A lot can be said for the roots of gaming. The consoles that started the journey that we all find ourselves on today were groundbreaking at the time and while you might look back on them with some scorn now, if you were lucky enough to play on the Atari 2600 or Spectrum ZX then you were at the cutting edge. One of the most beloved games of that era was Q*Bert.
As seems to be the trend at the moment, Q*Bert has had a bit of a makeover. Will this simply mask over the wrinkles on this ageing classic, or does this reinvent the isometric puzzler as a gaming tour de force?
I must give some credit to the developer, GPC Games, for including the original version of Q*Bert. Right from the off, it gives those unlucky enough not to have experienced this lovable little character back in the 1980’s, the chance to grab hold of it and give it a go. The inclusion of the 2D original gives the title some more added value, but ultimately, the lack of depth in the main, newer version, might just put you off the title from the outset. Let me back it up a little and I’ll explain why.
Q*Bert as a concept is pretty simple. You control a small, large snouted, two-legged creature with a desire to change the colour of the squares on the pyramid-based game board. Along the way you’ll face a few foes who are hell-bent on stopping you from changing these squares. Some of them change the squares back to their original colour, some simple home in on you and then others still that follow a random path as they fall off the end of the game area.
To help you on your quest, there are platforms that you can jump on, which will transport you back to the top of the game area. In the original game, these remove the snakes from the game area. In the new version, it doesn’t seem to do this. I digress.
The updated version is pretty much the same as the original release from a gameplay perspective. I have personal issue with the fact that you have to use the jump button to move around, with the left stick used to select the square to jump to. In a way, it duplicates the way that the original plays, but it feels wrong on a joypad for some reason. If there was a compatible Atari controller, I’m sure this would be a more complete and enjoyable experience. The irony is, the original version of the game doesn’t use the A button to jump from one square to another. From a personal standpoint, I’m not sure that this feature of the new version is a trade-off I like over the original.
The visuals on the new 3D version have been vastly improved. Q*Bert’s features are now clear as opposed to being restricted by the capabilities of the hardware of the time. The game board, while it hasn’t really changed in its layout, does exhibit some changes. There appears to be slightly less of it to start with. The squares are bigger and there are only 15 of them, as opposed to the 28 squared original gameboard. I’m not really sure why this decision was taken, but it doesn’t really detract from the playability of the game nor the frustrations you’ll face when playing.
Jumping from square to square changes the colour of the face of that square. Sometimes you’ll need to jump on the face of that square multiple times in order to get it to the colour that you’ll need, which is shown in the top left corner of the screen. Herein lies my major issue with the rebooted version. The control method employed relies heavily on the left stick being as accurate as the older Atari stick. In this instance, it simply isn’t. I found myself on too many occasions taking a faithful leap into an abyss, thus losing one of my five lives, or jumping full into one of the nefarious snakes and dying a horrible death. It was immensely frustrating from a playing point of view. The original Q*Bert, when played with the right equipment, was a challenging joy to pick up and try to beat. It was challenging, but not for the reasoning that it was rendered nearly impossible to enjoy through shoddy control mechanisms.
Once you’ve completed your surface painting, your performance is assessed in the form of an Angry Birds-style star scoring system. This takes account of your score and the time it took to complete that particular stage. Each stage has three component sub-levels to complete before you get the opportunity to try (and fail) to gather all the bonus jewels on a bonus level. The reality here is that you’ll never have enough time to grab them all thanks to some shonky controls and the time it takes the character to jump. There’s also no real reason as to why you’re collecting the shimmering glassware either.There are other characters to unlock in-game and play with so perhaps it is for those, but if you’ve persevered enough to get this far, you’re a more patient gamer than I am.
The audio in the rebooted part of this title is a thumping new EDM tracklist that lends itself well to the game and all it’s trying to achieve. Like the classic Amiga game, Flashback, Q*Bert Rebooted seems to be another game from yesteryear that has suffered when a developer has the opportunity to remake it and include the classic game to play at the same time. This to me is a huge shame and a massively missed opportunity.