There is a fairly decent chance nobody reading this review have ever been to an arcade. Before you ask, no, Chuck E. Cheese doesn’t count. The fact that I am sitting here, reviewing a new arcade game that became so popular it was ported to PC and consoles is nothing short of flabbergasting. That being said, it is a very welcome mind boggler, and one that both arcade and competitive gamers should not miss out on.
Killer Queen Black was developed by Liquid Bit and BumbleBear Games and published by Liquid Bit. It will be released for Nintendo Switch and PC on October 11, 2019. The Switch version was played for this review.
One thing I have loved with the emergence of the indie game scene has been the love letter to arcade and console classics. Games like Towerfall: Ascension and Celeste have brought a certain style back for old gamers while also introducing them to a new generation.
While those games launched on consoles, Killer Queen took a very different path. It was built as an arcade cabinet and put out into the world. While simply being a new arcade cabinet is enough to get people’s attention, Killer Queen also had the distinction of being a 10 player, 5 vs 5 competitive experience.
Due to the cabinet’s size and, you know, being an arcade cabinet, Killer Queen’s availability was very limited. At the time of writing, the Killer Queen arcade cabinet is only available in about 50 cities in North America. With all that being said, what is it about Killer Queen that made it so popular?
To put it simply, it’s the classic formula of competition and local multiplayer. Excited as I was to hear Liquid Bit announce they were bringing the arcade experience to the home, I was a bit concerned if the experience could hold up in an online environment.
Bringing It Home
I’m happy to say they have mostly succeeded in this endeavor. The first noticeable format change in Killer Queen Black is the decreased player count. In order to fit with the four player limitation of home consoles, Black is limited to an 8-player skirmish. The next is, of course, the inclusion of online play. While this is a welcome and necessary addition, I think it is the only area in which Killer Queen Black stumbles. A piece of the experience is immediately lost in an online environment. I think some of this experience can be regained if you play on PC, but the Nintendo Switch’s online experience is simply lacking in its support of a competitive game.
Part of the draw of the Switch is the casual nature of playing on it. When communication is such a vital factor in a game like Killer Queen Black, having to whip my phone out to talk to my teammates is kind of a drag. On PC, you can just talk in-game or join up in Discord, making it the way to play if online play is the way for you.
On the flipside, Killer Queen excels on Switch in a couch environment. If you can get a second Switch and 7 of your best friends to sit down with you, it is the best way to play. Nothing beats talking to the teammates right next to you to figure out your strategy. Do we go economic and fill our hive up with eggs? Do we go military and arm up to take down the enemy queen? Or do we play the slow and sneaky game and slowly ride the snail back to our hive?
It’s that variety of ways to win that takes a simple premise and expands it into a rich, competitive landscape. Since I couldn’t wrangle seven friends and as many Joy-Cons, I was limited to playing online with randoms, a lot of whom were probably learning the games strategies just like me. Most matches were over in a matter of a few minutes, usually because either team’s queen had been killed three times. One thing I never saw was an economic victory. Most of the time the eggs were only being gathered to turn our drones into soldiers.
This all brings a certain degree of chaos that is reminiscent of an all out brawl in Super Smash Bros. There is so much going on that all players really do need to be paying attention and working together to win. Easily my favorite victory is the snail victory. A single snail sits in the middle of the map. A simple drone can hop on top and slowly ride him home for sweet victory and can only be stopped by being killed, but can also be temporarily delayed if an enemy drone literally feeds itself to the snail. One of the best moments I had in a match was me feeding myself to the snail to stall the enemy over and over until a soldier came to kill the enemy drone.
What makes this all fun is the solid fair-play design decisions. What I mean by this is Liquid Bit clearly were careful to make sure there weren’t any cheap strategies to exploit during a match. The maps are small, but you can never be trapped thanks to the looping edges that simply transport you to the opposite side. You would think it would be easy to camp the enemy queen’s spawn point to just keep killing her but no, the queen has a few seconds of invulnerability after spawning to escape. This all amounts to a fun, nonstop, and action packed experience that thrives with its pickup and play nature.
Make Your Choice
That’s what Killer Queen Black masters. The feeling of competition and teamwork with people directly around you. It’s unbeatable. It’s rare a competitive game can give you the exhilaration of beating your friends without the bitterness of losing to them. It’s competition at its friendliest and most fun. The only real negative is having to decide to commit to online or local play, but regardless Killer Queen Black provides a simple but addictive gameplay loop that will have you coming back for more.
Review copy provided by Liquid Bit for Switch. Screenshots courtesy of Liquid Bit.