#497 – Q*bert

Another classic arcade game gets a bewildering NES port.
Eat the soap, Q*bert!
Some aliens never learn.

PLAYERS: 1-2 alternating

PUBLISHER: Ultra Games

DEVELOPER: Gottlieb (port by Konami)

GENRE: Arcade/puzzle

RELEASE DATE: February 1989

I’m a mid-80s baby, so I never touched a lot of the classic arcade-era games like Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and Galaga until they were ported to the NES. A lot of these 8-bit ports are solid, though obviously, different elements, usually on the graphical end, can get lost in translation (sometimes forever: see Donkey Kong‘s factory level). Q*bert is another game that was before my time, and from what I understand, is made more difficult on the NES by the lack of diagonal control. I certainly hope the arcade version isn’t as difficult as its 8-bit baby brother; if it was, I’d call it the biggest quarter ripoff since laundromats.

You young’uns might not know how Q*bert plays, so sit a spell and I’ll fill you in. You are Q*bert, an alien with a large schnoz and a penchant for swearing. For some reason, you’re trapped on a seven-tiered ismoetric pyramid constructed entirely of cubes. Each cube starts off as a certain color. Q*bert must bounce onto each cube and change it to the color shown on the upper left portion of the screen. In the first few levels, Q*bert only has to jump on the cube once to change it to the proper color. Later, he’ll have to jump on each cube twice to change it to the proper color; or only jump on each cube once because landing on the same cube twice will change it back to its original color. Q*bert has thirty-six stages in all, and about thirty-two of those will make you emit a few jumbled-up swear bubbles of your own.

The difficulty of Q*bert stems predominantly from the four-way directional-pad on the NES controller. Q*bert only moves diagonally, and the controller isn’t made for easy diagonal movement (though it is possible: see Contra). The game does force you to set up a unique control scheme before you start playing, but I had trouble customizing the controls to my liking; the default setting, while far from perfect, was the best fit for me. Wrestle with the controls and you still have the obnoxious enemies. Coily the Snake doggedly pursues you from the bottom up, as do Uggs and Wrong-Ways. Sam is the worst. He comes from the top down and changes the color of the cubes back to their previous state. Thankfully, you can hit him and knock him out; the other enemies can’t be touched. There are only two power-ups. The green bouncing ball will slow down the movement on-screen and allow you to move through enemies for a short period of time. The spinning disks on either side of the pyramid will carry you back to the top and get rid of all enemies on screen for a short period of time. Both items are helpful to a degree, but no power-up can bring back Q*bert from launching himself over the side of the pyramid by mistake; or getting eaten by Coily the Snake. @!!!#!@

Q*bert wasn’t popular because he was a cute alien who swore upon dying. The arcade cabinet sold in the tens of thousands. People loved the original game, and thirty years later, it’s still hailed as one of the great quarter-munchers of the early 80s. Knowing this makes the NES port all the more depressing. Konami did what they could with the NES controller’s limitations, but Q*bert just doesn’t fit.


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3 replies on “#497 – Q*bert”

My brother and I had a Q-Bert board game. One player controlled Bert, and the other got all the enemies. I forget exactly how it worked, but I remember it being fun. I don’t think I ever played the arcade game, and the 2600 and NES versions only a little bit.

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