Off-Kilter Instinct

I’d like to talk about Killer Instinct and B. Orchid. Really.

I admire Killer Instinct in a strange historical capacity. It’s not the reluctant fondness I have for the considerably trashier BloodStorm. It’s more of a distant appreciation for the way the original Killer Instinct summarizes all of the trends that video games toyed with in the mid-1990s. It’s a fighting game, of course, and it has plastic-looking computer-rendered graphics, profuse guitar licks, comical violence, preposterous sexism, an announcer squawking excitedly about BLASTER COMBOS, and a lineup of stereotypes exploiting everything from the Predator to Jurassic Park. And all of this came from Nintendo, who by then was sick and tired of Sega pretending to be the more daring game-industry titan.

If you want to experience a good game from 1995, play Chrono Trigger, Panzer Dragoon, or Metal Warriors. If you want to know what games were really like in 1995, play Killer Instinct.

B. Orchid is part of that, of course. Her design is an amalgamation of every unfortunate stereotype inflicted on women by that decade’s video games. She gallivants around in a skin-tight suit with “HOT” on the side, moans provocatively during her post-fight footage, and, for a “No Mercy” move, whips open her top and shocks her male opponents into cardiac arrest. Yet there was a time when people were hopeful about B. Orchid.

The above profile comes from a 1994 issue of Nintendo Power. I can sympathize with the writer who had to find good things to say about Orchid, looking as she does like some hideous 1960s Eastern European knockoff of a Barbie doll. In a bout of vague optimism, Nintendo Power suggests that Orchid will change the way female characters are portrayed in video games. In hindsight, the kindest view of Orchid is that she didn’t influence such depictions one way or the other, that she was a symptom and not a catalyst.