Killer Queen Black review – an arcade port for the ages

Arcade games are one of those things that have generally fallen into obscurity, but by all means shouldn’t have. There’s a certain allure to them that is totally intentional – catchy music, crunchy sound effects and fetching cabinet art are all meant to draw you to stick a coin or two in the hopper for a minute or two of titillation. I’ve always seen them as a contemporary to a pool table or dartboard – a social activity found in places where people congregate, perhaps with an ale or some pizza. But for whatever reason, be it the expense of building a dedicated arcade or simple space constraints, coin-ops have now been relegated to novelty bars and movie theater hallways.

But developer BugBear decided to ignore the arcade’s decline – and they created something sublime. Killer Queen is a massive, two-cabinet monster of a game that sees ten people competing in a simple but strategic team-based platformer. The playing field is a massive, terraced battlefield where two teams take each other on in the hope of securing a win in one of three disparate but linked ways. One is to take out the opposing team’s queen, a deadly lance-wielding vixen who flitters about and dive bombs or impales her foes. Everyone else plays as a drone that can divert their attention in a multitude of ways: they can gather berries and deposit them at their hive for an economic win, take a berry and spend it to become a queen-killing warrior, or ride an unassuming snail and race it (as best as one can) to their finish line.

Killer Queen has this interesting charm to it that’s equal parts old-school arcade spectacle and current day eSport phenomenon. It’s refreshingly chaotic, calculated and… really hard to come by.

Ever since reading about it a few years back, I’ve wanted to play this game. Unfortunately, because of my location, there are no Killer Queen cabinets even remotely close to where I live. Having said that, I’ll be visiting my brother next month, who happens to live close to two locations that have Killer Queen – so my journey is almost to an end. But in the meantime I’ve been granted access to the next best thing in the form of a good old-fashioned home port.

I’m sure there are appreciable differences between Killer Queen Black and its arcade progenitor, but beyond cutting down the number of players from ten to eight, the heart and soul of the game seems to remain the same. Its brilliance is that although it’s simple enough to be played with a single joystick and button, people can contribute in numerous different ways to reach the same goal. Teamwork is key; talking to your partners beforehand to divvy out jobs is crucial.

As queen, you have to protect your hive while your team mates try to move the snail or snag berries, but you also be defensively minded, because the opposition can score a point through your demise. As a worker, it’s your responsibility to either capture the snail and move it across the map, collect said berries or become a warrior and backup whoever needs help. After death you respawn, but time is of the essence, and having to wait even a few seconds can prove disastrous.

Trying to keep up with everything can be crazy, but there’s a certain intoxicating feeling to sorting it out. Killer Queen Black strikes this wonderful balance of skill-building and strategizing with just enough randomness that anything can feel possible. I always felt that my actions mattered, no matter what job you I chose to do. I rarely get into competitive games, but his one had me hooked from the word go.

While it is a bit hidden, my favorite way to play is locally. You can either play with four people on one Switch (which we reviewed) or eight people with two connected systems. Each map feels vastly different and unique, which sets up different strategies. But the game’s main push is its online modes. You have your prerequisite ranked matches, ‘for fun’ unranked ones and the ability to create private rooms. While I was a bit worried about finding competition online, there’s crossplay with Xbox One and PC, making it more likely you’ll find someone to play with. And like any proper sport, Killer Queen Black is bristling with stats to both entertain you and provide something to brag about.

Killer Queen Black makes me want to play the original game even more now that I’ve dug into its nuances and find them to be riotously entertaining. But even so, I don’t feel like this conversion leaves anything on the floor, as it were. It’s the type of game I’ll likely bust out at parties, but it’s also nice to know that in those moments between, I can go on the internet and play to my heart’s content. I know it’s probably a cliché in reviews of this, but I can’t help but think of the Queen song this game was probably named after, and say that it’s “dynamite with a laser beam, guaranteed to blow your mind.”

Killer Queen Black was developed by Liquid Bit and is available on PC and Switch (and on Xbox One in 2020). We reviewed the Switch version.

Disclosure statement: review code for Killer Queen Black was provided by Stride PR. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.