We don’t get many arcade ports to home consoles these days.
But Killer Queen Black — an adaptation of the arcade machine Killer Queen, a few dozen of which exist — is a special and important exception. And it’s worth having in your Nintendo Switch library (or on your PC) if you play games with friends. It’s an expertly refined team-based multiplayer game that you can return to time and again, in the vein of games like Overcooked, Towerfall, or Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
Killer Queen has been aptly described by players as “Joust meets capture the flag.” It combines fast-paced arcade combat with team-based strategies, and famously offers three paths to victory:
- Earn a military victory by slaying the enemy team’s queen, a speedy and deadly unit, three times;
- Earn an economic victory by gathering berries from around the playfield and returning them to your team’s hive; or
Snail is the most amusing, and often the most challenging, way to win a game of Killer Queen Black. To achieve a snail victory, a player, as a worker drone, must ride a slow-moving snail to their team’s finish line.
When you first approach Killer Queen Black, a snail victory may seem impossible. Early matches are often bloodbaths in which players focus on killing the opposing team’s queen and her drones. But then — surprise! — the enemy team may eke out a snail victory while you weren’t paying attention, or there’s so much carnage as players jockey for control of the snail that someone sneaks across the finish line while the enemy team is respawning.
Economic victories can sneak up on players as well. A stealthy worker could be quietly harvesting berries away from the violent chaos of a battle, surprising their opponents who have an altogether different strategy in play. It’s those surprises, a victory snatched from what feels like impending defeat (or vice versa), that makes Killer Queen Black stand apart from similar multiplayer games.
Killer Queen Black is dense with visual information. Not only do you need to keep track of where your opponents are, you need to monitor which ones are the most immediate threats, which might be harvesting berries, how many lives the opposing queen has, which workers may have evolved into warriors, where the snail is — it’s a lot. It’s all presented on a single screen, and tension arises from trying to be situationally aware of all the ways the other team may be trying to beat you.
The home version of Killer Queen Black differs from its arcade source material in that it pits two teams of four players, instead of five, against each other. Up to four players can play on a single Switch, or you can go head-to-head with eight players on two Switches.
At Polygon’s New York offices, we played a game of eight players — four humans and four computer-controlled bots — in some intense matches. At first, we tried four humans against four bots, and faced a crushing Skynet-caliber stomping from our cold, unfeeling opponents. Teams composed of two humans paired with two bots felt more fair. But you can get a full complement of eight players together if two Switch owners bring together two copies of the game. I didn’t get a chance to test it out, as turns out getting eight people together, even at a gaming website, can be challenging.
But get those eight people together, if you’re able. Killer Queen Black has incredible party game potential, because while the controls are relatively simple, the teamwork required to win can be incredibly deep.
My main concern with playing Killer Queen Black is the game’s confusing interface, which doesn’t always make it clear when players have readied up or finalized their selections. There’s also the matter of syncing up to eight Joy-Cons and Switch Pro Controllers, and figuring out which teammate is which character. In my games, every human player was logged in as me, so we had four Michaels onscreen. It’s not ideal, and often just getting the game set up properly while everyone tries to figure out who they are on-screen can be a frustrating process.
But it’s relatively easy to jump into a quick match online and mess around if you’re not playing with friends. There’s also a ranked competitive mode where players, in theory, will take their online matches and team coordination more seriously. But while the emphasis appears to be on online play based on the game’s menus, the clear draw of Killer Queen Black, for me, is local play, when you can shout strategies and curses at your teammates or gloat over your opponents.
Killer Queen Black is out now on Nintendo Switch and Windows PC via Steam, and it costs $19.99. That’s a good price for something this unique; not a port of a relatively rare, modern, multiplayer arcade game, but an effective remix of that game that works better in the home, especially with a lot of competitive people crammed into one room. It takes a little work to get four — or eight — players in one place, but it’s worth putting in the work to play something this special, strange, and delightfully cutthroat.