Sunday, June 15, 2014

C64 Review - Q-Bopper (C) 1983 Accelerated Software

John: Ooh another "classic" from 1983. Q-Bopper by Accelerated Software, Inc, who would later go on to release Dungeons of Ba, which is way, way, way, way better than Q-Bopper.

Chuck:  This one's painful.  But you know, I really love this era of C64 games, so I think we're going to stick with reviewing games from this era for awhile.

John:  It has an air of innocence about it.

Chuck:  And an air of discovery.  Lots of no-name software developers selling software in plastic bags.  A few future big names just beginning to get their sea-legs.  Console developers who were fearful of the future were only just beginning to turn towards the home computer market.  So, we've got a lot of, I guess you would say, independent developers making computer games in 1983.

John:  This one fills quite a few early C64 cheapie checkboxes:

Public Domain music - Check.

No-name developer - Check.

Terrible graphics and sound - Check.

Ripoff of a famous arcade title - Check.

Probably came in a plastic bag with a one-sheet "manual" - Check.

Uses the default C64 font for all text and scores - Check.

Title screen and/or game elements done using PETSCII - Check.

I love this era too.  So please know dear reader that when we say harsh things about a game from this era, we do it with love.  If you love the C64 then there's an undeniable charm to games from this era.  Even the crappy ones.  And speaking of crap...

Chuck:  Q-Bopper bursts out of the gate blaring Dixie at you while the title fills the screen.  Then it switches to some ear-splitting, out of tune piano roll kind of thing that wouldnt sound good coming out of an Odyssey 2.  Right away you know what you're in for.

John:  Why Dixie??

Chuck:  Let me state this up front.  If you're going to blatantly rip off a brilliant game like Q-Bert, right down to the name of the game, then by God you will be judged by that standard.  If you're going to go down this road then you could at least do it properly, or take it in a unique direction like Pogo Joe.  Speaking of, that is also from 1983 although you would never believe it if you only played crap like this.

John:  "As close to the Arcade feeling as you'll ever get".  Just let that sink in.

Chuck:  Let's just get right down to the big problem.  The Angry Video Game Nerd always says you cant explain bad controls, you must experience them yourself.  Well, I'm going to give it a shot.  Look at this:

This is from the Q-Bert 2600 version manual.  This is how Q-Bert was meant to be played at home.  Now, I'm not saying we held our joysticks like this; we just held them normally with the fire-button at top-left.  But the controls just feel right and work extremely well, especially when you need to change direction quickly.

Q-Bopper immediately shits the bed by making you move the joystick diagonally to jump in the four directions.  There is a reason why no home version of Q-Bert controls this way.  It's because IT.  DOESNT.  WORK.

John:  You'd think that it would.  You would think that it actually makes more sense, since you are moving diagonally on the screen.  But it doesnt.  On our dear departed mother's soul I swear that it doesnt.

Chuck:  She'd completely understand.

If you try to change direction, especially the opposite direction, he may just sit there and do nothing.  Why?  Am I not pushing the stick exactly diagonal?  Is the game just ignoring me?  Also, Q-Bopper moves at lighting speed.  So not only can you not direct him but he just whizzes across the board and usually right off the side before you know it.  He has a tendency to move two blocks when you only wanted to move one.  He does not move deliberately, like Q-Bert does.  He does not have any feel of substance or weight, he just kind of floats around.

So, right away you have a game that's a total pain in the ass to play.  There's just no coming back from that.  Everything else could be amazing and this would kill it   We could just wrap this up right now.

John:  Oh no. Full autopsy.  The level design is atrocious.  Instead of just copying the Q-Bert pyramid they haphazardly splayed blocks all over the screen.  It looks and feels random.  I'm pretty sure no thought went into it other than "uh oh we better not make this look too much like Q-Bert, but it needs to look enough like it so suckers will know what they're buying".  If you're going to just make a random shape at least make the shape change on subsequent levels.

The flying discs that Q-Bert uses to escape the bad guys are completely stationary in this game.  When you hop onto one it just sits there and doesnt move.  So you're supposed to hop on and wait for the bad guys to move to another part of the level then you jump back off.  Zzzzz...

Chuck:  Well, making the discs fly you to another part of the level would have taken, you know, effort.

John:  Look, if you are missing features that the Atari 2600 version of Q-Bert has then you have failed.  Failed.  The enemies just kind of randomly bounce around the screen so I suppose they wouldnt be able to follow you when you escape, anyway.  

Chuck:  That's the best part of Q-Bert!  Coily is so single-minded in his pursuit of Q-Bert that he just leaps off of the pyramid to oblivion.  Q-Bopper has none of this.  The enemies have no personality.  They're just colored balls.  And a square that changes the color of the blocks (the substitute for Slick/Sam).

Q-Bopper himself is just another ball with poorly defined feet and.. I think he's wearing sunglasses?  An eye-patch?  Seriously, what's wrong with his face?

And there seems to be another character named Chancer?

John:  Oh, when you push your button you warp to an escape disc and you lose one "chancer".

Chuck:  So it's an "oh shit" button.  Chancer, though?

John:  Because you're taking a chance by doing something that immediately removes you from all danger?

The sound effects are terrible.  There's a bad laser sound whenever you start the game.  Very unceremonious.  You clear a level then a new one immediately starts, no fanfare.  The laser sound does not count as fanfare.  This is not how video games work, people.  You are to be rewarded with pleasing sounds, flashing colors, something.  How about a brief pause in the action, at least?

Chuck:  When Q-Bopper dies it plays this weird bird warble (or "malfunctioning computer" noise?) and he disintegrates.  When you fall off the "pyramid" it does the same thing.  But when the game is over it plays a falling bomb sound with a crash.  Why did they not use that when you fall off the board?   This is iconic Q-Bert stuff and they are dropping the ball at every opportunity.  Did they even play Q-Bert before making this?  Maybe we're wrong.  Maybe this is a wholly original idea and Gottllieb ripped it off.

John:  Except Q-Bert came out in 1982. And if Jeff Lee saw this he would have dropped the concept immediately.

Chuck:  It really makes you appreciate how great Q-Bert is, let's give it credit for that.

I hope we're not being too unfair.  If this were 1983, and dad picked this up from the computer store for a few bucks, we may have squeezed a little fun out of this one?

John:  Nope.  Trainwreck.  If you cant at least be as good as the Atari 2600 version then you should not bother.  If this were typed in from a magazine then it might be acceptable.  And we did play this one back in the day, we're playing our original (copied) disk as we speak (yes it still works).  We copied and played everything.   I'm sure we played this once and forgot about it.

Chuck:  Can we forget it again please?

Update:  It appears one of our playtesters loves Q-Bopper and cant get enough.  We believe in spirited debate here at WOB75, so here you go: