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If you want to play a macabre platformer as a weird bee that looks like a bear wearing a blindfold, there aren’t really many games for you. And who doesn’t want to control the bear-bee and carry huge purple berries in an iron maiden torture device, only to emerge as a flying winged creature brandishing a sword to fight demonic creatures that look like a ninja turtle? You really can’t make this up. I’m talking about Zombeez: A Killer Queen Remix, a 2D platformer / not-quite-endless runner that takes its inspiration and iconography from a classic arcade game named Killer Queen. The original title was a team-based effort, where 5 players competed against 5 others to win some very weird rounds, riding snails, picking up berries and fighting to the death. It was a very fun game.
Run like hell
Zombeez tries to take some of the key elements of its arcade spiritual predecessor and incorporate them in this new style of single-player gameplay, while maintaining the weirdly funny demonic feeling. Visually, this new iteration looks just as the original did, with strange creature design and pixelated graphics. The music is hit or miss, mostly because it is really chaotic, like a chip-tune on steroids. It is indeed fitting, but it will undoubtedly annoy some people. There’s not much to talk about in regard to this game’s presentation really. If this particular style is your thing, it looks perfectly OK, reminiscent of the original Killer Queen and of arcade games in general.
The gameplay follows a design approach similar to what Super Meat Boy Forever tried to accomplish; Forever was to Super Meat Boy what Zombeez is to Killer Queen. Meaning, it’s a pretty simple and straightforward score-based runner, based on a different game that defined a franchise, and is making you complete small, ever-changing levels that are filled with traps, spikes and enemies. A level can take 3 minutes to be over, but there are many alternate paths to follow so you can replay it almost endlessly to find your ideal route, to maximize your score and to fool around with the enemies.
As expected, there is a “wall of death” that follows you, here a swarm of demonic creatures, so you have to hurry and move fast to avoid dying. What is really weird is the behavior of the enemies and even weirder is the way you fight them. It goes like this: you find a big berry, you take it, and then you carry it to an iron maiden, you go inside and you come out with new powers. Without those powers, the only thing you can do is jump on enemies to push them around, if you don’t touch their swords and weapons, that is. Even when you do have a weapon, you need to touch enemies in a specific manner to kill them: you have to hit them while being above them; if you’re below, they win the fight. It’s a fun little system, weird, a bit annoying and surely not done to death.
Pushing enemies to fall in pits and lava pools is particularly satisfying and flying to bring death from above to unsuspecting larvae is great, but the controls don’t help much. The jumps feel floaty and slow, with not enough precision to match a fast-paced, hard as nails platformer, and the flying system is frustrating, making you press a button repeatedly to gain height but with no clear feedback and a sluggish response.
The similarity to Super Meat Boy Forever is found in the way Zombeez handles level design. The stages are not proceduraly generated, they are not totally random, but they take their aspects from a pool of possible choices, mixing them up to create the feeling of entirely different levels every time. This way, the stages feel random but also handcrafted. After you finish a short and quite funny prologue that serves as the game’s tutorial, you can compete for high scores with other players, in daily or weekly generated levels and leaderboards, or just have fun in random setups.
You can even tinker with the formula, changing the different parts of a level as you see fit, but without really knowing exactly what you are choosing each time. You change some numerical values, like 089765, and each number represents a part of the level. So, there are many combinations, but not infinite or truly random, meaning that there is some familiarity to be gained, which is a good thing and it makes the high difficulty manageable. A thing that bothers me is the snail, which is not important enough compared to its game-winning role in the original arcade game. Here, if you manage to ride the snail to the finish line, you just earn some points, not really enough to justify trying to do this in the first place. Sadly, there are more elements that are not properly utilised and feel a bit pointless, not adding much to the gameplay loop.
Then again, nothing makes absolute sense in this game, but it is strangely addictive and unexpectedly fun, despite its shortcomings. It’s a title that has the potential to keep you playing for a long time if games of this specific type are your thing, and its comedic demon-like presentation is just delicious. Zombeez manages to feel somewhat like a Killer Queen game, while drastically changing the core mechanics and the general approach. And, if you play it enough, maybe you can finally answer the eternal question: is this a bear or a bee?