Nelsonic Q*Bert

Nelsonic Q*Bert

Nelsonic made some of the coolest game watches of the 1980s — somehow they managed to get licences (at least I assume they did) for some of the great arcade classics — Pac-man, Donkey Kong, Frogger (although that may have been Sega — some of these watch layouts look pretty much identical) and this one — Q*Bert.

As if the game wasn’t hard enough at the arcade (if you don’t believe me, give it a crack yourself at the Internet Archive), they had to make it into a watch. Getting your head around moving your player diagonally on an isometric grid is not easy.

And the game is quite faithful to the original. You must jump on each block, avoiding enemies that are jumping around the blocks after you. There are two lifelines (spinning disks) that will transport you back to the top if you manage to jump on them from the correct square.

The first two enemies emulate Ugg and Wrongway from the original game, and are then joined by coily if you are doing too well and get to Level 2.

The other enemies from the arcade (Slick and Sam) don’t appear, but their action (turning changed cubes back again) is done automatically by the game from Level 3.

There are four screens to clear to complete each level, so if you get to Level 4 you’re doing incredibly well and should probably start entering competitions!

It’s a hard game (so, just like the arcade) but not so frustrating that you don’t want to try again straight away.

This particular watch I thought would never run. I won it on eBay for a reasonable price (for a non-working watch) and thought it would only need a battery change, since it was in such good cosmetic condition.

Unfortunately it wasn’t. Past corrosion from an old battery had not only started eating the battery terminals, but had run along the traces to the chip so no matter what I did, I wasn’t getting anywhere and the screen stayed blank.

If I ran 3V through it from a Lab power supply, all the segments on the screen would light up but there was no activity from the chip and when I wound the voltage down to about 2.8V the display would disappear again.

I tried putting it in the freezer for 10 minutes (an old trick to check for hairline cracks in traces and cold solder joints) and again all the segments would light up. But once it started to warm up again, back to nothing.

So having done everything I could think of (including swapping out the capacitors, transistor, and crystal on the circuitboard) I had admitted defeat and figured I’d give it one last blast in the ultrasonic cleaner with isopropyl alcohol, and AMAZINGLY it worked.

After reassembling and inserting a new battery there was random characters visible and it didn’t look well, but at least things were changing which indicated the chip was finally doing something.

And then the watch gods must have been smiling on me because the watch reset and the familiar 12:00 appeared on the screen along with the demo mode of the game.

And now it works – perfectly I might add – and I’ve been playing it like crazy because I don’t know when it will stop working again.

This, along with the Pac-Man and Jungle Kong watches, has given me a taste for the Nelsonic series and I’ll hopefully add a Frogger and Super Mario to the collection one day.

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5 Responses to Nelsonic Q*Bert

    • Yep – to set the time press the top right (mode) button twice; the colon stops flashing and no game demo is displayed. Press bottom left for hours and bottom right for minutes. Press Mode button again to finish – done!

    • I measured the capacitance and installed new caps +10% of the original ones — a bit hit and miss, but working on the assumption that over 40-ish years the capacitance had dropped by at least that much, and if it hadn’t a 10% tolerance is acceptable in most caps.

  1. Do you still have those measurements? I’m working on a Zelda watch and I’m hoping the PCB layout is basically the same. It would really help if I had a good starting point. There are 4 capacitors along the top edge (though I’m not sure the white one is a capacitor because I haven’t taken it out of circuit yet) and another capacitor next to the D-Pad. Is that the same as Q-Bert’s PCB?

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