Video Game: Q*bert

aka: Qbert
Q*bert is a 1982 arcade game published by Gottlieb, created by Warren Davis and Jeff Lee. In Q*bert, the player maneuvers the eponymous character around an isometric pyramid-like structure of tri-colored cubes. Q*bert's purpose is to hop around the tops of these cubes, changing every square to a specific color (e.g., from blue to yellow).

The "changing the cube colors" idea came quite late in game development. Davis and Lee had implemented the pyramid level and enemies, but were unsure of what the Q*bert's goal would be. It was Ron Waxman, vice president of engineering at Gottlieb, who suggested having the cubes change color when the player landed on them.

Q*bert is harassed by an assortment of enemies. "Coily" the snake appears at the top of the pyramid inside a purple ball, bouncing toward the bottom of the screen. Once he hits the bottom row of cubes, the snake springs out from inside, hopping around in pursuit of the little orange hero. Red balls also appear at the top of the pyramid, bringing bouncing death if they collide with Q*bert on the way down.

Other threats come from "Ugg" and "Wrong-Way," a purple pig and gremlin team who bounce along the side of the cubes. Additionally, Q*bert has to deal with "Slick" and "Sam," two green creatures who turn cubes back to their original color when they hop on them. Q*bert can eliminate Slick or Sam by jumping onto them.

Aside from some strategic hopping, Q*bert's only defenses are the spinning discs at the side of the pyramid and the green balls that bounce across the squares. The discs provide a quick escape, floating Q*bert back to the top of the pyramid as Coily jumps to his death in pursuit. The green balls freeze the enemies, giving Q*bert a free run of the pyramid for a limited time.

Q*bert's use of sound was one of its most distinctive features. The game's sound board contained a Votrax speech synthesis chip, but according to David Thiel, who created the sounds for the game, the chip's output was so poor that some words were not understandable. In frustration, he programmed it to produce random phonemes, and discovered that the result sounded like an alien language. This randomized speech, played at different pitches, became the voices of Ugg, Wrongway, Slick, Sam, and Q*bert himself. Sometimes if you're lucky, you'll get a cuss word from random babble. The only actual word that remains is "Bye-bye" whenever you get a Game Over.

Dedicated upright cabinets for Q*bert contain a pinball "knocker" (a solenoid that creates a knocking sound) inside the cabinet whenever a character falls off the pyramid, simulating the sound a character might make if it actually fell to the bottom of the cabinet. In some units, this sound is created by a bean bag inside the case rigged to fall. This resulted in more of a "thud" than the distinctive "pop" created by the knocker-equipped cabinets.

Q*bert was one of the characters featured on Saturday Supercade. The game has a follow-up called Q*bert's Qubes and an unreleased sequel called Faster Harder More Challenging Q*bert, a case of In Which a Trope Is Described. A home sequel, Q*bert 3, was later released for Super NES. In 2012, Disney released Wreck-It Ralph, which gave Q*bert a prominent role in the film.

Of the many, many home ports of Q*bert, the MSX and NES versions were developed by Konami. The MSX version, however, starred a different-looking Q*bert with a long tail instead of a long nose; its gameplay was based on Q*bert's Qubes, but it was perhaps more valued for the bonuses it gave to other Konami games when the cartridge was plugged into the second slot.

In 2014, Q*bert Rebooted was released. It contains the original arcade game, and a new game with 3D graphics. The major change is that Q*bert walks in hexagonal shapes instead of cubes; the revival of the character was motivated by his appearance in Wreck-it Ralph.

Legendary turntablist DJ Qbert got his name from this series.

Q*bert provides examples of:

  • Animated Adaptation
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: To an extent. Of the game's moving objects, anything green (Slick, Sam, and the Green Ball) is safe to touch. Most dangerous things are purple (Coily, Wrongway, Ugg, and, in the unreleased sequel, Q*Bertha), but some are red (the Red Balls).
  • Damn You, Muscle Memory: The non-standard joystick - all diagonal moves instead of up/down/left/right - can take some getting used to.
    • It gets worse if you switch from playing the arcade version to the home version where all the diagonal moves are mapped to left, right, up, and down on the control stick.
  • Determinator: Coily
  • Difficulty Spike: The final set of levels in Rebooted gets hit with this, especially near the end when you can expect four Sams to pop up at once and effectively undo all of your progress up to that point in the stage.
  • The Eighties
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Faster Harder More Challenging Q*Bert lives up to its name:
    • The first four rounds progress through the complications of the first four levels in the original game. That is, the second stage of FHMC made you jump on each cube twice (like the second set of stages in the original), and so on. Level 1, Round 4 of FHMC Q*Bert was as difficult as Level 4, Round 1 (the thirteenth round) of the original.
    • Level 2 now features new behavior for Slick and Sam: they don't change the colors back, they instead turn cubes into a rainbow color that you can't change, and you have to lure Coily over them to reset them to their original color.
    • Level 3 replaces Coily with Q*Bertha, a female Q*Bert who just wants to love him to death. In addition to chasing Q*Bert, she changes the colors of the cubes back as she follows you around. Slick and Sam do not appear in Level 3.
    • Level 4 brings Slick and Sam back. Now you have to lure Q*Bertha over the rainbow squares while trying to keep her from undoing too much of the rest of the pyramid. This pattern keeps up for a while, long enough that you think it's not going to change, and then...
    • Level 7 now has Slick and Sam turn squares black. You have to lure Q*Bertha onto such squares twice to change them back to normal. The only bright side is that Q*Bert himself can't change the square's colors back on this level.
    • Level 8: That bright side? Gone.
    • On top of all that, the flying discs don't stay in one place. If you want to temporarily get rid of Coily or Q*Bertha, you have to make sure you're not jumping into empty air because a disc just moved. The only consolation here is that discs reappear after being used.
    • Good luck! You'll need it!
  • Fake Difficulty: When playing Rebooted on a Playstation console, don't expect Q*bert to go in the direction you think you're pointing him towards. Sometimes he'll even go the completely opposite direction as well, especially after falling off the stage, costing 2 lives in less than a second.
  • Fake Longevity: Rebooted has 40 levels consisting of 3 rounds and Stars to unlock later levels are earned by completing 1 of 3 challenges: Beating the level, clearing the level under a certain time, and reaching a particular score. However, only 1 of these stars can be earned at a time, requiring each level to be completed a minimum of 3 times.
  • Happy Fun Red Balls: Your main enemy.
  • Isometric Projection
  • Jerkass: Slick and Sam, undoing all your hard work. In FHMC Q*Bert, they're even worse. And in Rebooted there's no limit to how many of them can be on the screen at once!
  • Loads and Loads of Loading: For a game that only takes less than 600 megabytes, Reloaded definitely takes a long time to load a level. There's even a noticeable pause in the action whenever a jewel appears on the screen.
  • Lucky Charms Title
  • No Plot? No Problem!: Well, you've got this weird little fellow hopping on the blocks on a pyramid, changing their color, while equally weird guys try to stop him. Why? Do you need a reason?
  • Pinball Spinoff: Q*Bert's Quest, also by Gottlieb, released in 1983.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Coily
  • Speaking Simlish
  • Symbol Swearing: Whenever Q*bert gets hit by something.
  • The Unpronounceable: Some early versions of the game shipped with "@!#?@!" as the game's actual title. Needless to say, this was quickly changed for obvious reasons.

Alternative Title(s):

Q Bert