The Vectrex only had a short lifespan and a smattering of games. Despite this, it’s gone on to become one of the most loved consoles of all time, thanks to its cool design and those stunning vector graphics. It’s also well supported by the homebrew scene, meaning there are plenty of new games to enjoy.
Everyone knew Space Wars would make the top ten list, since it’s not only a great adaptation of a timeless classic, it’s also the purest distillation of the multiplayer gaming ethic. Even today it’s great fun and, while an obvious choice, is a title every Vectrex owner should get. Gameplay is elegantly simple: it’s you and a rival ship, turn left or right, fire, accelerate, and warp; two ships enter, one ship leaves. Terrific in one-player (thanks to some decent AI), it’s unstoppable with a friend. It’s a title with many clever touches, like bits of ships getting shot off and becoming debris, or the central star’s gravity affecting your speed. Brilliant.
The best Vectrex game of all time? The most important Vectrex game of all time? One thing is for sure, this superb Defender clone grabbed the community by the proverbial balls when first previewed and led many to believe it couldn’t possibly be done on the hardware. How wrong they were. Alex Herbert’s seminal tribute to Jarvis’ classic is just one example of the untapped potential the machine held and the control scheme was a perfect fit to the Vectrex design. Thankfully now available in unlimited format, the original limited-release with custom-box and overlay – of which there were only a hundred copies – has become one of the most expensive home-brews to acquire.
A rocket-firing jeep, enemy tanks, and a terrifying helicopter, which isn’t bound by buildings on the ground, are all trapped amongst the rubble of a ruined maze-like war zone. It may not sound like much, but this is a tense little action title backed up by some excellent AI. Shots can’t travel through walls, so it becomes a game of cat and mouse as you attempt to outmanoeuvre the enemy tanks attempting to flank you. When hit though, tanks aren’t always damaged – they can sometimes still move their turrets and return fire. Like the best videogames it affects the imagination, conjuring up images from countless war films.
With the Vectrex living such a short time and the wealth of vector arcade machines during that era, there are still opportunities to bring across to the home format. John Dondzila’s most current release is a homage to Space Fury, an obscure Sega/Gremlin title that took a lead from Gorf and gave you a taunting alien adversary. Space Frenzy as a game is almost identical to the arcade parent bar the colour and plays fast and hard in the traditional shoot everything on screen before it gets you genre, though also giving the player the opportunity to improve their shot power by docking with upgrades.
Technically not an official release since it never came out, though a prototype was later found, dumped, and is now available on most multicarts. Regardless, it’s one of the best games on the system and, interestingly, is actually based on a 1981 board-game by Milton Bradley. Dark Tower could be regarded as the system’s first and only adventure RPG. The game has you wandering 3D fields of trees, opening treasure chests, avoiding tornadoes, and battling wicked mages. There might not be any saving, but it’s a thrilling adventure and is still quite exciting now.
One thing can be said about George Pelonis’ output on the Vectrex, and that is it’s not your average run-of-the-mill game idea. Everything he has done so far is just a little bit different, not something that has really been attempted in the past. I, Cyborg, whilst a name homage to a more well-known publication, is a highly challenging escape running game where you control the titular character in its attempt to break free of the prison he is locked inside. Unlike many other titles, this game fully uses the 32k memory space allocated and will keep most players occupied for a long time trying to complete it.
Cosmic Chasm captivates our minds because, considering it’s a game from 1982, there is surprising depth to it – like trousers which appear normal, but have infinitely long legs. The basic premise is that you’re trapped underground, in a massive maze-like cavern, but have a map charting your progress, and each cave has both enemies which try to kill you, and also a massive expanding central core. Luckily, you have a shield, lasers, and a drill with which to break down walls blocking your progress. The goal is to reach the core, blow it up, and then make your way back out of the caves before a chain reaction blows everything up.
Ever play Quantum? Most of you probably haven’t, given it’s an obscure low production run Atari coin-op. Alex Nicholson hadn’t heard of it and yet managed to produce what would prove to be a natural evolution of the concept and a challenging game to boot. Floating in space, your little ship is equipped with a tractor beam and lasso type weapon, the object being to ensnare on-screen like-shaped entities to destroy them. At the same time, you must avoid colliding with the shapes by using the tractor beam to match their velocity to pull you along. It’s hard to explain but it becomes easy to understand when playing. And very hard then to stop playing.
Spike is an important game for many reasons. It’s a platformer featuring a hedgehog, but one which isn’t Sonic. It’s also technically the only platformer on the Vectrex system. Then there’s the fact that it has some awesome and unforgettable digitised speech – we chuckle every single time we hear “OH NO!” All this has led to Spike becoming something of an unofficial Vectrex mascot – and rightly so, since the game itself is awesome fun. It’s essentially a clone of the arcade classic Donkey Kong, except slightly different. You need to use warping ladders to reach and collect a key, before climbing to the summit. You can also kick flying TVs which try to kill you. It’s crazy!
After doing the rounds in the Eighties and being resurrected for the Atari 2600, this vector based classic finally made the transition to its most natural home only as recently as 2004. Taking inspiration from the C64 version complete with translated Rob Hubbard soundtrack, it not only perfectly recreates the original but goes beyond the design with an additional rock hard difficulty level and time attack mode that will test even the most hardened Thrust players. Words are inadequate to be able to praise this game highly enough, with just the right balance between learned progression and challenging frustration evident with every turn, thrust and shot. In fact, the ultimate tribute to Jeremy Smith’s genius.