Classic Retro Video Game Reviews

Parker Brothers Q*bert -Atari 2600
Retro Gaming Review

Atari 2600 VCS console Classic Retro Gaming Video Game ReviewParker Brothers Q*bert for Atari 2600 Classic Retro Gaming Video Game Review
Title: Q*bert
Manufacturer: Parker Brothers
Platform: Atari 2600
Release Date: 1983
Part #: PB5360
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
ESRB Rating: N/A

Rating: Parker Brothers Q*bert Classic Retro Video Game Review Rating
Parker Brothers Q*bert Screenshot:
Parker Brothers Q*bert for Atari 2600 screenshot Classic Retro Gaming Video Game Review

Few games of the early 80s were as infectious as Q*bert. His cuddly quality combined with the seemingly simplistic objective (that was never as simple as it looked) made Q*bert an arcade favorite with all types of gamers. The Atari 2600 version uses fairly simple graphics to display the pyramid, but this may allow for the excellent movement of Q*bert. This game's popularity is underscored by the large number of home gaming consoles it was released for; including consoles from Atari, Mattel, Nintendo, Sony and Sega.

Like many Arcade-to-home conversions, Q*bert has it's share of drawbacks, but they don't detract from this game's high fun-factor. There are some musical interludes between rounds, and Q*bert himself ("him", right?) is quite well animated, but other elements drop-out as they move from square to square. However it's still a lot of fun to play.

Parker Brothers Q*bert for Atari 2600 Classic Retro Gaming Video Game Review

Q*bert Game Play

This single player game has puzzle/strategy elements as Q*bert hops from square to square attempting to change all the colors on the pyramid. Don't be fooled by the simple goal, Q*bert faces a variety of challenges as he hops about. Starting with 4 lives, you begin at the top of the pyramid. As you hop the colors change to the destination color - which is the same color as the remaining Q*bert lives shown at the top of the screen. The round ends when you change all the colors to the destination color. There are five levels in Q*bert, each consisting of four rounds per level.

A variety of foes will try to stop Q*bert as he hops around. One of them, named Sam, actually changes colors back, necessitating a rev-visit to that square. On the friendlier side, If Q*bert catches a Green Ball, all the characters freeze letting him continue on his quest uninterrupted for a few seconds. You must also keep Q*bert within the bounds of the pyramid. Jumping off the sides or bottom is fatal. When Q*bert is in trouble, he can hop on a flying disc that will safely take him to the top of the pyramid. The number of discs and their placement next to the pyramid will differ, depending on the game level and round.

Q*bert Arcade Controls

Looking back at Q*bert's arcade controls we find the standard joystick which you'd think would convert easily to home consoles - especially the Atari 2600. There wasn't even a Fire button. Somewhere in the midst of the diamond-shaped geometry of the pyramid someone decided to rotate the 2600's joystick 45° to match the symmetry of the arcade layout. Q*bert moves diagonally and so the joystick should mimic that, but the standard position of the 2600 joystick wasn't programmed to use the traditional diagonal motion to create that direction on screen. They used the compass headings instead.

If you look at the arrows around the joystick, on the arcade control panel, you'll see they don't line up with traditional compass headings. Each is at the 45° to the compass headings. This matches the jumping options Q*bert has when hopping from square to square - his movements ore never true vertical or horizontal. Since arcade joysticks are a fixed mount on an insanely heavy cabinet, one tends not to think about whether the joystick is oriented to compass headings or rotated 45° unbeknownst to the player.

Typically arcade joysticks are mounted to compass headings meaning the North, South, East and West directions depress one switch on the stick. Pushing the joystick North West (upper left) depresses 2 switches for diagonal movements. Rotating the arcade joystick's mount 45° would allow the game to be programmed to diagonal motions with just a single switch depressed. I haven't dug into a Q*bert arcade cabinet, so I'm not sure if that rotation was implemented.

Holy shit! Check this out...
Q*bert hit arcades as Gottlieb's fourth video game developed under the project name Cubes, but was briefly named Snots And Boogers. The pyramid setting arose from artist Jeff Lee who drew cubes
inspired by M. C. Escher. The success resulted in sequels and use of the character's likeness in merchandising, such as appearances on lunch boxes, toys, and an animated television show.

You're likely wondering why I'm babbling about arcade joystick orientation - and rightfully so. Here's the deal - one of the oddest things about playing Parker Brothers Q*bert on the 2600 is the orientation (or necessary rotation) of the joystick. Most right-handers hold the 2600 joystick with the fire button in the upper left.

To play Q*bert the manual instructs you to rotate the stick so the base of the stick matches the pyramid shape on screen with the fire button at the top of the diagonal. This lets the true compass positions create diagonal movement on the screen with a single switch on the joystick. Let's just say holding it as described is awkward as Hell!

Q*bert Difficulty Switches

Despite being a single player game, only the left Difficulty Switch is used. Position "A" is for regular play while the "B" position is the novice setting. In novice-mode there are no red balls chasing Q*bert. While this doesn't sound as though it makes for much of a challenge, don't forget that all the action speeds up as you progress in levels.

Q*bert Enemies, Foes & Obstacles

Atari 2600 VCS console Classic Retro Gaming Video Game Review
Final Judgement:

Parker Brothers Q*bert

may not have the visual splendor of other Atari 2600 games, but the game play is quite good and the intent of this arcade classic is more than viable enough to make it a fun game and reminder of how awesome arcades were back in the 80s!

The detail of the Q*bert character is quite good... not so much on other animated elements, but that's OK :)

Read about our Spaceship video game review rating system

« Return to Retro Video Game Reviews