The object of the Q*Bert's Qubes game is to rotate a cube so that the colors of all three sides match the corresponding colors of the target cube: When a cube is rotated so that its colors match the target cube the cube turns to a green outline cube. The player must get five outline cubes in a row, up-down, across, or diagonally. Getting the required number of tic-sac-toes completes the round, and the screen advances to the next round, with Q*Bert starting back on the top cube. At the beginning of each level there will be a short demonstration to let the player know how many tic-sac-toes are required to complete the round in the new level. Each level consists of four rounds.
The game play starts with the player-controlled Q*Bert character appearing at the top of the playfield. The joystick will move Q*Bert from cube to cube by hopping in any of four diagonal directions. Q*Bert can move anywhere on the playfield but jumping off will kill him. Each time Q*Bert jumps off a cube that is not a green outline cube the cube will rotate in the direction that Q*Bert jumped. In early levels once a cube has matched the target cube it will no longer rotate, in later levels they will be able to turn.
Q*Bert will have to avoid touching the purple ball and the Meltniks. These deadly objects drop randomly onto the second from the top level and bounce downwards. The Meltniks will either fall off the bottom, or, melt if they land on a cube whose top matches its character color. The purple ball will stop at the bottom and hatch into Rat-a-tat-tat, the rat which chases Q*Bert. To destroy the rat Q*Bert must time his jump so that the rat will land on a cube that is rotating. The rat will fall off the cube and points are awarded. The number of points awarded decreases each time the rat is killed, however, it is reset to the maximum number of points at the start of each new round and each time after Q*Bert dies.
The turtle Sheldon appears in every round, the green ball begins appearing in round three, and the Shoobops begin appearing in level 3. The green characters or objects are safe to hop on and will award points. All other objects are deadly to touch. Hopping Q*Bert onto Sheldon awards 100 points and slows all the characters down to a crawl for a few seconds except Q*Bert. Hopping Q*Bert onto the green ball awards 100 points and freezes all the characters on the screen for a few seconds, but Q*Bert will still be able to move and rotate cubes. The middle of level 3 the Shoobops begin appearing. They will drop onto the second level from the top and hop randomly downward. As they hop off a cube it will rotate in the direction that they hop. Hopping Q*Bert onto either of the Shoobops will award 100 points.
All characters and objects appear at random time intervals throughout the game. As the levels increase they will appear with increasing frequency and increased speed, however they will always be slower than Q*Bert.
During level 3 the play action increases with difficulty by increasing the number of colors to six. Each side will have its own unique color. At level 4 the number of tic-sac-toes required increases to 2 making completing the round more difficult.. Level 5 requires 3 tic-sac-toes. Level 6 requires only I tic-sac-toe but at this point the green outline cubes are free to rotate back to regular cubes.
Bonus points are awarded at the end of each round based on the number of cubes that match the target cube. The points awarded per cube increase as the game progresses. There is a timer that counts down throughout the level, until reaching 15, where it then stops. The quicker the player completes a level the more time left on the timer. The remaining time is how long the player will get to play the bonus round which appears after each level. During the bonus round the cube will rotate in the direction the joystick is moved but Q*Bert will remain on the same cube until it matches the target cube. Then Q*Bert will advance to the next cube. When time runs out points are awarded 100 points for the first cube, 200 points for the second, 300 for the third, etc.
When the difficulty level is set on hard two additional characters appear starting at level 2. The purple guys appear at the bottom and right side of the screen. They do not chase Q*Bert but move randomly on the sides and fronts of the cubes to get in Q*Berts way.