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If you want to play a ghoulish platform game as a strange bee that looks like a bear with a blindfold, there aren’t really many games for you. And who doesn’t want to control the bear-bee and transport huge purple berries in an iron maiden torture device, to emerge as a flying winged creature wielding a sword to fight demonic creatures that resemble a ninja turtle? ? You really can’t make it up. I’m talking about Zombeez: a remix of Killer Queen, a not quite endless 2D platformer / runner that draws its inspiration and iconography from a classic arcade game named The killer queen. The original title was a team effort, where 5 players competed against 5 others to win very weird tricks, riding snails, collecting berries and fighting to the death. It was a very fun game.
Run like a devil
Zombeez tries to take some of the key elements from its arcade spiritual predecessor and incorporate them into this new single-player style of play, while still retaining the eerily funny demonic feeling. Visually, this new iteration looks like the original, with an eerie creature design and pixelated graphics. The music is hit and miss, mainly because it’s really chaotic, like chip-tune on steroids. This is indeed appropriate, but it will undoubtedly annoy some people. There isn’t much to say about the presentation of this game really. If this particular style is your thing, it looks perfectly OK, reminiscent of the original. The killer queen and arcade games in general.
The gameplay follows a design approach similar to what Super Meat Boy Forever tried to accomplish; Forever was from Super Meat Boy What Zombeez is of The killer queen. This means it’s a fairly straightforward and straightforward score-based racer, based on a different game that has defined a franchise, and has you completing small, ever-changing levels that are filled with traps, spikes, and enemies. . A level may take 3 minutes to complete, but there are plenty of alternate paths for you to follow so that you can replay it almost endlessly to find your ideal route, maximize your score, and have fun with enemies.
As expected, there is a “wall of death” following you, here a swarm of demonic creatures, so you have to hurry and go fast to avoid dying. What’s really strange is the behavior of enemies and even stranger is the way you fight them. It goes like this: you find a big berry, you take it, then you carry it to an iron maiden, you go inside and you come out with new powers. Without these powers the only thing you can do is jump on enemies to push them, if you don’t touch their swords and weapons, of course. Even when you have a weapon, you have to hit enemies in a specific way to kill them: you have to hit them while on top of them; if you are below, they win the fight. It’s a fun, weird, a little boring little system, and certainly not dead-end.
Handcrafted at random
Getting enemies to fall into 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 floating and slow, with not enough precision to match a fast, nail-hard platform game, and the flight system is frustrating, forcing you to press a button multiple times to gain height, but without clear feedback and slow response.
The similarity to Super Meat Boy Forever is in how Zombeez manages level design. The stages are not procedurally generated, they are not totally random, but they take their aspects from a pool of possible choices, mixing them together to create the feeling of totally different levels each time. This way the scenes look random but also handcrafted. After completing a short and fairly fun prologue that serves as a tutorial for the game, 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 different parts of a level as you see fit, but not really knowing exactly what you are choosing each time. You change some numeric values, like 089765, and each number represents a part of the level. So, there are many combinations, but not endless or really random, which means there is some familiarity to be acquired, which is a good thing and it makes the high difficulty manageable. One thing that bothers me is the snail, which isn’t big enough for its winning role in the original arcade game. Here, if you manage to ride the snail to the finish line, you only gain a few points, not really enough to justify trying to do it in the first place. Unfortunately, there are more elements that are not properly used and feel a bit unnecessary, adding little to the gameplay loop.
Then again, nothing makes absolute sense in this game, but it is strangely addicting and unexpectedly fun, despite its flaws. It’s a title that has the potential to keep you playing for a long time if you’re into games of that specific type, and its comedic demon-like presentation is simply delicious. Zombeez manages to feel a bit like a The killer queen game, while radically changing the basic mechanics and general approach. And, if you play it enough, maybe you can finally answer the eternal question: is it a bear or a bee?