Product: Q-Bix
Publisher: Alligata
Compatibility: Acorn Electron
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #74
Q-BIX by Alligata

Last Game Standing

"Ye Gods!", "You gotta be kidding me!" or even "WTF?!" A few seconds into Q-Bix, and there won't be a man alive not passionately decrying it.

Yes, Q-Bix is awful. You play Kevin, a sort of spring-thing in the type of cubic domain made famous by Crazy Erbert. The idea is that you must visit all of the blocks in the pyramid, or whatever sculpture the level has thrown at you, once. When you've done so, the top of the block changes from one colour to another. Throughout your journey, you need to avoid the enemies moving from one block to another.

Defying Convention

Now ordinarily these types of games are a few moments of fun as you frantically steer whatever Kevin-equivalent sprite you're given around the pyramid using one of four direction keys. Except that Q-Bix hasn't gone for this formula. Instead, it has defied convention by allowing you to step left and right across the blocks. If you want to go diagonally up and down, you have to press two keys at the same time.

As a premise, this just feels positively wrong and when I saw Kevin simply sidestep left (directly into a nasty, natch!) instead of bouncing down the sculpture, I could barely believe it. Nonetheless, I regretfully persevered. Only to discover just how crap Q-Bix actually is.

What Have They Created?!

To begin with, this monostrosity does not have a level counter. That is, a number of levels exist, but it doesn't start you at level one (easy) and have an increasing difficulty as you progress. Rather, it starts you on one of a number of different levels. So you can plod around the playing area changing all the colours to (say) green - and if you get killed off before you touch the last square, you lose it all. You have to start all over again not simply on the same level but on a wholly unfamiliar one!

Also, no-one politely thought to tap the programmer on the arm and explain that a 'cubic domain' is meant to be a maze of cubes. The design of the domains is pathetic. Frequently you've got two inverted pyramids of cubes joined together by a single box. Ahem, so if that box is occupied by an enemy that stubbornly refuses to move, then you can't do anything because there is no other way around it.

On many of these types of game, there are transporters hanging in the air onto which you can bounce to be transported back to the top of the particular screen on which you have found yourself. In Q-Bix however, these lifts move about - at a speed that would probably impress Sebastian Coe. If you do manage to step onto one of them, you go flying around on it, up and down the side of the sculpture and have to try and accurately gauge when to step off it again. It's insanity!

Toys Prologue To Some Great Amiss

However, these are but toys prologue to the great amiss of the handling of the game itself. For there is no bouncing, or even animation of any of the characters here. If you move, your sprite disappears from one block and appears on the next one. Because there is all the confusion with the directional keys, you're unlikely to hit down and right at exactly the same time. If you hit right a fraction of a second earlier than down, you'll sidestep right. Either directly into space - dead - or into the path of the nasties. They move in exactly the same deadpan jerky fashion giving you absolutely no time to react to how you fear they may move. Even worse, the keyboard buffer isn't cleared properly, so when you start again, Q-Bix "remembers" your last few panic-stricken moves and begins to execute them on the new domain.

The result is death after death and a game so inexoribly vexing that it's less fun than a trip to the dentist. There are no redeeming features at all. Its graphics, such as they are, look like tired and half-hearted attempts. The author is anonymous too - probably to hide his shame. Reviewing this game feels like being caught in a trap from one of the Saw movies, and the review is therefore a Public Service Announcement from me to you. Under no circumstances should any member of the public attempt to play this game.

Small Mercies

Finally, just in case you're wondering, it was never released as a standalone Alligata title. It was released on a compilation pack supplied by WHSmith. Let's just hope it sold therefore in extremely limited numbers.