This PC port isn’t quite there yet
Q*Bert is one of the very first video games I remember playing. I was really, really young, probably four or five back in Bulacan, and my dad had an old Atari 2600. Even though I probably didn’t really understand the game, I definitely remember enjoying Q*Bert for all the bright colors it had. So when I saw Q*Bert Rebooted (2014) on Steam, I decided to give it a try. Licensed by Sony Pictures Consumer Products and developed by Sideline Amusements alongside Gonzo Games, this is a release I really wanted to like, but ended up being less excited about.
The original Q*Bert (1982) is a colorful, isometric, puzzle platformer released for arcades. Even by today’s standards, the game’s levels – inspired by two of M.C. Escher’s most famous prints, namely Relativity (1953) and Sky and Water I (1938) – still stand out. Players control Q*Bert, a little, orange ball with two legs and a trunk for a nose. He jumps on squares in order to change their color and once all squares are transformed, the round is won and he jollily moves on to the next stage. To add some spice to the game, the little guy also has to avoid enemies, like snakes called Coily, or pigs called Ugg!. Nowadays the game is almost completely forgotten and mostly known for brief references in movies like Wreck–It Ralph (2012) or Pixels (2015), but back in the day, Q*Bert was immensely popular and the game was ported to pretty much every console on the market.
Q*Bert Rebooted (2014) tries to recapture the spirit of the good ol’ days and includes the original arcade version from the 1980s, as well as a new reimagining for players to enjoy. I honestly appreciate it when reboots, remasters, or remakes include the original game – it lets audiences see how far the medium has evolved and allows veterans to revisit their childhood. In this case, the developers even came up with a nifty solution to fill the 16:9 aspect ratio: When playing the 1982 arcade release, the original arcade cabinet design is shown on the sides of the levels. Granted, it looks “unique”, but it stays true to the original experience, so players have that to look forward to. Another neat addition is that the reboot has a total of 14 (+1) newly introduced Q* family members to play as. Yet sadly, despite these nice touches, this release has one major problem.
The first thing that springs to mind with Q*Bert Rebooted is that this is most obviously designed for mobile devices and not for PC. The menu layout, navigation, pacing, and most importantly the controls all point towards tablets and smartphones. Strangely enough, the PC version came out on Steam on July 1st, 2014 while the mobile port was released on iTunes on July 20th, 2015, a little more than a year later. To my surprise, when I initially wrote my Steam review on January 9th, 2015, there was no mobile version to be found. Given that, this re-review will focus on the current PC version 1.2.3, originally released on October 24th, 2014.
Because this is a mobile port, the one and only complaint I have about this entry is its controls. Bad game mechanics can often be alleviated by other features, like a great story, for example. Sadly, Q*Bert Rebooted doesn’t have much to offer in other departments, so the controls really stick out like a sore thumb. The game lets players choose between a keyboard, a gamepad, or mouse and allows them to switch between these on the fly, mid-game, which is always a welcome effort. However, the implementation of these is not as good as one would hope for them to be. On the one hand, there’s classical Q*Bert with surprisingly tight controls – difficult, but fun once you sort of understand what to do (I assume it’s what all arcade games were like at the time) – on the other hand, there’s the unpolished reboot’s controls. I had to try out all input devices, keyboard, mouse, gamepad, and arcade stick, to get one that sort of works, but even that still feels murky, floaty, and somehow unresponsive. To top it off, there is a slight, yet noticeable input delay which the developers, in 2014, unsuccessfully tried to patch out. Even though the game looks cute and has a fun soundtrack, overall, the controls don’t fit and are very unintuitive. Let me explain:
When I first booted up the game and wanted to stir Q*Bert with the keyboard, I wanted to use the arrow keys (←, ↑, →, ↓) but instead was forced to use W, A, S, D. This isn’t a deal breaker, those keys are very standard, but it would have been nice to be able to rebind the keys. As I didn’t get very far with that method, I tried playing with controllers – namely the wired Microsoft Xbox 360 gamepad and the Mad Catz Street Fighter IV arcade fightstick for the PlayStation 3. Both felt more natural when playing classical Q*Bert and I was actually able to progress to level 4, but the reboot still felt uncomfortable to play. Finally, I realized that for the new version, I would have to rely on my mouse, which worked better than other methods, but still isn’t ideal.
I also noticed that, unless I navigate the menu with my mouse, it’s impossible for me to reach the Exit Game button on the top left of the screen or the Configuration button at the top right. Things finally started to become a bit irksome when I discovered that I controlled Q*Bert with the left analog stick, but had to use the directional pad on the start-up screen. Even more so, I had to press up or down on the d-pad to select either classical or reboot Q*Bert, even though these options are side by side and not on top of one another. I am not sure why that is the way it is.
Even navigating the reboot’s level select screen turned out to be counterintuitive. I couldn’t reach many of the previously played stages, because the icon just wouldn’t move downwards. In this case, I again, had to use my mouse to select old stages. In fact, the mouse is probably the best way to play the reboot. If you want to change the resolution or exit the game, just move your mouse to those buttons. If you want to select a stage, just keep the left mouse button pressed and drag the cursor across the screen until you find the level you want to play. If you want to control Q*Bert, just keep the left mouse button pressed and he’ll go into the direction of the mouse cursor. These controls all make sense on mobile touchscreens, but they’re cumbersome on a desktop PC or laptop and sadly, they robbed the game of its potential fun.
There are several good ideas in Q*Bert Rebooted, I like the inclusion of new characters, level designs, soundtrack, and bonus gems, as well as the option to play both the classical release alongside the new version, yet, I can’t fully recommend the PC port due to its controls. I enjoy playing the old game a little more than the reboot, simply because Q*Bert is more inclined to go where I tell him to, but buying a whole product just because one part of it is okay, might not be the best call. Nevertheless, I see a lot of potential in this game overall and hope that subsequent PC releases will benefit from the experiences gathered here. Q*Bert is a cute, fun character and I am looking forward to a proper PC revival of the Q*Bert franchise. In the mean time, if you want to play this title, I recommend the mobile versions.
This game’s a 6 hopeful looks into the future out of 10
Where to get
Q*Bert Rebooted is available as digital download for PC, mobile, PlayStation 3, Vita, and 4, and Xbox One. It can be found on Steam, iTunes, Google Play, the PlayStation store, and the Xbox Store. Prices range from free to play on mobile over $4.99 USD (or your local equivalent) on Steam to $9.99 (or your local equivalent) on the Xbox Store.
On a side note: If you have comments, suggestions, or complaints, please do feel free to state them in the comments sections below. Unless I misunderstood the settings, you can comment on any of my reviews without having to create an account, log in, or leave your e-mail address. So far, I’ve had good experiences with the comment function and will also not cut you off.
All screenshots were taken by me during my playthrough using the Steam Overlay feature