. He still has his array of fang and claw attacks. Slashing with his claws, biting into the opponent, jump kicks, charges, juggles, it's all there. This time, however, for fast movement Sabrewulf runs at his opponent on all-fours. He also has a move where he leaps at the enemy from all-fours, striking them with his claws. The howl that existed in the previous games is gone, but as a power-up, Sabrewulf arches back, roars and becomes surrounded by a green aura, allowing him to perform a special combo. Having won, the present Sabrewulf smashes his fists on the ground, arches back and howls, similarly to the 1996 game.

And since we don't know much more at the moment about the 2013 reboot, I will leave it at that. I will try to update this post as any relevant new info is released. In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed reading about our blue werewolf Count and that you now know where he came from :) We will see in time if the reboot of Killer Instinct is successful. For now, there are a few videos of gameplay already on YouTube, both official and unofficial, so if you want to find out a bit more, I redirect you there. For now, have two more nice screenshots of the current version of Sabrewulf. In them, you can see some of the differences between the original model and the mirror match alternate version.

Sabrewulf's alternate costume.
Also, the next post will probably not be as long as this one. Anyway, I'm signing off for now. Will try to post something new (or old) soonish. For now, enjoy and I'll see you next time!
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