Retro Gaming Challenge Week Seventeen: Q*Bert (Atari 2600)

I did a terrible thing to Q*Bert during the week. I feel so ashamed.
Seventeen weeks in, which means I’m thirty-five weeks away from a game of Bubble Bobble. Not that anyone’s counting. List of the previous week’s games is down the bottom for those who need to catch up, as is the voting bit if you just want to decide on my next retrogaming challenge.

Q*Bert: Alex did a bad, bad thing

No, nothing pervy. Although, it’s the Internet, Rule 34 is a thing, and I’ve probably just given you all kinds of horrible ideas.
Stop it. Stop it at once.

He's just an innocent... hook-nosed... thing... with a penchant for bad language. But apart from all that, entirely sweet.
He’s just an innocent… hook-nosed… thing… with a penchant for bad language.
But apart from all that, entirely sweet.

I can take some mild solace in the fact that what I did to Q*Bert is by no means as bad as what’s been done to him by Hollywood of late. He was something of a running gag in Wreck-It Ralph, but at least that was a good movie.
What Adam Sandler did to him in Pixelswell, it really doesn’t bear thinking about.
I was never terribly fond of Adam Sandler to begin with — I maintain his finest role was his guest spot in Shakes The Clown, but I can never forgive him for what he did to Q*Bert in Pixels.
Or in other words, if you haven’t seen Pixels by now, don’t. You’ll get more laughs from a lice infestation in your groin.
No, my crime against all things orange and curly-nosed was a bit more basic than that. The point of my weekly retro games challenges is to play games for the given week. This week’s game was Q*Bert…
…and I cheated on Q*Bert.
I had another bit of retro gaming kit that I’d been waiting on for some time turn up this week (which I’ll probably write up at some later date), which meant that I spent a fair amount of time checking out a few games I hadn’t touched in a while, which limited the amount of time I spent playing Q*bert.
Yes, Q*Bert, I deserve your foul language. For once, it's quite justified.
Yes, Q*Bert, I deserve your foul language. For once, it’s quite justified.

I’m sorry, Q*Bert. I really am. Because after all, you’re not only a classic, but you’re a classic that, in your Atari 2600 form, presents really well, even some thirty-odd years after your first appearance. Not every classic game still presents well in the way that Q*Bert does, which is testament to both the strength of the underlying game and the quality of the coding.

Q*Bert: You don’t need gigs of storage to make a great game

Bear in mind that the word “in” within this sentence will take up more storage space than the whole of Q*Bert’s 2600 code. Well, probably. It was an age where you had to make do with what you had, and what you had wasn’t much.
Your approach to Q*Bert will, naturally depend on when you first encountered him. For gamers of a certain age — that’d include me — there’s the arcade game and numerous home spinoffs. I’m still rather fond of the SNES version, which specialises in trippy visuals to throw you off your game.

Great art doesn't need to be in 4K. Which is possibly why so many of the modern Q*Bert games have been so ordinary.
Great art doesn’t need to be in 4K to be great. In the case of Q*Bert, he would have only had around 4KB of code, total.

The 2600 version of Q*Bert isn’t astonishingly pretty, because it’s a 2600 game. There are limitations to the technology that just don’t look that fly. It doesn’t matter, because presenting a curly-nosed-not-quite-Gonzo-thing jumping on cubes is pretty timeless. It’s a game that’s easy to pick up and work out, but nicely challenging if you really want to get the best possible scores.
Q*Bert is also a game that’s very good at making me feel stupid. The core concept is simple. Q*Bert must jump on tiles to change their colour. Sometimes once, sometimes twice. Why? Nobody really knows. He’s just compelled to do it, and his foes are compelled to stop him, whether it’s that green guy who flips tile colours, or Coily, the snake.

Q*Bert: Coily-riffic

Coily is a great name for a snake. I have no particular plans to get into herpetology, but if I did, I’d have a snake called Coily, just because I could.
Anyway, the core game is simple, and enemy AI is simple. If an enemy touches you, you die. If you accidentally jump off the edge of the world, you die. Both of these circumstances are essentially under your control, because enemy movement is quite predictable, and Q*bert jumps at a regular pace. Although he’s quite sprightly, or in his case, sprite-ly, ho ho, for an Atari 2600 game.
As such, Q*Bert is one of those games that is exceptionally good at making you feel dumb when you die, because the reasons why are always up to you.

Q*Bert has every tool he needs to survive and thrive. If he dies, IT'S YOUR FAULT. No pressure.
Q*Bert has every tool he needs to survive and thrive.
If he dies, IT’S YOUR FAULT.
No pressure.

You jumped too soon, or too late, or completely off the edge of the known universe, and now you’re dead. Time to repeat the pattern and try again. And again, and again, because while it is just a high score challenge game — it was the style at the time, OK? – the variance in patterns, from single step to multi-step to the irritating but great multi-step-but-you-can’t-step-on-any-tile-three-times challenges keeps Q*Bert astonishingly fresh.
In other words it’s great, the 2600 version is tops, and you should buy a copy. I’m happy to have mine, and my inner-slight-collector is whispering in my ear that I should try for a boxed copy. Nothing wrong with my cart-only copy, but… y’know.

Sounds awesome. Where can I get it?

There are Q*Berts for everything, and I really do mean everything. Not all Q*Berts are created equal, however. The modern smartphone version, for example? Not very good at all. Stick to the classics and you can’t go wrong.
You can search for a copy of the Atari 2600 version at this (affiliate) link here.
Tell ’em I sent you. It won’t make a difference, but hey…

Next week

Movie games were more popular than I imagined, but one movie in particular seems to have captured the voting public’s attention in a way that the movie it’s based on never really did.
Very few people would list Alien 3 as their favourite in that particular series, but the console game is rather beloved, it seems.
The only issue is, I have both the Megadrive and SNES versions, and as they’re quite different games, I figured I’d list them. Voting flew around the place, but a version of Alien 3 was always in the lead at all times. I had to pick a cut-off time after which I wouldn’t take any more votes, so I figured 7pm was a good time.
So 7pm rolls around… and it’s a dead heat between both versions.
So… very well, Internet. I’ll play both next week. It’s an Alien 3-off, Megadrive vs Super Nintendo! You can’t get much more old-school than slightly-shabby childish console rivalry!
Meanwhile, I need another challenge once I’m done being virtual Ripley.
On the suggestion of my lovely wife, it’s time to head to Nintendo 64 territory for another single-console challenge. That leaves me a pretty wide field to play with, although I’m only going to play actual physical cartridges; no emulation (for any challenge), but also no Virtual Console titles here either.
You can make your selection from the list below!
[socialpoll id=”2377651″]

Retrogaming Challenge: The story so far

Want to catch up on the action you’ve missed? Check out the list below:

Shin Nippon Pro Wrestling: Toukon Road 2: The Next Generation (N64)Toukon_ReversalDonkey Konga (Gamecube)DonkeyKonga_2
The Firemen (SNES)Firemen_FiresSpace Invaders (2600)SpaceInvaders2600_1
Three Dirty Dwarves (Saturn)3DD_BossFightTrog (NES)TROG_EAT
Robocop vs The Terminator (Megadrive)RBvT_gunsJames Bond 007: Everything or Nothing (Xbox)EoN_Bond_Corner
Godzilla Generations (Dreamcast)Zilla_1Devil Dice (PSOne)DD_Trial
Asterix (Sega Master System)Asterix_RomansToki (Atari Lynx)Toki_1_600
Backyard Wrestling: Don’t Try This At Home (PS2)byw2Super Monkey Ball (Gamecube)SMB_Goal
Unirally (SNES)Unirally_1Mutant League Football (Megadrive)MLF_Ref_600

Author: Alex

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

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