Ode to Q*bert

Well I just saw the Wreck-It Ralph movie this past weekend. I don’t want to talk about the movie too much because I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone. I enjoyed the movie, but the only problem I had with it was they show too much of the cool stuff and video game references in the previews. But that’s a fault a lot of movies have. But one thing that most everyone knows about the movie already (probably) is that Q*bert is in it. Q*bert was one of my favorite arcade games as a kid, and it was one of the few coin-op titles that could pull me away from Pac-Man if only for a short while (along with Pengo, Mappy, and Frogger). So in honor of him being in the Wreck-It Ralph movie, here’s a tribute blog for Q*bert!

But before we get started with that, here are some interesting things regarding the music in the Wreck-It movie. In the end credits, you hear a cheesy song about the Fix It Felix Jr. arcade game. I thought, “Ha, they’re making fun of Pac-Man Fever with that.” I turned to brother Jeff and said, “When we get home, we need to look up who sings that song. If it’s Buckner and Garcia, then that would be hilarious.” Turns out it was! And who is Buckner and Garcia? The folks who sang the original Pac-Man Fever tune!

In contrast, the syrupy-sweet Japanese sounding Sugar Rush theme song was sung by AKB48, a popular J-Pop teen girl idol group. The ONLY reason why I know who they are is because of all the Taiko no Tatsujin (Taiko Drum Master) import games I’ve played. Also, there really isn’t anything to see after the credits, but if you do stick around, they do something that’s important to Pac-Man fans.

Only other thing about the movie is that now, kids will want to go to arcades like what they saw in the film. I could imagine the conversation going something like this:

“Mommy, Daddy, I wanna go to an ‘arr…cayde’ like what was in that Wreck-It Ralph movie we just sawed.”

“Sorry little Sally, those places don’t hardly exist anymore.”

“Gee whiz, Daddy, that’s too bad. If only that awesome game reviewer Cary Woodham would win the lottery and open up his own arcade-slash-game museum.

“Yeah, if only. Hey wait a minute, who’s Cary Woodham?”


OK now we’ll talk about Q*bert. If I were a better gaming journalist and writer, I’d explain the gameplay of Q*bert and everything. But I figure that most of you already know what Q*bert is about, and my blog will be long-winded enough as it is, so we’ll just focus on my personal experiences and knowledge about the game.

I love the weird yet simple gameplay of Q*bert, although it does get hard especially in the levels that constantly change the color no matter how many times you hop on the cubes. But I think my favorite thing about Q*bert is the characters. There’s Q*bert of course, but you also have Coily the snake who chases you around the levels. Ugg and Wrong Way hop on the sides of the cubes like they’re in some sort of alternate dimension where the gravity is different. And my favorites, Slick and Sam, are green little drop guys who don’t hurt you, but can change the colors of cubes as they hop down, messing up your progress. As a kid I drew pictures of the Q*bert characters a lot! I could be wrong, but I thought I read somewhere that Q*bert was the first arcade machine to use a 16-bit processor. Mainly for the colorful cube graphics and sound effects.

I know that Q*bert was ported to TONS of consoles back then. All of them were pretty decent I remember. Even the 2600 one wasn’t THAT bad. I think the best port was probably the NES version. The Game Boy Q*bert is notable for having different boards and intermissions. I also heard that when the PS3 first came out, one of the arcade games you could download for it was Q*bert. Years later, when I did get a PS3, I tried to look for it on the PSN store and couldn’t find it. Did they take it out?

Q*bert’s Qubes

I had actually never heard of this sequel until the MAME arcade emulator came out when I was in college. I tried MAME for a little bit back then, but I took it off my computer because I was afraid I’d spend too much time playing old arcade games and not enough time studying. See, I worked hard in college. Fat lot of good that did me in real life, huh? Plus the whole legality thing with MAME caused me to delete it from my computer. Stupid conscience.

Anyway, Q*bert’s Qubes is a pretty clever idea. Instead of changing the color of tops of cubes, when you hop from a cube, it’ll rotate based on how you jumped from it. So you have to match the face colors of the cube to whatever it says in that level. Luckily you only have to match them in rows to complete a level. I’d like to be able to play this game again sometime, legally of course.

Q*bert 3

Since I had never heard of Q*bert’s Qubes until I was in college, I was confused as to why this was called Q*bert 3 on the SNES when I was in high school. Whatever happened to Q*bert 2? Anyway, with its off the wall music and quirky special graphical background effects, I thought Q*bert 3 really captured the weirdness of the Q*bert world. You didn’t just hop on cubes this time, but the tops of brief cases, teeth, and other objects in each level. I rented this one quite a few times back then. I would’ve wanted to buy it, but I was just a high school student back then and couldn’t afford to buy ALL the games I wanted. Plus, renting games from the local mom and pop rental place only cost a buck back then, so needless to say, I rented a lot of SNES and NES games instead of buying them.

Q*bert (PSOne, Dreamcast)

Back when Hasbro had a game publishing house (called Hasbro Interactive), they got the rights to several arcade classics so they could update them for modern consoles of the time. Some were pretty decent, like the Pong and BreakOut remakes. But others were just average at best. Q*bert was one of those. It had some neat ideas, like the multiplayer modes, but I felt it lacked the visual style that the SNES game had. Plus, in this game they gave Q*bert these huge bulbous eyes with droopy eyelids and it made him look like a stoner or something.

Other Games

While reading about Q*bert on Wikipedia, I learned of a couple of Q*bert games I didn’t know about. One was a pinball game called Q*bert’s Quest. I had never seen that, but they say it was pretty rare. But it doesn’t surprise me since the arcade game was made by Gottlieb and Parker Bros., and Gottlieb made a lot of pinball games. Lots of other arcade game favorites got the pinball treatment back then, too. Like the pinball table Mr. and Mrs. Pac-Man and the hybrid Baby Pac-Man. I think even Spy Hunter had a pinball machine!

Another game I read about on Wikipedia, but had remembered reading about it beforehand was Faster, Harder, More Challenging Q*bert. I thought Q*bert was hard enough as it was, but I do remember seeing bigger kids in arcades who could just play the original forever. Which was cool except they’d never let me play. I do think it’s neat how Q*bert went through several name changes before the final product. One name under consideration was Snots and Boogers, and another was the un-pronounceable “!&?%@#”

Q*bert on the Tube Cube

Did you know that Q*bert was so popular back then that he got his own Saturday morning cartoon show? In the early 80’s, there was a cartoon called Saturday Supercade which had short animated stories about various video game characters. There was Donkey Kong, Pitfall, Frogger, and Q*bert in the first season. The second season added DK Jr., Kangaroo, and Space Ace to the mix. The cartoons were pretty horrible, but I do appreciate them just for being unassuming, good-natured cartoons that kids had fun watching back then. The Q*bert cartoon was my favorite, but I was always mad because they alternated every other Saturday with a Pitfall cartoon instead (I didn’t like Pitfall as much then as I do now). Anyway, in the Q*bert cartoon, Q*bert was a high school student greaser from a 50’s time period. His nemesis Coily had a biker gang. Here’s the intro song to the Q*bert cartoon:

Other modern cartoons have made reference to Q*bert as well. The Simpsons did when they went to Ireland in one episode and hopped on a famous rock formation. Futurama has done some Q*bert references, too. Even one of the characters is kind of named after him, and you can see Q*bert in the infamous ‘video games’ Tales of Interest episode.

There were tons of TV commercials advertising the home versions of Q*bert back in the 80’s. There’s one that has always stuck out in my mind, though. It has a family playing the game and their faces gradually morph to become Q*bert heads. The commercial never frightened me or creeped me out, but it has always stuck out in my mind for some reason. Here’s that commercial:

I think in the Ghostbusters movie, they had a Q*bert arcade machine in their firehouse headquarters. So when I saw the arcade machine in the Ghostbusters video game released a couple of years ago, I got all excited. During the tutorial level, Dan Aykroyd kept telling me to go down to the basement to get Slimer, but I stood by that arcade machine for a good five minutes saying, “NO! I’m going to figure out how to play Q*bert on this game first!” Sadly, you couldn’t’ do that, but it would be cool if you could!

Q*bert’s Qollectables (Merchandise)

Because of the success of Pac-Man and Donkey Kong in merchandising, everyone had to have a cartoony arcade game in the 80’s. That’s why Midway passed up on Pole Position and chose to publish Mappy instead. As awesome as Mappy is, that was probably a bad decision for Midway. But Q*bert was pretty successful in marketing. As a kid, I had a huge plastic Q*bert bank and a plush toy with a squeaker in his nose. I wish I still had those toys. I think I also had a jigsaw puzzle and board game. And one year I was Q*bert for Halloween. I think it was the year after I was Pac-Man. Anyone remember the boxed Halloween costumes from the 80’s and 70’s that just had a plastic mask and a sash? Yeah that’s what those were.


And that’s all I feel like talking about Q*bert. All I can say is, if I did ever win the lottery and opened up my own arcade-slash-games museum, I would never unplug Q*bert like his fate in the Wreck-It Ralph movie. No, in fact, if I were in charge, Wreck-It Ralph and the rest of the arcade would be BEGGING to live in Q*bert’s arcade machine! In the Qomments section, send me your favorite Q*bert Quips and things. Later! –Cary

One Response to “Ode to Q*bert”

  1. Gah! Cary… spoilers… I get all the way through thinking I didn’t have to put off reading this to avoid spoilers and then you go and dump it all out in the last two sentences… give a guy some warning, eh?

    I love Q*Bert, was good but not great at him. You need to visit up here some time, someone just opened up an all-pinball arcade in the downtown Lafayette area… you can play per game or even buy a “pass” for a specific time. There’s a happy hour I think where everything is a quarter, too!

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