Video Game Memory Leak: Q*bert



I was pretty obsessed with Q*bert back on my Atari 2600. Over time though, those memories blur into a mess of jumping and tiles changing colors. I never spent any real significant time with the arcade version until recently, and I quickly realized what Q*bert has been cursing about all of this time.

Q*bert’s world is full of drunken a*holes

I can deal with colored balls bounding down a pyramid. I can even deal with a semi-intelligent and predictable purple snake chasing me around the pyramid. What I cannot abide are two different sets of liquored up jerks who constantly ruin my proud adventure to turn this pyramid into its proper colors.

Q*Bert drunks

Go be weird somewhere else.

Wrong Way and Ugg are actually kind of funny. They jump around on the tiles just like me, except they land on the sides of the steps instead of the top. They don’t really attack me as much as they aimlessly wander around until they jump off and bring in another buddy. They have no idea of the seriousness of my task and I think they are working with Coily to trap me into corners so that my only choice is suicide or to get squashed.

The worst drunks though are Slick and Sam. Not only are they as aimless and random as the sideways brothers, but these jerks reset all of my color changing hard work. They never appear just once either, and you can pretty much count on them to show up when you only have one or two tiles left. They aren’t even tough guys so I’m always tempted to chase them down to reduce just how much of a mess they are making on my pyramid. Of course, that always leads me right into the death balls or that methodical snake. I’m pretty sure they laugh the entire time they are jumping around, too. @!#?@!

It starts out cute, then the pyramid gets demanding

I got used to the simple action of changing a tile’s color one or two times to meet the goals set by the pyramid. I got set in my ways and I was quite content with Q*bert. In fact, I probably would have been ok with moving forward with that pattern with the added challenges of the speed getting faster and the enemies get smarter or more frequent. Then, I hit Level 3. From that point on, the tiles’ colors change every time you jump on them and no longer lock on the goal color. It adds a layer of strategy on top of a pyramid that is increasingly filled with chaos. I’d like to think I have a good plan going in of where I’m going to focus my color changing, but that never lasts. I just jump around as fast as possible and try to survive. If I change the tiles the right color, I just get lucky. Jumping off the edge starts to look really good by the time Slick and Sam show back up, too.

Q*bert Controls

Seems simple enough until you fall off the screen.

I’m trying to score here

When I’m jumping around in mindless patterns I need a few ego boosts. Q*bert is straight-up stingy with its bonus points. Nothing happens during a round that will make you feel good. If you touch the green ball it will make time freeze long enough for you to catch your breath, but that’s not really an accomplishment. I want bonus points for tricking Coily into killing himself. I want recognition for dodging Wrong Way, Ugg, Coily, and two balls all at the same time. Not happening. All you get is a chunk of bonus points at the end of the stage. Even when you get an extra life, it is hard to notice. Q*bert and I are working hard to satisfy the pyramid and it’s like it doesn’t even care.

The leaderboard so far in our Q*bert arcade challenge:

Me – 31,950
2nd – 30,455
3rd – 30,140
4th – 24,190

Let it out

Q*bert is a frustrating game, and he knows it. I think that’s why the designers made dying so damn satisfying. Q*bert is absolutely adorable when he screams as he falls to his death, and is even better when he curses out enemies who stomp on him. It just makes me want to play just so I can fail again. Wait a minute. Is this game perfect?

Video Game Memory Leak – Revisiting retro games that we thought we knew at one time, and finding more than a few surprises.


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