Q*Bert’s Qubes (Parker Brothers, 1984)
Q*Bert’s Qubes is far from the worst Atari 2600 game – in fact, it’s quite enjoyable once you figure out its oddball mechanics. However, it may very well be the most frustrating game ever released for the system, and some players may not be motivated enough to figure out how to play the thing.
Q*Bert’s Qubes is essentially Q*Bert in pseudo 3-D, but instead of turning a block one colour you have to rotate multiple-coloured cubes to match the “target qube.” A round ends once you’ve matched four cubes in a row to the target. The arcade original was animated sufficiently to show Q*Bert actually rotating the blocks. Now, compare that to the Atari 2600 version in which this movement is not animated. The result is an exasperating mess requiring a lot of memorization, which is not always a benefit in a fast-action game in which you’re also trying to avoid bad guys. Frequently, the player finds him or herself jumping around, occasionally achieving success with nary the foggiest clue how they did so.
Luckily for me, a few months ago Q*Bert’s Qubes was the weekly challenge in the AtariAge High Score Club, giving me some motivation to learn the game. With the help of fellow competitors it took me half a week to figure out the various tips and tricks required to succeed. As it happens, I learned the game well enough to enjoy it and even post a decent score. However, once the week was over I promptly stopped playing the game, so when the time came to review it I had forgotten all those invaluable tips and tricks.
In some ways this is fortunate because it’s given me a more accurate beginner’s perspective, and from that perspective it’s safe to say this game is a player-unfriendly mess. If you put the time into mastering the game it’s quite fun, but with so many other video games out there I’m not sure it’s worth the effort. For the most part, you should be able to pick up and play most any Atari 2600 game without spending hours figuring it out. Better games have bent that rule a bit, but Q*Bert’s Qubes is practically the opposite of that ideal. C-
Qb (Xype Homebrew, 2001)
One or two entries ago I referred to the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) approach to video game design. Qb is a more-or-less modern (I often forget that 2001 was 16 years ago already) example of a simple concept that has had too much stuff added to its gameplay to make it fully enjoyable.
A little history: Qb was a game designed by Andrew Davie for the Atari 8-bit family all the way back in 1984. Many years later he decided to port the game to the Atari 2600. The goal of the game is simple in theory: arrange the blocks in the playfield box to match those in the guide box on the upper right hand corner of the screen. Your game avatar, Qb (a name awfully close to Q*Bert) can move blocks all over the playfield but can only jump to adjacent boxes. There is a lot of fruit to collect for points, but you have to be careful you’re not jumping on a box that is spawning a monster instead of a fruit because the process looks the same.
I have a few problems with Qb. Although you can battle back against monsters by jumping on them while pressing the action button, it’s hard to tell when doing so will defeat the monster or get yourself killed. What’s worse – much worse – is the fact that you lose points (and lose them substantially) the longer you push the action button. I’ve never liked the whole losing points thing back when Mattel first did it with Astrosmash back in the early ‘80s and I’m not a fan of it now. The graphics, while understandably blocky, are confusing; it takes a few plays before you can even tell a monster from a fruit.
Qb simply tries to be too much. It tries to be a Q*Bert style game, but its strengths lie more in its puzzle-building elements than the monster-fighting. Perhaps Davie could have broken each level down into timed rounds, or maybe there could have been variations with and without monsters. As it is, though, Qb is a decent game that doesn’t quite know its strengths. Incidentally, Qb looks far more playable in its Atari 8-bit incarnation. C
Qb for the Atari 2600 can be purchased at the AtariAge Store.
Quadrun (Atari, 1983)
Imagine playing catch. Imagine playing catch by yourself, except without a wall. If you can imagine that, you’ve already played Quadrun, the video game equivalent of doing just that.
Quadrun – much like Q*Bert’s Qubes above – is another one of those games I thought I enjoyed mainly because of the satisfaction I got from learning its insane gameplay mechanics. The sad fact, however, is that once you master Quadrun’s non-intuitive controls, there’s really not much left other than the virtual game of solo catch I described above. And as you might imagine, it’s really not a lot of fun.
Quadrun takes place in a matrix comprised of four quadrants that you access by pushing your joystick in the direction of the corresponding quadrant. When you’re facing up or down you shoot a ball at, um, things that give you points. Whether you hit the thing or not, you still have to catch the ball in the opposite quadrant or you will lose it. Occasionally the game will give you bonus objects in the horizontal quadrants to pick up for points. Although variations appear as the game progresses, that’s the basic premise. Don’t expect to get much more clarity from the instruction manual, which if anything makes the game sound way more complicated than it actually is.
There are things I like about Quadrun, but I admit they’re mostly superficial. The voice synthesis that creates the “Quadrun! Quadrun! Quadrun!” sound at the beginning of each level – revolutionary in its time – lends the game a nice old-school arcade-ish feel. And there’s no doubt the game is original – I honestly have never seen anything else quite like it. But ultimately Quadrun is only worth maybe an hour of your time, and certainly not the substantial amount you’d pay for it unless you’re seeking it out solely as a collector’s item (the game is so rare there weren’t even any cartridges available on eBay as of this writing. If you want more information as to why it’s so rare, click the AtariAge link below). C-
Quest for Quintana Roo (Sunrise Software, 1983)
Quest for Quintana Roo sounded like it could be fun, but it’s an absolute mess. The prospect of any full-on adventure game for the Atari 2600 is always intriguing, as is the use of the console’s switches in gameplay in lieu of a keyboard. This method has been used in games like Starmaster (yay!) and Ghostbusters (nay) but in Quest for Quintana Roo, ALL of the controls feel broken.
The plot of QFQR is standard adventure fare: you search a temple for keys that will give you access to the ceremonial vault and its treasures. In the process you dig for various objects to help you in your quest while shooting snakes, throwing flasks of acid at mummies and picking up various herbs to help heal you when you get bitten by a snake. Like I said, it sounds fun, but it’s hard to tell what anything is. Sunrise Software’s instructions came on a typewritten piece of paper with no illustrations, so half the time you just have to guess what stuff is. I assumed the green objects lying on the floor were herbs, not that it mattered much because the controls made it near impossible to pick them up anyway. The snakes are simply relentless, making it hard to dig in the walls for treasure. You have six bullets to shoot the snakes but more come after you once you’ve cleared the room.
Quest for Quintana Roo is simply an exercise in frustration. I suppose if one wanted to put the time and effort into the game it might be worthwhile, but I can’t for the life of me see why anyone would want to. I have a whole new appreciation for the user-friendliness of Adventure (a game I’m enjoying more and more, actually) after attempting this monstrosity. Poor controls, indecipherable graphics and insufficient instruction earn Quest for Quintana Roo an F.
Quick Step! (Imagic, 1983)
Quick Step! is a fast-moving game that never seems to go anywhere. The result of someone at Imagic recognizing Q*Bert was successful and attempting to churn out a similar game immediately, Quick Step! features you as a kangaroo trying to change the colour of the trampolines on a vertically-scrolling playfield to green even as your computer opponent – a squirrel – attempts to change them to blue. You can fight back against the squirrel by jumping on a white trampoline, giving you powers that can temporarily freeze the rascally rodent if you land on it, or you can use one of your six “tricky traps” to take out trampolines completely. Do this right and you can trap the squirrel into scrolling off the screen – the only way either of you can meet your fate in the game.
Treating the squirrel like an actual human opponent (it has its own score and limited number of lives) takes away from the game. When one of the competitors dies the game ends, making the achievement of high scores very difficult. Also, the game has an aggravating tendency to place your character at the bottom of the screen just as a row is scrolling off the playfield.
Quick Step! is a reasonably fun – if monotonous – game. Imagic’s biggest flaw was making it a pseudo two-player game when it should have only been for one. Graphically and audio-wise it’s quite nice – not surprising considering that’s what Imagic built much of its reputation on. It’s just a little too one-dimensional for serious long-term play. C