The Game: Q*Bert, a nosey little guy with a propensity for hopping, spends his time hopping around a three-dimensional pyramid of cubes, avoiding Coily the Snake and other assorted purple and red creatures, including a few who operate on a slightly different plane (i.e., they move down the pyramid as if it were rotated one-third). Any green objects and creatures Q*Bert can catch will not hurt him – in fact, the little bouncing green balls will stop time briefly for everyone but Q*Bert. If he gets into a tight spot, Q*Bert can jump off the pyramid onto a flying disc which will despoit him back at the top of the pyramid – and lure Coily to a nasty fate by jumping into nothing. Changing the colors of the top of every cube in the pyramid to the target color indicated at the top left of the screen will clear the pyramid and start the craziness all over again. If Q*Bert is hit by an enemy or falls off the pyramid, he hits bottom with a resounding, arcade- cabinet-shaking splat and a burst of incomprehensible obscenity! (Konami/Ultra, 1989)
Memories: Ah, the eternal conundrum of Q*Bert – to turn the controller, or try to do diagonals with an NES joypad? The original arcade incarnation of the mighty orange one solved the problem pretty simply by turning a standard four-directional joystick at a 45-degree angle within the coin-op’s casing. To truly replicate that effect, you’re given the option of rotating the NES controller 45 degrees or to try to do diagonals while holding it straight (in effect, hitting the left and down portions of the plus-shaped pad simultaneously to move in that direction). There’s a whole pre-game startup screen devoted to controller orientation here. And as awkward as it is, the 45-degree angle option is much more responsive on the NES. Now, a joystick such as the Advantage may help here, but again, the hardware itself dictates that the controller won’t be as responsive diagonally.
Other than that, it’s a nearly flawless translation of the original game, though not necessarily a picture-perfect port – Ugg and Wrong Way show up on screens that don’t necessarily parallel their appearances in the arcade game, for example. The minor changes that are there won’t bother seasoned Q*Bert veterans, though – it’s essentially the same game. And if you’re wondering about the unusual mish-mash of manufacturers listed for the NES version of Q*Bert, the chain goes something like this: Konami bought the rights from Gottlieb to distribute the arcade game in Japan, and also wound up handling Japanese licensing for the game and characters. Ultra is actually an “imprint” of Konami. In the early days of Nintendo acting as a gatekeeper for NES games, each individual corporate entity was allowed to release only five titles. Early on, however, it became apparent that some manufacturers’ games were selling more than others, and these “preferred licensees” – such as Konami and Acclaim – got permission to bypass the five game rule by creating a second entity on paper which would essentially be the same company. Hence, for all intents and purposes, Ultra = Konami.