Genre: Single Player Episode
Download: J2C, Mirror
I hate this level pack.
No, really. Out of all episodes ever released, this one is my least favourite. And that includes some really bad ones, many which are objectively worse than Queen of Board. I admit, I'm biased here. My bias stems from a fairly simple reason: this level pack has received way more praise than it ever deserved, with people calling it things like "brilliant" and "epic". Queen of Board is neither, and while it may be a bit innovative, it's simply not very fun.
The main part of Queen of Board consists of three levels. The first is a sprawling maze, the second is a bonus level of sorts, and the third is a more standard level that culminates in a boss fight. Most people, when they think of this episode, only think of the first level. One reason for this is that the first level is the biggest one by far, and it is the most original and challenging. It's also the namesake of the level pack. A more likely reason why people only remember the first level though, is that most people can't even get past it.
The maze level is one of the hardest levels ever made, and it doesn't even have any enemies. The difficulty comes from finding the right path through the level, and getting past obstacles that require mental work rather than reflexes. It's a unique concept, to be sure: instead of making a level challenging by loading it with enemies and various other standard obstacles, make the challenge a more intellectual one. Unfortunately the execution is poor, and ultimately results in a level that is boring, repetitious, and extremely frustrating.
The biggest problem is that many of the obstacles are simply unfair. One example is of a section near the end of the level where the player has to guess which one of eighteen different paths is the correct one. Guess wrong, and that's it: Sorry! You lose. Try again. It wouldn't be so bad if there was a checkpoint before this area and some sort of hint, but unfortunately there is nothing like that, and the penalty for failure is starting the (very, very big) level all over again. There is actually a warning before this point that advises you to save the game, but it neglects to mention that a memory limitation in JJ2 means the game will likely crash if this is attempted. Oops!
For the few players who manage to get past that little guessing game successfully (or for the vast majority of players who just cheat), an even more asinine challenge awaits: the blind maze. In this section of the level, a large maze is completely obscured by an opaque green foreground, and the goal is to get through it while finding a number of "secrets" hidden in the maze. There are no hints. And the penalty for getting through the maze without finding all the secrets (which is a very likely situation)? You guessed it! Death! You get to play the level all over again!
As for the other two levels, they are more forgettable. The second level is just an easy bonus level, a nice break from the other two, much harder, levels. The third level is more original, and uses "MCEs", basically glitched events, to make clones of Jazz that attack you. It has an interesting design, being a gigantic vertical shaft with the boss at the very bottom. Sadly, this level too has some annoying design decisions, such as invisible enemies in arbitrary places, and a bizarre feature (perhaps bug?) of having Spaz start near the end of the level and Jazz start at the beginning. Queen of Board also includes a menu level at the beginning which contains the credits and the story (which is amusingly vague and has nothing to do with the levels), a credits level at the end, and a short parody level hidden after the credits. Of particular note is the menu level, a rather original, though superfluous, concept that became popular to use in episodes for a few years due to its use here. Today, menu levels are pretty rare.
Despite all the vitriolic disdain I obviously have for Queen of Board, I will acknowledge that it has some degree of lasting, positive influence. It can be credited with inventing a new type of level: big, non-linear and objective based, contrasting with usual fare of a quick, straight path from left to right. It also makes use of triggers in a way that was at the time totally new, and it deserves credit for that. Unfortunately, unlike Another Story which is still fun to play, Queen of Board has aged poorly. Today there are far better examples of the kind of gameplay and level design that Queen of Board helped pioneer; ones that won't leave you smashing your keyboard on the floor in frustration. The fact that this episode managed to break new ground is enough to save it from a score of 1.0, but not enough to make it worth playing for more than the curiosity of it being the first to do something.
- Introduced a new style of level design
- Good tileset usage (and one of the first packs to use custom tilesets)
- Very influential (especially when it comes to menu levels!!)
- Bad design choices lead to it being more frustrating than fun
- It's unlikely that anyone has ever beaten this without cheating (this includes using JCS)