Some thirty-three years after Q*Bert and his garbled tongue made their debut in stuffy arcades across the world, developers Gonzo Games and Loot Entertainment have elected to bring the hopping orange wonder kicking and screaming onto PlayStation 4 in 2015. Previously released on PC, iOS and Android, Q*Bert Rebooted pretty much aims to do what it says on the tin, yet the lack of scoreboard support, polish and meaningful new features threaten to tarnish the core experience greatly.
Like all arcade games that have stood the test of time, Q*Bert’s premise is both delightfully simple and easy to get grips with. Plonked into the orange shoes of a strange hopping creature with a penchant for talking smack in his alien tongue, players have to guide Q*Bert onto every surface of a pyramid of cubes viewed from an isometric perspective.
All important score is accrued from every cube that Q*Bert lands on and as soon as all cubes have been hopped onto at least once, players can then move onto the next stage. To spice things up a bit, various cube jumping baddies appear which require Q*Bert to avoid them all the while the spinning discs lurking at the fringes of the pyramid provide a means to escape pursuing foes. It’s a fun formula and one that has endured and remains enjoyable over three decades on.
There are no extra-curricular objectives here; Q*Bert is unapologetically old school and as such it comes from an earlier, simpler time where the only thing that mattered was racking up high-scores and the satisfaction that came from doing so was considerable. It’s hugely baffling then, that the game has completely omitted any sort of online leaderboard system.
With the purview of gaming peers now extending far beyond the back-slapping crowds that typified the dingy arcades of the 80’s, the rise of social media and connected gameplay experiences should provide the perfect opportunity for players to engage in the sort of bragging rights that a game like Q*Bert would encourage. As it is, the absence of such competitive tools stands as a glaring oversight in the remake of a game that originally prided itself on friendly social competition.
Included in Q*Bert Rebooted is both the original game, in all its punishingly hard retro glory, and a remastered version of Q*Bert that has been crafted with a somewhat more contemporary audience in mind. Here, the cubes are swapped out for hexagons and in addition to the usual diagonal movement; both players and enemies can now navigate the stage in upward and downward directions too. Additionally, the difficulty level has also been dialled down a fair whack and the inclusion of a new tutorial also helps in getting newcomers adjusted quickly.
Further changes abound in terms of how the player progresses through the stages as well. Rather than a linear procession of stages, Q*Bert Rebooted allows players to go back and revisit old stages in an attempt to achieve a higher score. Where Rebooted borrows heavily from mobile games such as Angry Birds and Cut the Rope though, is in the now standard three stars that it assigns to each level that can only be completed by meeting certain criteria.
From finishing the level in a set time to racking up a specific score, these challenges do a reasonable job of providing a little variety to the proceedings, but the system itself is heavily flawed. Instead of all three stars being unlocked if the player manages to fulfil all the criteria, only one star at a time can be unlocked at a time regardless of how much extra effort the player has put in. The frustrating upshot of this is that each level has to be revisited many more times in order to achieve a perfect three star rating, creating a hugely unnecessary amount of busywork where precisely none should exist.
Elsewhere, the 2015 edition of Q*Bert aims to pad out the experience by including extras in the form of additional costumes that can be purchased by picking up gems which are generously sprinkled throughout its stages. Boasting cosmetic differences only, the skins come in various themes but add little to the overall package, instead seeming like an ill-conceived, limp bolt-on to the existing Q*Bert experience more so than anything else.
Aesthetically, Rebooted brings an upgrade that certainly makes Q-Bert a more colourful and vibrant experience. With the PlayStation 4’s muscular insides capable of so much however, the disappointment is keenly felt that the new visuals certainly appear more functional than attractive.
Without online leaderboard support, Q*Bert Rebooted immediately feels hollow compared to the socially-geared, bragging right thrills that the original elicited all those years ago. While the Rebooted edition introduces reworked stages and a tutorial to aid Q*Bert newbies, the lack of visual polish and superfluous extras in turn detract from those latter positive strides that the developers have made elsewhere.