Retro Review: Q*bert's Qubes is an obscure gem0 Comments
Reviewed on: Arcade
Also available on: Atari 2600, ColecoVision
They say timing is everything. With Q*bert's Qubes, this holds true with both the gameplay and the release of the game itself. While the original Q*bert, released in 1982, was one of the most popular games of the era, name recognition couldn't overcome the power of the freefall the North American arcade industry was experiencing in 1983 and 1984. With the media and stock market analysts calling the video game "dead", parent company Coca-Cola shut down Mylstar Electronics in late September 1984, killing production of Q*bert's Qubes dead in its tracks. A true shame, too, as Q*bert's Qubes is a fun and challenging game.
You return as Q*bert, the long-nosed orange hopper with a foul mouth. Your mission this time is to hop about a series of floating cubes, rotating them into the position that matches with the icon in the corner of the screen. Instead of trying to change all cubes to the same color as in the original, your mission in Qubes is to properly rotate a full row of cubes in a tic-tac-toe style. As the game progresses, you are required to do multiple rows to complete the stage. Upon completion of your mission, Q*bert falls to the bottom of the screen, hitting a trampoline and bouncing back to the top of the stage for a celebratory moment.
Q*bert's Qubes comes with new enemies, though the behavior of some of them is similar to the characters in the original game. Coily, Wrong-Way, Ugg, Slick and Sam are replaced by characters named Rat-a-tat-tat, Melniks, Sheldon and Shoobops. The differently colored Shoobops will vanish into the top of the cube if that cube's top color is the same as he is, a factor that sometimes keeps them out of Q*bert's hair.
Q*bert's Qubes can be a little intimidating for new players, especially those familiar only with the classic Q*bert concept that was used in every other Q*bert game that followed this one. After a few games, however, that initial vibe relaxes a bit. Once you complete your first level, the game hooks you in before throwing yet another wrinkle to your quest.
The first time I ever played Q*bert's Qubes was at an arcade auction in Mesquite, Texas in 2002. The game drew me in, making me totally unaware of my surroundings, which is impressive considering there was an auctioneer screaming into a microphone just 50 yards away. I found the same result the second time I encountered the game in New Hampshire's legendary Funspot arcade in 2009, totally losing track of time as my brain literally tuned out everything else on the planet except for Q*bert's Qubes.
Few other video games of any genre have ever been able to do that to me. The reason for it here is the fact that Q*bert's Qubes requires more thinking and strategy than the original Q*bert, and for that matter more than most other retro arcade games. The challenge of getting rows of blocks changed over proves to be a greater challenge than changing the colors of blocks in the original Q*bert, especially with the bonus timer. It is as much of a quick reaction puzzle game as Tetris or Dr. Mario, requiring your subconscious to make the decisions and think ahead while you do what you need to on-screen.
The game also manages to stay challenging for far longer than the original Q*bert does. Q*bert's Qubes also manages to avoid the annoyance of "cheap deaths" that the original game was sometimes known for. Most of the time, you lose a life in Qubes because of a mistake you know you made. This compels you to want to try again because you just know you won't make that same mistake again, even though you usually do, which ends up repeating the cycle until you accomplish your goal. That's the key to pulling a player into a game, regardless of era or genre.
Due to a pre-existing licensing deal with Parker Brothers, there were ports of Q*bert's Qubes released for the Atari 2600 and ColecoVision. Like the arcade game, these are fairly rare thanks to the North American industry conditions at the time. The Atari version doesn't do the game justice at all, but the ColecoVision edition is actually a pretty solid port that captures the personality of the coin-op. For whatever reasons, while there have been additional Q*bert games released off and on over the decades since, there have been no additional official releases of Q*bert's Qubes.
It is a true shame that such a solid game was squashed due to industry conditions out of the programmer's control. I have every reason to believe that if Q*bert's Qubes would have been a huge hit if it was released in arcades just one year sooner or for home consoles six years later. It manages to retain the charm and personality that made the original Q*bert so successful while adding in cerebral challenge that truly makes the game stand out. If you happen to encounter the machine in one of the retro bars or arcades that are popping up around the country, plan to drop a few quarters in Q*bert's Qubes and experience what the gaming world was somewhat robbed of more than 30 years ago.
Really @!#?@! Good