The year was 1983. The Star Wars franchise was winding down, and the Pac-Man craze had mostly subsided. What was a toy company like Kenner to do? The next best thing to Pac-Man at this point was to hop onto a multicolored flying disc with Q*Bert.
The D. Gottlieb Co. video game was an almost instant hit because of its unique game play and an extremely marketable cast of characters. CBS rushed a Q*Bert cartoon onto the air, and Q*Bert merchandise began to hit the store shelves.
Kenner won the toy license for the celebrity noser, and produced everything from plush Q*Berts of varying sizes (complete with squeaky noses) to smaller PVC figures and wind-up hopping Q*Berts. (Incidentally, if anyone has any of the Q*Bert PVC figures they’d like to get rid of, feel perfectly free to get in touch with me.)
At the same time, Q*Bert appeared in home video game format on everything from the Atari 2600 to LCD game watches, and even a board game from Parker Brothers. Parker Brothers also turned out a nice tabletop, LED-screen Q*Bert electronic game in a style somewhat similar to Coleco’s tabletop arcade games.
Sadly for would-be Q*Bert collectors, there wasn’t much of a collection of merchandise related to their favorite game. The video game industry – primarily the home console market, though it also had a seismic effect in the arcade game sector – suffered a massive collapse on Wall Street, entire companies shut down (including Gottlieb, which was absorbed by Coca-Cola and then by Columbia Pictures), and the licensing industry turned a very cold shoulder toward the once-hot video game properties.
It’s almost enough to make fans of the fellow with the large orange proboscis say “@!#?@!.”