Killer Queen Black is one of the latest indie titles to enter the market on the Xbox family of consoles debuting on Xbox Game Pass. After some great success on Nintendo Switch, PC and Mac after launching back in October 2019 it’s fantastic that we can join the club on Xbox.
Killer Queen Black is a real-time strategy platform game for up to eight players – locally or online – and features cross-play functionality allowing you to connect with your friends and family across the available platforms on offer.
After some keen personal research I was elated to see that the original inspiration for this game was titled “Killer Queen” which launched for the Arcade way back in 2013. Created by only two developers, Josh DeBonis and Nikita Mikros, the co-founders of BumbleBear Games and the design team behind Killer Queen Black, the game has been published through Liquid Bit. The original Killer Queen title was first premiered in New York University, so it is incredible to see how far it has come to land in the hands of millions.
Looking at Killer Queen Black through a window of video footage or screenshots, you’d feel like it is Super Smash Bros.-esque, but in truth it is far from that. To truly understand the concept of the game on your first crack of the whip I would urge you to play through the short tutorial missions. Killer Queen Black is truly unique in that it grants both teams three different opportunities to grab the win in round-based warfare.
When entering the game you’ll be asked if you’d like to be the Queen or a Drone, although you can also let the game decide for you if you’re torn in your decision. Teams are made up of one Killer Queen and three drones on each round start. Drones have unlimited respawns whereas Killer Queens have three.
On the face of the fast-paced frantic action of eight players fighting towards several goals of winning a match, the Queen at first appears to be the most dominant of the team. They can navigate quickly, slaying you in one attack move if you’re caught. However, if the Queen becomes complacent they can be countered and killed too. Attacking as the Queen requires precision as you tap the A button to fly and B to take a swipe at your enemy with a melee attack with what seems to resemble a sword. You are only required to successfully hit the opposing Queen once to deplete a life from them. It does make for some tense battles though as if both Queens are attacking each other it almost becomes a duel of who can get the strike first, a little like fencing; if you clash at the same time you will bounce back slightly to ready yourself for another attempt at the stab.
If you didn’t choose the option to be the Killer Queen or become lucky enough to be selected then you’ll be starting the round as a drone. Drones are small characters almost appearing like something out of a 16-bit version of Fall Guys, and even though they have their work cut out as they are defenceless and have no form of attack or defence, there are opportunities to power yourself up.
Drones also have the ability to transform into a Warrior by picking up berries and then standing in a gate and transforming. This will grant the ability to melee the opposing Queen, and add more aggression towards enemy drones. These gates can only be used by the blue or gold team if their own Queen has flown past the gate, which in turn paints that gate the colour of the team they are working for. The gates can however be stolen back by the opposing Queen flying past them to change the colour again. Drones can contribute to the two remaining options of gaining the glory, and that is by economic or snail victory.
Economic victory is a simple but time-consuming operation; drones must collect berries scattered across the plethora of platforms within the arena and dispatch them within their base hive. This is achieved by carrying one berry at a time and either throwing it with a button press towards a hive or jumping into the several holes to bury your berry. Whilst it sounds easy, it can be rather tedious if carrying out this task single-handedly. If the entire team works towards gathering berries and depositing them into the hive, the success rate is more guaranteed and a lot quicker. You will quickly learn that if you are using this route to gain the lead and doing it alone, that you may want to put the berries down and focus on gaining a win with the Snail, or transform to a warrior in a bid to engage the opposing Queen.
Snail victory can be an extremely slow process but also a convincingly consistent one if performed well. The premise here is very simple – jump onto the back of the snail and ride it like a horse towards a set of goal posts. This requires the least effort but you will literally be plodding along at a snail’s pace. You will need to keep your wits about you, as if the Killer Queen is close by they are likely to take a swipe to disembark you. This will stop the snail dead in its tracks and you’ll be able to pick up the process when you respawn, unless the opposing side has now decided to take a ride. This can be frustratingly intense as can be a tug of war operation often resulting in being a whisker away from bagging the round, only to be slain and made to try and take the reins of the snail once more. It is useful if working as part of a team to have a drone who has transformed its ability to melee, keeping them close to the snail in preparation for incoming attack as this will allow you to keep shifting towards the goal line.
I would suggest that if you have friends who are willing to give Killer Queen Black a blast then this would increase your odds of consistent wins. Teamwork is key here and I found a real quick way to obtain a victory was for the drones to collect berries and dispense them in the hives in a swift movement whilst the friendly Killer Queen guarded the drones. Your eye has to be kept on the ball at all times though; concentrating too long on one task could mean the enemy team crosses the finish line with the snail before you complete plucking and depositing berries. It really is a rushed race of who can achieve whatever goal first and the carnage that derives from it is what makes Killer Queen Black such fun to play. With so many outcomes and no two games ever feeling the same, it has a consistent engagement factor of keeping you on your toes as you try to figure out the best approach and what you are the most skillful and comfortable at performance-wise.
That said, for the casual newcomer it could be slightly too competitive and the learning curve could be quite demanding, especially if you find yourself jumping into lobbies with random players. I found that playing alone with zero communication made some rounds frustrating as drones went off doing their own thing, with no sense of contributing to one of the particular ways of victory. The only hope here is that the Killer Queen is skillful and accurate enough to kill the enemy Queen enough times to steal the victory this way. I made the most of these moments, practicing the other methods and discovering the best ways to navigate the several arenas on offer.
The developers have been clever with Killer Queen Black, covering many bases so that there is something for everyone. For seasoned veterans of online competitive titles who just want real opponents then quick and ranked matches are for you. Longevity is rife here with the ability to complete ten placement matches to be placed into a tiered league – bronze, silver and gold. The replayability is always present as you’ll constantly want to place higher on the online leaderboards. If you’re a sucker for data and deep stat tracking then you’ll have a field day with your profile displaying wins and losses, time played, kill and deaths along with information on how long you’ve ridden the snail and how many berries have been deposited. There is nothing worse than investing hours and hours into a multiplayer title to not be able to see the details of your ongoing performance. The developers have really thought about the future here.
Interestingly I found that if you fancy improving your game or taking some time out to learn from others, that there is a handy offering of a spectate mode. This grants you the ability to join a live match and observe it in real time. This is useful as it allows you to have eyes on everything going on and you can cast your sight on how other players operate, their movements and different strategies and tactics.
The soundtrack is reminiscent of its true roots of an original arcade title with mellow relaxing tunes throughout the menus and lobbies, then ramping up some high intensity build-up music just before the match starts, with celebratory tones for winning a round. During the match itself though the sound effects are a stark reminder of standing in a busy arcade: it really echoes those late 80’s and early 90’s vibes when titles such as Streets Of Rage and Golden Axe rumbled through the gathering of several machines. Whilst these sounds were basic, they were almost always remembered in a positive way and I feel you’d gain a similar aura here.
Graphically even though it is essentially a 2D platform multiplayer arena title, there are vibrant offerings of colour that really work well in Killer Queen Black; they are certainly easy on the eye. It is one of the prettier 2D titles available and there is so much fast-paced action to be had that you aren’t really fixated on the finer details. It is a shame that there aren’t more arenas on offer though, with only six available at launch on Xbox with more rumoured to be promised in the future. Perhaps some form of customisation for the characters would have been a welcome addition: though you can alter the appearance of your drone it is extremely limited and minimal.
Killer Queen Black on Xbox really does tick the boxes in every way for its uniqueness and addictive nature. There are serious hours of fun to be had with a competitive or casual title that can easily be played in short bursts. However, I’d recommend grabbing some friends to join you online to help you progress on the leaderboards and through the rankings. This is one of the surprise games of 2021, and one that should be on your hard drive for the foreseeable future.