Q*bert was one of my earliest go-to games in the arcade, along with Dig Dug, Pac-man, Ms. Pac-man, and, well, anything Pac-man. It’s a simple enough concept: you play as a round aardvark-like thing named Q*bert, and you jump around on a pyramid of cubes. Landing on a cube changes its color, and ultimately you need to make all of the cubes the same color. All the while you need to avoid an onslaught of several types of enemies, from bouncing balls to the pesky snake Coily. There are flying discs on the sides of the pyramid that Q*bert can use to escape back to the top and sometimes lure Coily off the edge to boot.
Speaking of Pac-man, I used to think of Q*bert as a similar type of game. Although it’s not a maze game like Pac-man, the goal is still to “cover” the play field in every level. In Pac-man, you do this by eating all the dots, and in Q*bert you have to jump on all the squares. What I didn’t realize when I was a younger, less skilled player was how much more complicated the game got in later levels, requiring the player to jump on each cube multiple times, and sometimes the cube’s color would even change back!
Looking back on it, it’s easy to see why Q*bert was such a big hit at the time. It had colorful graphics, memorable characters, catchy music, and most of all, really fun gameplay. It even had humor, as Q*bert would spout “foul language” every time he lost a life, and if you fell off the side of the pyramid, the arcade cabinet made an actual physical “thonk” noise to simulate Q*bert hitting the floor.
Q*bert was released by Gottlieb, who was more known for their pinball machines, and it was their only major hit videogame. It was followed up with a number of sequels, beginning with the obscure arcade game Q*bert Qubes. Of course, he also got his own pinball game, Q*bert’s Quest, which is one of the more oddball pinball machines you can find. Still, nothing quite matched the popularity of the original game.
Oddly enough, the original arcade version isn’t quit as readily available as most other classic arcade games. Being that it wasn’t created by one of the “major” arcade developers, like Namco or Midway, it was never included in a compilation pack. But it has been ported to several platforms over the years, with varying degrees of quality.
Still, Q*bert is just as much fun now as it ever was, and I think deserves a little more recognition than it generally gets. If you have the means to play the original arcade version, or at least one of the better ports, it’s definitely worth revisiting.
– Hardcore Gaming 101: Q*bert