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Vectrex Sysem

Updated on March 9, 2017
RetroBrothers profile image

Martin has been a software developer for many years. This is mixed with a passion for retro machines and game,

Vectrex Console

The Vectrex console.

This classic arcade console is certainly something a little different from most other gaming platforms - especially those of the 8-bit computing generation such as the VIC 20, Commodore 64, BBC Micro, Oric Atmos, Amstrad CPC 464, Acorn Electron and ZX Spectrum.

This 8-bit video game console was developed by Western Technologies/Smith Engineering, and was released in November of 1982. Milton Bradley, more commonly known as MB Games stepped up to release the console onto the market.

I am sure that many of us have fond memories of toys from MB Games; when I was young there always seemed to be a TV advert on advertising their latest must have game.

So let us have a look at a classic console that offered something a lot different during the golden age of home video gaming...

Vectrex Technology And Games

Unlike other non-portable video game consoles of the era, the type which connected to televisions and rendered 'raster' graphics such as the classic Atari 2600, this console from MB came into its' own for one major reason.

The reason was hardware: It was packaged with an integrated vector monitor, which displayed vector (or wire-frame) graphics, giving rise to the rather cool sounding 'Vectrex' moniker.

Just like very early Space Invaders arcade machines, the Vectrex used a monochromatic display and incorporated plastic screen overlays to generate in-game colours and other static surround graphics. This method was actually a very effective way to make those monochrome vector graphics colourful.

At the time of release, many of the most popular arcade games used vector graphic displays, the classic stalwart Asteroids being a prime example. The Vectrex was looking to set itself apart from the rest of the home gaming technology available by being a unit dedicated to vector gaming.

It would achieve this by selling high-quality and playable versions of classic vector games such as Armor Attack and Space Wars.

The machine also shipped with an arcade game on board, a shoot em up called Minestorm, which was basically a very playable version of the aforementioned Asteroids.

Having a game built-in to the machine was a nice bonus as you had something to play as soon as you got it home and unpacked it.

This was also a great selling point for the Vectrex as the game cartridges were quite expensive. This was a time when many people would save up for weeks to purchase their next game.

To be fair most of the games released for the console were very good, there weren't that many poor titles to be had on the Vectrex!

Gaming wise the quantity ended up pretty low, but quality ended up pretty high.

A Full Vectrex System

Home video game system, the MB Vectrex
Home video game system, the MB Vectrex

Minestorm on the Vectrex - filmed by Steve Benway

Minestorm on the Vectrex

Minestorm ran beautifully on the Vectrex
Minestorm ran beautifully on the Vectrex

Vectrex Pole Position Without A Screen Overlay

Vectrex Space Wars

Vectrex Lifespan

The Vectrex console lasted from late 1982 until it ceased production in 1984.

This is when it began to lose out to the home computers such as the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and BBC Micro which were really taking off by mid 1984.

These machines were un-matched in terms of versatility, usability and differing gaming genres available.

Once the likes of the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga appeared in 1985 (which could best any 8-bit machine and amiga games could easily match the vector capabilities of the Vectrex) it's fate as a viable home gaming system was well and truly sealed.

Still, extra peripherals such as a light-pen (remember when those things were cool?) and a 3D imager added some richness and variety to the console.

In fact some games (such as 3D Crazy Coaster) required the 3D imaging for playing, and some notable titles were available for the machine:

  • Hyperchase - a 3D racing game
  • Armor Attack - classic arcade action
  • Berzerk - the classic arcade game plays superbly on the Vectrex
  • Pole Position - prepare to qualify in the classic arcade racer! A nice (and different) version of this classic 3D racer
  • Cosmic Chasm - arcade action
  • Starhawk - a basic 'star wars' type game
  • Scramble - a nice version of the classic arcade game that looks pretty good with those vector graphics
  • Space Wars - a little bit like Asteroids but without the Asteroids!
  • Spike - a sort of isometric 3D puzzle-arcade game that offered a damsel in distress

All of these games were playable and are must have titles for the Vectrex console.

The Vectrex Did Look Rather Cool

The box is battered but the Vectrex unit is still going strong...
The box is battered but the Vectrex unit is still going strong...

An Advert For The Vectrex Console

A Great Demo Of The Vectrex

The Vectrex - A Quirky Machine

So - I think it is fair to say that the Vectrex console was a little on the quirky side when compared to other home gaming consoles of the era.

Check out games such as Spike which was not your average console type game (which also featured digitised speech, an amazing thing to witness on any machine back in the early 1980's) which for me, makes the Vectrex stand out today as a 'must have' console for the avid collector (even though I'm still looking for one myself!).

The high price of units that are traded on Ebay reflects this; this console is quite a rare find when compared to a lot of other hardware from the 1980's.

A good condition Vectrex console must go down as a must have piece of hardware for the serious retro collector.

Be prepared to bid high and hard though if you really want to pick one of these up.

Spike On The Vectrex

Hyperchase On The Vectrex

Steve Benway Plays Vectrex Scramble

The Vectrex Today

Nowadays the Vectrex is (rightly) regarded as a pioneering video game system; it was a step on from the likes of handheld or tabletop single games such as Tomy Sky Attack, Astro Blaster or Astro Wars, and good condition units are worth a lot of money.

It's use of vector graphics technology really was something quite amazing back then, and remember it was also capable of some great in game arcade style music and sound effects courtesy of the trusty AY Sound Chip.

Rare games and units are traded often on Ebay, and fully boxed good condition units are extremely valuable.

This is a console for the true retro collector, and their rarity makes them difficult to buy and bargains are extremely rare.

It should be noted that new games are still being produced for it today (with games such as the excellent Defender clone 'Protector' available) by home-brew video game programmers.

If you are into the Vectrex console (and are lucky enough to own one) keep an eye out for these new titles.

I am always impressed when developers are willing to put a lot of time and effort into older systems like these as it helps to keep the whole retro gaming scene fresh and vibrant.

Of course with the consoles being highly valued already, these new homebrew games only serve to ensure that the Vectrex remains a valuable retro gaming items for the forseeable future...

An Impressive Demonstration Of Vectrex Hardware

Rate the MB Vectrex

How do you rate this console?

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Revival Studios and the Vectrex

Revival Studios have developed a number of demo's and games for the Vectrex console in recent times.

Martijn Wenting and Faried Verheu work modern wonders on this vintage hardware - please have a look at what they have created for this machine (and many others) at:

http://www.revival-studios.com/

It is always fantastic to see older hardware being supported by companies such as this in modern times.

Another Fantastic Vectrex Video

Any fans of The Vectrex?

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    • RetroBrothers profile imageAUTHOR

      Martin Allan 

      6 years ago from Sunny Scotland

      Well Roly - all I can say is you picked up a bargain there! You were a bit jammy that day! :-)

    • RolyRetro profile image

      RolyRetro 

      6 years ago from Brentwood, Essex, UK

      Picked mine up on one of those magical visits to a fellow ebayer to pick up a handheld game, Astro Wars I think it was. While I was there, he showed me into a room that was an Aladdin's cave of old retro games and consoles, and buried in a pile of old cartridges was the Vectrex....

      I think he was a bit of a hoarder, but had decided to have a clear out, and he let me have it for £20. I suspect I would get a bit more for it now!

    • RetroBrothers profile imageAUTHOR

      Martin Allan 

      6 years ago from Sunny Scotland

      Hey Roly - glad to 'meet' someone who owns one of these fantastic consoles.

      Minestorm is a brilliant game (unfortunately I haven't played it for years) and I am still on the lookout for a Vectrex to add to my collection.

      They ain't cheap to buy though....

    • RolyRetro profile image

      RolyRetro 

      6 years ago from Brentwood, Essex, UK

      I have one of these units, and its the one game in my collection that everyone wants to play when they come over (that and Donkey Kong Game & Watch). Fired up Minestorm last week and you wouldnt know the game was 30 years old.

      Great hub. cheers!

    • profile image

      uridium5 

      8 years ago

      I watched the Hyper chase video. Of course, the graphics are only wire frame as it was 1982!...but with that said, you have to admit that it was at least damn fast and pretty smooth. As for racing games on the home 8bit machines at the time, they looked good but rarely gave you the impression of speed. I bet at the time this system seemed ahead of its time! :-)

      Good review guys as ever - thanks.

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