Retro Game Guy

It's the 1980's again!


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Q*bert is a 1982 video game developed by Gottlieb.  Warren Davis and Jeff Lee co-developed Q*bert and gave him a long nose so that he could shoot projectiles.  Fortunately, the shooting aspect of the game was dropped and Q*bert became the lovable character that we all know.  In fact, Q*bert was the third most merchandised game, after Donkey Kong and Pac-man.  Q*bert was a major hit for Gottlieb with more than 25,000 arcade units sold.  It was offered as both an upright cabinet and a cocktail table.  The cocktail table units are fairly rare as only a few hundred were manufactured.  The Q*bert arcade units were powered by an Intel 8086 cpu and had mono sound and used a standard 19” CRT.  Q*bert was ported to a number of home consoles of the era including the Atari 2600, & 5200, the Colecovision, the Intellivision, and the NES.


Q*bert is an isometric 2D platform game that fools you into thinking that it is 3D.  Q*bert must jump diagonally from cube to cube and change the colors to the target color.  In advanced stages, Q*bert must change the cube colors multiple times to reach the target color.  Q*bert has to deal with several antagonists including:

  • Coily the snake:  The purple snake that hatches and chases Q*bert
  • Ugg and wrong way:  the purple guys that move along the side of the cubes
  • Sam: the green guy that changes the cube colors back
  • -Red balls will appear at the top of the pyramid and bounce down and off the cubes

Q*bert must avoid any of the red or purple advisories to keep from losing a life.  To avoid Coily, Q*bert can jump onto one of the color disks besides the pyramid of cubes and be whisked away to the top.  If Coily is close enough, he will follow and jump off the cubes.  Occasionally, a green ball will appear.  If Q*bert contacts this ball, time will stand still, allowing Q*bert to change cube colors unimpeded.  When all of the cube colors have been changed to the target color, Q*bert advances to the next level.  If Q*bert loses a life, he will say something like…@#?&!

2600 Version…

The 2600 version of Q*bert was released by Parker Brothers 1983.  Later on Atari released Q*bert under their own label, so you may run across this version.  Both versions are exactly the same.  The 2600 incarnation of Q*bert is typically highly rated and definitely plays like that arcade.  As with most 2600 games of the era, the graphics are dramatically simplified with all of the sprites being mono-colored.  There is no intro screen and, sometimes, it is hard to tell what level you are at.  Control with the standard CX40 joystick is good and Q*bert is fun to play.  With today’s technology such as the Melody board, I am wondering if someone will take advantage of 32K of memory and the ARM cpu to develop an updated 2600 version of Q*bert.  This game just screams for an update…any 2600 homebrew developers listening?

5200 Version…

The 5200 version of Q*bert was also released by Parker Brothers in 1983 and, compared to the graphics of the 2600, it looks much better.  The 5200 is capable of some pretty good graphics, so I wonder if the developers at Parker Brothers just settled for ‘good enough’?  The game has mono-color sprites and no intro screens, but the cubes look pretty good .  It also suffers from the 5200’s analog, non-self-centering joystick.  The game designers tried to compensate by having you hold down the fire button in addition to moving the joystick in the direction that you want to move Q*bert.   Even using a refurbished 2nd generation gold Best Electronics joystick, it was hard to control the movements and I found my Q*bert periodically committing suicide by jumping off the pyramid.  If the 5200 is your only system, I am sure that you will adapt as the control isn’t impossible, just more challenging than in the 2600 version.  All in all, Q*bert  is easy to come by, inexpensive, and worth having in your 5200 collection.

7800 Version…

Parker Brothers never developed a 7800 version of Q*bert, so for years 7800 owners had to make do with the 2600 version.  In 2007, Ken Sliders came to the rescue with his version which he has called b*nQ.  B*nQ is looks and plays like the arcade version and includes intro screens and to help the player know which level they are on and what the target color is.  Since only one button is required for this game, you can use a standard CX40 joystick.  The 7800 version doesn’t suffer any of the control problems of the 5200 version and is a blast to play!  There is absolutely nothing bad to say about b*nQ for the 7800…Ken has made this game almost arcade perfect!  If you have a 7800, you need to go straight to the AtariAge store and order yourself a copy of this great game!!!

Overall thoughts…

Before doing the research for this post, I hadn’t really played Q*bert very much.  I had purchased b*nQ about a year ago, but had played some of my other classic games more often and b*nQ was just taking up space in my collection.  In the past couple of weeks, as I prepared for this post, I have almost become addicted to this game.  No matter which Atari system you have, you should definitely have a copy of Q*bert in your collection.  If you have multiple systems, Ken’s b*nQ is amazing and blows the others out of the water!

b*nQ for the 7800

b*nQ for the 7800



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