Review by SonRuck
"A relic from the abyss..."
Back in the early Eighties, vector graphics were all the rage in the arcade. Battlezone was probably the first game to really popularize the semi-3D green tinted look, and shortly after Atari's popular Star Wars space shooter and many other games followed in its footsteps. The Vectrex was an attempt to create a console which could successfully emulate this new breed of game in a way the current consoles by Atari and Intellivison couldn't. It was developed by the now defunct company GCE (General Consumer Electric) and later the rights to the system were bought by Milton Bradley. The system originally saw some success, but in the end it was unable to gain enough of a following to survive the great "Crash" of 1984. However, to this day homebrew developers are still cooking up new projects on the Vectrex, and its one of the most sought after "classic" system in collector's circles right now. Is all that because it's really a good piece of hardware, or are these collectors driven by foolish nostalgia? Read on for my take...
I'm basing this score mainly on judging the Vectrex against the graphical capabilities of other consoles available at the time, not today's juggernauts like the PS3. The only color provided for your Vectrex games comes from overlays you plop over the system's built-in screen. So, regardless of what you're playing, the game is made up of black and white lines. In comparison to the Atari 5200 and Intellivision, which were by no means graphical powerhouses, the graphics just don't look very good. Compare the football game "Blitz" where the graphics are just x's and o's to Intellivison football. It looks like crap! There were 3D goggles released for the system that were supposed to make the graphics in select games look uber-realistic by 1982 standards, and I've never gotten the chance to use them, so I'll give the Vectrex the benefit of the doubt and not drop it's graphics below a 5. Honestly, it does probably have the best version of Berzerk I've played outside the arcade. That's the most good I can say about the Vectrex's graphical capabilities.
My console's built-in speakers still seem to work great after it sat in the garage for a few years, in fact sound is the one area where the Vectrex seems to really outshine its peers. Everything sounds much louder and crisper than the effects from an Atari game. The system does produce a buzz from the cathode ray in its built-in monitor that can get annoying, but none of the games on this system really encourage long playthroughs. They're more of the "twitch" variety, aside from maybe Dark Tower.
This is where the Vectrex really suffers. It had little to no third-party support, The people who were making games for it made crap, and its competition was too stiff, especially after Colecovision was released. None of the games present any sort of lasting challenge for any reason other than crappy programming. There are many better avenues to go down if you want to start a classic game collection, and like I said before, due to crappy third party-support none of your retro favorites like Q*Bert, Centipede or whatever were developed for this console. The fact that it comes with a built-in game (Mine Storm, an Asteroid-clone) was pretty revolutionary back in its day, but it can provide some problems. If you insert another cartridge into your system at an angle that's slightly off (You don't have to be clumsy to do this, the Vectrex is built pretty crappily and stuff is just...off) Mine Storm will just boot up instead. It gets annoying, and it makes it hard to tell if your console is just falling apart or the cartridge your trying to play just has ceased to work. New homebrew games that are usually better developed than the older titles have started to come out, and if you're into collecting for this system you should try to locate them.
Just a stupid move by GCE. The Vectrex's controller utilizes a nifty analog joystick, but it seems to be set up in so you're supposed to play with your controller sitting on a tabletop. Perhaps they thought this would simulate an arcade feel. It has 4-buttons, which stick pretty easily now on my controller. In fact, the one working controller I have is pretty beat-up. Maybe this section would have a higher rating if that wasn't a case. The controller isn't a crapfest of Jaguar proportions, but it is pretty bad.
At the end of the day, the Vectrex is simply a mediocre product. Some gamers nostalgia has probably led them to believe it was better than it actually is. If you go back and play some Mine Storm or Star Trek, you'll see that it was really just a sub-par console that deserved to fail. Good idea, crappy execution, my friends.
Reviewer's Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Originally Posted: 06/18/07
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