- Joystick: Use the joystick to make Q*bert jump from cube to cube. Unlike a majority of games, Q*bert does not move in vertical or horizontal directions, but rather in diagonals exclusively. Therefore Q*bert will only respond to diagonal directions on the joystick.
- 1 or 2 Players: Push these buttons to begin a one player game or a two player game.
The main character himself, Q*bert must bounce around each pyramid, changing the top surface color to the goal color for the level. Q*bert must not fall off any edge of the pyramid, nor should he come in contact with anything red or purple. However, Q*bert can safely touch anything primarily green in color. And in a pinch, Q*bert can jump on any of the rotating discs that hover to the side of the pyramid and ride them to safety at the top.
Red balls are the first obstacle that Q*bert encounters. They rain down from the top of the screen and land on one of the two blocks below the top cube. From there, they randomly bounce to the right or to the left until the reach the bottom and drop off the screen. Any contact with Q*bert causes him to lose one life. Beginning in the third stage, a green ball may appear and follow the same behavior as the red ball. However, if Q*bert touches the green ball, time will freeze for a few seconds, allowing Q*bert to jump around the pyramid in relative safety. The green balls are worth going out of your way to collect.
Q*bert's primary nemesis, Coily is a big purple snake that bounces around the pyramid in an attempt to capture Q*bert. However, Coily begins life as a purple egg. The egg falls from the top along with the red balls and descends to the bottom just as red balls do, but unlike red balls, they rest on one of the bottom blocks until it hatches and Coily jumps out. As soon as he appears, Coily immediately seeks Q*bert out and jumps in his general direction. They only way to remove him from the screen is to lure him near a disc, and jump on to the disc when he is about to catch you. He will jump after you and fall to his death, removing him from the board... until the next purple ball falls from the sky.
Wrong Way & Ugg
These two troublemakers begin appearing on the third stage. Wrong Way appears from the lower left corner, and proceeds to the right using the left faces of each cube as steps. Conversely, Ugg appears from the lower right side and proceeds to the left. When they reach the opposite side, they leap off and disappear, but another will follow behind them. Contact with either of these two is deadly. The fact that you should avoid them is obvious. What's not as obvious is the path that they will take as they traverse the pyramid. Since it's difficult to predict which path they will take, it's best to keep as much distance between them and Q*bert as possible.
Slick & Sam
By stage four, the last of the characters make their appearance. Slick and Sam are two green creatures that attempt to undo the hard work that Q*bert has accomplished by reverting the color of the cubes they jump on back to their original color. Since they are green, Q*bert can safely touch them in order to remove them from the stage and deter further color changes on their part.
These are Q*bert's only means of defense and his only offense. By jumping on any available disc, it will lift him to the very top of the pyramid and drop him off before disappearing. If Coily is close behind Q*bert when he jumps on the disc, Coily will jump off the pyramid and disappear for a while. No new additional enemies will appear on the stage while Q*bert is riding the disc, generally resetting the stage for your next trip down.