Back in Black
The story behind Killer Queen Black's origins has fascinated me ever since I played it months back at E3. Chatting with a developer, I discovered that a game called Killer Queen came first, an arcade exclusive only available in limited quantities. The cabinet variant has a cult following, but if one of these units wasn't in your area, you've probably never heard of Killer Queen. Now, sequel Killer Queen Black is readily available on consoles and PC. Developed and published by Liquid Bit, is a 2D arcade platformer that pits two teams of four players head-to-head. There's an option for local and online cooperative play, or you can play solo online as well. Either way, it's a blast to play, at least in short bursts.
Teamwork in Killer Queen Black
A single team in Killer Queen Black comprises three bee-like workers and one queen. Your goal is to achieve victory, with three different ways to do so. Most players will prefer one role over the other, and Killer Queen Black's matchmaking allows you to choose rather than falling into a role against your will. I preferred playing as a worker, whose primary task is to aid the queen and achieve victory by fighting other players, riding a snail, or collecting berries. Filling your hive with all the necessary berries results in an economic victory. Alternatively, you can opt to spend a berry to equip yourself with a weapon. Going to a station scattered throughout the map allows workers equip themselves and fight the enemy queen and other workers. Weapons include anything from a mace that spins around the worker, a sword to lunge with, or even a laser gun. One hit from a weapon and the queen or rival workers are dead.
Conversely, workers can ride a snail to victory. Typically situated in the middle of one of Killer Queen Black's 2D maps, workers may jump on the snail and slither slowly to the goal at your team's end of the level. It's slow, and it doesn't sound viable, but you would be surprised how many times this becomes a legitimate way to win. This is because the maps in Killer Queen Black are large, almost maze-like environments filled with platforms to jump around on. It can often be difficult to focus on every little thing going on in a map with eight players (like the snail), so matches become chaotic but extremely fun. It's easy to focus on the task of collecting berries until you realize that another team's worker just won because no one on your team decided to try to stop the snail.
Military victory involves killing the other team's queen three times. Workers, if they're fast enough, can kill a rival queen with any weapon. Playing as the queen yourself feels like an advanced version of Joust. Equipped with a pointy sword, the queen is extremely deft. She attacks from side to side, quickly switching directions for a deadly dive. It's a difficult role to fill because you have a finite amount of lives and much responsibility. Still, it's extremely satisfying to take out droves of workers trying to collect berries or stopping the snail at the last second.
The first team to achieve victory three times wins, so Killer Queen Black is at its best when there are two highly coordinated, evenly-matched teams. Unfortunately, unless you're playing with a group of friends in local co-op, communication is difficult. Killer Queen Black supports voice chat and crossplay. On Nintendo Switch, it's a huge burden to set up any sort of voice communication. You can ping certain points on the map to draw your team's attention to it, but these commands were difficult to issue on the Switch because they required two simultaneous button presses. That's asking a lot of a game that already requires good control over your character and actions.
The Flaws in Killer Queen Black
Meanwhile, the art in the original Killer Queen had simple graphics, but thankfully this sequel features some truly fantastic high fidelity pixel art. Maps are gorgeous to look at even amid all the chaos. Unfortunately, there's a saddening lack of music. I associate many arcade games with heart-pumping, exciting music. Killer Queen Black has brief moments of music before each match, but it goes away once gameplay commences. It's a missed opportunity that would complement the wonderful visuals nicely, as well as play off of the arcade theme.
Besides the lack of music, Killer Queen Black's repetitive gameplay becomes another issue. Once you've played your first match, you have essentially seen all that's on offer. Ranked mode offers no incentive other than increasing your rank and going against against players on your skill level. I would love to see cosmetic unlocks as a reward for good performance and dedication. While Killer Queen Black is fun in short play sessions, I can't see much of a reason to continue on by myself. You can play with friends locally, which Killer Queen Black is perfect for, but otherwise it's a hard bargain.
It's also concerning that Killer Queen Black released without one of its best selling points. The highest ranked, best team in the world, called the "Black Team," will have their matches streamed continuously online for all to see. The thing is, this isn't in Killer Queen Black yet, despite being a part of the title. Supposedly, this feature is coming soon, but as of right now it's absent.
Killer Queen Black Review | Final Thoughts
Make no mistake, Killer Queen Black can be exceptionally fun. Cavorting around the stage, collecting berries while avoiding enemy workers and their weapons, or playing a high stakes game of cat and mouse as the queen is always thrilling. Still, with little reward for your efforts and in-game communication trouble, you should see if a few friends want to play before you pull the trigger on this arcade-like experience. It's a well-made game, there is no doubt about it, but I hope that in the future, Liquid Bit adds more to keep players interested, including new maps and cosmetics. Adding the namesake team from the title is a good start.
- Fantastic Visuals
- Fun in Short Bursts
- Great Esport Potential
- Lack of Progression
- No Music During Gameplay
- Communication Issues