Q*Bert Rebooted (PS4) Review

Most of the classic 80s coin-op icons have already been revamped at least once by now, with mixed results. Pac-man has made several fantastic modern turns and Space Invaders Infinity Gene is a modern treasure, but what about the quirky and quaint Q*Bert? Well, apparently someone felt the language-challenged hopper needed a second (well, third or so really, since he had a PS One outing) chance. The result is Q*Bert Rebooted and your $*#!ing enjoyment results may vary.

Q*Bert was something of a phenomena back in olden times. I vaguely recall he even had his own Saturday morning TV show at some point, but it was a quintessential coin-op game. With a design purely based on getting players to pour quarters into it, Q*Bert was hard, addictive, and colorful. Not much has changed really. That said, this isn’t a great game and really, it never was.
qbertinsert1The premise is simple: Q*Bert is a strange, armless thing that moves by hopping and apparently lives in some weird dimension made of blocky pyramids. Hopping on a block changes its color and to progress to the next level, Q (as I like to call him) must change the color of each block in the pyramid. That’s pretty much the whole game. Hopping snakes and other bad things will try to pursue Q*Bert in his color changing quest and one slip-up means death.

These baddies must be avoided and can be tricked into falling off the level if you’re quick and clever enough, but there’s no deep strategy here. The rebooted version adds randomly appearing collectable gems on each level. These gems can be used, in turn, to purchase new characters. Sadly, the new characters are just skins and don’t offer any actual differences in the game play.

The diagonal-based controls used to traverse the pyramid-shaped levels can be amazingly frustrating. This is especially the case on modern analog sticks, which have sensitivity levels vastly higher than old arcade sticks. Q*Bert always had unforgiving controls, but on the PS4, it’s frustratingly easy to accidently jump off the level or simply go in the wrong direction.

Such issues make the game feel more than a little sloppy, even if it’s perfectly in line with the original game. There’s almost no good way to translate diagonal-only controls to a modern control pad. Possibly because of slightly less-sensitive controls, the Vita version actually plays a bit better. Unlike the arcade original (which is also included) the reboot uses a straight world map to show progress and offers the now-ubiquitous three-star rating for each level (which include three stages).

In a bizarre twist, however, those three stars can only be earned one at a time. This means playing each set of levels at least three times. The first star is just for beating the levels, the next is for beating it under a set time, and the third for earning so many points. It’s a strange system meant to artificially increase replay value and seems rather unnecessary.
qbertinsert4The other major change from the original is the switch from cubes to hexagonal blocks. This enables Q*Bert to travel along rows instead of constantly moving up and down, but changes the game play rather substantially in direct comparison with the classic. Purists might hate it, but newcomers will likely barely notice much difference.

The visuals get the job done, updating the colorful and cartoonish graphics in a sensible, if not awe-inspiring manner. The audio work pays solid tribute to the original as well, though no aspect of the presentation is going to wow anyone. The original, which nostalgically seemed great looking, is hilariously primitive in comparison of course, and the ability to switch between both versions in the main menu is a nice touch.

That said, the menu is oddly unintuitive, making it harder than it should be to know which game you’re trying to select. Another strange complaint is the unnecessary four-second wait to start a level in the reboot, which really clashed with my ADD nature. Finally, for the color-blind among us, be warned that the game occasionally uses what appears to be green-on-green color schemes, which is painful.

Q*Bert Rebooted is a pretty quick and dirty revamp of the coin-op classic, but it’s also dirt cheap. So, as a budget revamp, this isn’t terrible. The game, despite its problems, can be fun in small doses and certainly provides plenty of old school challenge. Yet it might be proof that just because something is “classic”, it doesn’t mean it’s good.