Set on a pyramid playfield, you control Q*Bert in his mission to colour in all the cubes to the specified target colour (displayed at the bottom left of the screen) by jumping on them, in order to proceed to the next level. All the while your progress is hampered by pursuing enemies, including a coiled-spring snake which follows you, monsters which move constantly down or across the level (contact with either of thse is fatal), and even those which move around the level turning squares back to their original colour meaning you have to jump on them again.
There are four stages to each level and on level one you only have to jump on each square once to change it to the target colour. On level two the squares must be jumped on twice for the colour to change through an intermediate colour to the target, and on later levels jumping on a square for a second time can cause the square to revert to its original colour. This is where strategic patterns come in, as you must jump on some of the squares several times to get to the point where your final jump will turn the final square to its target colour.
Set on the outer edge of the playfield are coloured discs, and if you jump on these you are transported slowly back up to the top of the pyramid and deposited on the uppermost square. Any pursuing monsters (the snake in particular) which try to follow your route onto the disc plummet down into the void below and all monsters are removed from the current screen, to reappear later at the top of the pyramid.
Colouring in a cube: 25 points.
Killing the snake: 500 points bonus.
Catching the green ball: 100 points.
Completing a level: 750 points + .250 points x level number.
End of level bonus: 50 points per teleport disc remaining.
Anything green is safe to jump on and will not kill you.
Game speed increases on each level.
The snake will always follow your movement so jump on the discs and it will follow you off the edge of the pyramid even if it is several jumps behind you.
When the monsters are frozen you are also invincible and can move through them.
The moves demonstrated by Q*Bert at the start of the level are the movements required to colour in the cubes.
On stages where the colour changes back when you jump on a cube for a second time you should use the discs to get back to the top of the screen.