Though Q*Bert has starred in exactly 2 games (three if you count the unreleased prototype of his third game), he’s still very recognizable. Maybe it’s because he has a very memorable appearance: Orange ball with legs, eyes, and a big hose-like nose. Maybe it’s because his game came out at a time when video games were in their peak level of popularity in the early 1980’s. Or maybe his game was simple to learn and difficult to master, which made it accessible to nearly everyone.

Q*Bert lives in a world consisting of a series pyramids floating in empty space. His goals are: hop on the tops of the blocks of the pyramids, changing their color, collecting things that are green and, avoiding everything else.

Changing the color of the tops of the blocks starts out simple enough, a single hop changes them to the right color, but eventually it will require more hops to get to the right color, with the colors changing back if you hop on it after it has the correct color on it, forcing you to use your noodle a bit.

This video’s a little small, but was the best one I could find that had the voices

There are some enemies in this game, red balls that meander down the pyramid, purple balls that meander down the pyramid, but turn into a coily snakes that persue Q*Bert when they reach the bottom, purple pigs and gremlins (Ugg and Wrong-Way), and little green guys (Slick and Sam) that hop on the blocks and change them back to their original colors. All of the enemies are deadly to touch except for Slick and Sam. They’re green, so you can collect them. There’s also a green ball that you can collect to temporarily stop the action, it’s the only actual powerup you get.

One of my favorite things about the arcade version of this game is that it uses a rudimentary speech chip to produce voices. The voices sound really weird, and almost sound like reversed speech, but not quite. Q*Bert’s speech when he runs into an enemy character is expressed in a word balloon as, “@!#?@!”. Could the word be a veiled nod to a curse word that some players may express when they play the game, or is it just onomatopoeia for the weird alien-like language he speaks? My other favorite thing about the arcade version is that the machine was fitted with the knocker that’s in pinball machines, the one that typically goes off when you win a free game. This knocker would go off when you would fall off the pyramid, simulating the sound of Q*Bert smashing unceremoniously into the bottom of the cabinet. Cheesy, but a nice touch.

Q*Bert is one of those games that I forget about for a few years, and then go back to test my skill (which was never particularly great, unfortunately). I’m pleased to say that it holds up after over 20 years.

One Response to “Q*Bert”

  1. [...] The Closeout Warrior The product of a misspent childhood « Q*Bert [...]

Leave a Reply