Killer Queen is a rarity in several ways. It's a new cabinet-based game, it splits the half-a-score of players it requires across two cabinets, and there are currently only four cabinet pairs in operation. Portlanders are fortunate enough to have one, the only cabinet west of Chicago. Ground Kontrol isn't sure how much longer they'll have the game, so this week I brought my old high school chum Nick Gudmanâan engineer at HP who, when he wasn't helping me wade through calc homework, built an arcade cabinet himselfâto check it out.
Be warned, there is a bit of a learning curve. And you'll do a lot better if you have enough friends to field two five-player teams.
When we first arrived, Nick was underwhelmed with the game's construction. âNot drunk-proof,â he noted, starting to unscrew the cap of one joystick. Nick and I ended up playing with three young dudes that were also drawn to the giant, multi-stick spread.
The gameplay also takes a little bit of time to figure outâthe onscreen instructions are pretty vagueâbut it's not that confusing. Each cabinet sports player controls for four little bugmen, all of whom are equipped with a left-right stick and a jump button, and a queenâwhich looks more like a equipped with a left-right-down stick, a âflapâ button, and, on screen, a lance for slaying the opposing bugmen.
As is only appropriate for a game with so many players, there are a whole bunch of ways to win. The floating platforms strewn about the screen are stocked little purple pellets that can only be picked up by the bugmen. If your team returns the pellets to your base at the top of the screen, it wins. But when the pellets are returned to power up stations, set up on other platforms, can also transform the bugmen into warrior bugmen, capable of killing the opposing queen (unfortunately for all the Marxist gamers out there, in the world of Killer Queen, transformation in class does not mean transformation in consciousnessâyou can't kill your own queen). Kill the queen three times, and your team wins. There's also a snail at the middle bottom of the screen which, if ridden to your team's side of the screen, brings with it victory.
It's fun. The queens' play recall arcade-standby Joust, while use of the bugmen feels like any classic arcade platformer. The different ways to succeed allow player to get creative in a way that arcade games rarely allow. While the cabinet art (the title on the marquee, nothing on the sides) might pale in comparison to the Jack Kirby-inspired graphics that exploded across every other game in Ground Kontrol, the graphics in the game itself are invitingly cartoony.
From the press it's gotten, it seems like Killer Queen has been played mostly at festivals and tournaments. In that setting, it would be greatâlots of people all focused on one thing, eager to jump in at a moments notice. But on a Tuesday night at Ground Kontrol, it was a little unwieldy. For whatever reason, it didn't draw a crowd, and I wasn't about to go around the arcade asking strangers to play with me. (Mom said not to do that.) It has no CPU automation: if you don't have a full team, the unused players just stand there with their thumbs up whatever bugs have.
âIt's a game for a lot of friends,â said Nick. âBut not a lot of people that play arcade games have a lot of friends.â That includes us, so after the other guys got bored, we left for Capcom vs. SNK, where Nick proceeded to hadouken the shit out of me until I had to go home.