(Spoiler alert, I get a little excited!)
Let me tell you a story. It’s 2012, and I’m walking the floor at my first Play Expo convention in Manchester. This is like the one me and Mike attended at Blackpool back in April, but it’s much bigger. I’m enjoying the Arcade machines, pinball tables, and of course, the weird and wonderful selection of consoles. I was fairly new to the niche stuff back then and it was definitely an experience to get my hands on some of these lesser known machines.
One stood out above all the rest. I pretty much fell in love at first sight. Sharp, crisp vector graphics, with all the playability of the better Atari 2600 games.
I’d just met the Vectrex.
Developed by Western Technologies/Smith Engineering, and distributed first by General Consumer Electronics, the Vectrex was launched in America in November 1982. The distribution was taken over by Milton Bradley (you might recognise their logo from board games like Mousetrap) and the Vectrex showed up in the UK in May of 1983. Yes ladies and gentlemen, the console I discovered 4 years ago was on this planet 10 months before I was born!
However, due to poor sales and lack of interest, the Vectrex would be discontinued in the early months of 1984. Units were sold off at bargain prices and retailers wanted to get rid as soon as possible. A remarkably short lifespan!
Why? I’ll tell you. This is around the time of the great videogame crash in America. People had gotten fed up with videogames. There was so much junk out there on the market that consumer confidence was at an all-time low. Nintendo would show up with the NES to save the day in the States, while us Brits were busy learning to program with the likes of the ZX Spectrum. The Vectrex was forgotten and consigned to the scrap heap.
In the passing years, however, the console’s built a cult following of retro game enthusiasts like myself. There are so few of them left in the wild that they command quite a high price on popular auction sites. And there’s no denying it….. the console is a LOT of fun to play!
The first thing you notice about this contraption is that it has it’s own screen. No plugging it into a telly! The Vectrex’s screen is specially built to display Vector/Line graphics, and it’s the ONLY system ever built to utilise this. The result is a bright, sharp display that catches and holds your attention. The drawback is that the Vectrex display is monochrome. To give the perception of colour, Vectrex games would come with plastic overlays that you could swap between depending on the game. (See top image) I never cared for these, though. The graphics look great to me just as they are!
The sound isn’t bad for a machine this old. Think of the bleeps and bloops of an Atari and you’re almost there. Some of the crashes and explosion effects are really good.
Controller – See the feature image. Vectrex controllers are long, rectangular affairs with a Joystick and 4 action buttons. When you’re not using it you can turn it sideways and it slots neatly into the front of the console. 2 players can play if you get a second controller, although these are rare and expensive!
I finally nabbed my own Vectrex as a Christmas present from my wonderful other half in 2013! We managed to get one at a bargain price from Ebay. The controller needed some work, but I couldn’t be happier. It’s one of the crown jewels of the games room!
Due to the short life of the Vectrex, the original game lineup is quite limited. A handful of Arcade ports such as Asteroids (re-labelled Mine Storm) and Berzerk really do show this system’s potential. They come on cartridges and fit into the port on the side of the console.
Remember I said the Vectrex had a cult following? I meant it. There are several people STILL developing games for this system, which is incredible. The best solution is to be like me and buy a Multi-Cart. This contains EVERY game released for the system as well as a whole host of games made by the community. My favourites are City Bomber, VFrogger, and the reason I fell in love in the first place – Patriots…. a fan-made version of the Arcade classic, Missile Command. There’s so much to try, you won’t get bored!
I take my own vectrex for a spin and show you a couple of games. Enjoy!
This is one of my favourite consoles in the games room. It’s so unique, and quirky! Obviously I can’t say “go out and pick one up” because it’s such a niche platform. But if you can, play one of these at a gamng convention like I did, or Ask nicely and I might let you have a go on mine!
My real concern is how long this thing will last. I had to open up my controller and clean the circuit board to make sure the buttons worked as they should! The hardware and the accessories are getting rarer and rarer, and as time goes by, their value keeps rising. This is a collector’s piece for sure, and an amazing part of gaming history!
Hope you enjoyed my Vectrex hands on. Click the buttons, follow, comment, you know the drill!