The typical retro-game update these days takes a pretty standard approach. Find a 2D classic arcade game, put it in polygons, give it some sort of quest-type feel, and put it on shelves. While the 1982 arcade game Q*Bert already had a bit of a 3D element to it, it's been given the standard treatment. But awkward level design and poor presentation make the 1999 release of Q*Bert a dull endeavor, to say the least.
Not too many gameplay elements have changed here. Q*Bert is still a crazy orange... uh... ball thing. OK, picture a ball with two legs, two eyes, and a vacuum-cleaner hose as a nose/mouth combo sort-of-thing. Your world is made up of tons of connected cubes. Your job is to change the color of the cubes by hopping from cube to cube. Each cube you touch changes color. Various obstacles and monsters stand in your way - from bouncing balls to returning evildoers Coily, Ugg, and Wrong-Way, who all hop around on the cubes hoping to land on our hero, which, as in the old version, causes Q*Bert to emit a bellow of cartoon cursing.
While every level in the original game (which is contained on the disc and is playable with classic or updated graphics, though the between-level music is different than the original) was a simple pyramid, the updated game goes crazy with its level design. The problem here is that it's occasionally very hard to judge depth, and at times the levels look like they came right off the desk of MC Escher himself. This makes hopping around a real chore, and it's occasionally tough to see how all the cubes line up.
In the game's standard mode, along with all the old Q*Bert gameplay elements, are things like power-ups. Shields, keys, bombs, torches, and more can be found on the game's various levels. The items don't really mix up the gameplay at all, and the game gets boring within 30 minutes. A two-player head-to-head mode is also included where you can try to recolor your cubes before your friend can change all of his.
The game's graphics have been updated in the most basic way. Everything has become polygonal, but that's about it. So Q*Bert looks a little more robust now, and he squashes down when he lands from a jump. The new sounds used in the game really don't add anything to the game, and the trademark noise that Q*Bert made when he jumped still sounds much, much cooler.
It would have been nice to see a history section, complete with clips of the short-lived Q*Bert cartoon. Also, the Q*Bert sequel, Q*Bert's Qubes, and the never-released Faster, Harder, More Challenging Q*Bert would have made nice additions to the classic section of the game. As it stands, the game just doesn't have enough substance to last more than a day. If you absolutely, positively must know, do yourself a favor and just rent it.