Republished on Wednesday 28th March 2018: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of April's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
It's easy to name the quintessential arcade games of the 80s, like Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and Space Invaders – after all, these are timeless titles that still carry pop culture sway today. However, one of the heavy hitters that's somewhat faded into history is Q*Bert, an isometric puzzle platformer that rivalled Pac-Man's stature during its heyday. The eponymous hero's most recent appearance was in Disney's Wreck-It Ralph, and this actually motivated Sony to dust off its ownership of the intellectual property to create a modern version of the beloved arcade hit. However, Q*Bert Rebooted doesn't entirely stick its landing on Sony's systems.
Q*Bert is actually 12 years older than this particular author, so it's nice to have it repackaged on modern machines. What's particularly splendid, though, is that the developer has included the first version for fresh eyes and old fans alike, which is important, as it will enable you to see how it compares to the bundled reimagining.
The original serves up a pyramid of pseudo-3D cubes, which you must change to a different colour by stomping on them. The trick is that you can only move diagonally, and if you fall off the pyramid or get attacked by enemies, you'll lose a life. As you progress through levels, you'll stumble upon foes in greater numbers, such as Coily, a purple snake that bounces after you. Other than this, there are rainbow disks to the side of the pyramid for you to ride on, which help you to escape from sticky situations.
It doesn't necessarily feel like a puzzle game, but there's a strategic element to the platforming where you must predict the AI's tricky movement, all while plotting out your path to victory. Unfortunately, the peculiar controls don't make this a particularly smooth experience on any of Sony's systems. You can use the d-pad or the analogue stick – or even the PlayStation Vita's touchscreen, which is decent – to command Q*Bert, but the former is annoying since you must press two buttons at once to move in any diagonal direction, while the latter is imprecise, leading to frustration.
This problem's greater in the re-imagined edition, which boasts some sizeable tweaks, but has the same spirit as its inspiration. Instead of cubes, hexagons allow for an assortment of new, interesting stages. We enjoyed this variety compared to the static formation of the original title's playing field, but now that you can move diagonally, horizontally, and vertically depending on the placement of the hexagons, navigating quickly with the d-pad is a real challenge. Once again, the analogue stick fares better, but the directional input is even more ambiguous and frustrating; it's manageable if you 'snap' around, but it's still clunky.
Thankfully, other additions and changes are mostly for the better. A few new foes – such as a treasure chest that you can chase down to gain points – shake things up a bit. The structure of the game's progression is now spread among many levels, too, in which there are usually three rounds and a bonus round that you must beat with five lives. Meanwhile, gems that you collect during the game can be spent on cute skins, which change the protagonist's appearance and jumping sound effects.
But despite these positives, we did encounter numerous other niggly quibbles. There's no cross-save feature, for example, and you only ever receive one star for completing a level – despite your performance. This feels like a frustrating way of forcing replayability, as you may well complete all of the requirements for all of a stage's stars – beating a time limit, earning a specific score, etc – on your first run, but you'll still have to play it multiple times to actually nab them. At least it looks adequate visually, with plenty of charm.
There are some good ideas in this modern interpretation of Q*Bert, and we love that the original's included as part of the package, but iffy controls undermine the experience. It's a quaint little curio for fans of arcade games, then, but it's not exactly a must have.