November flew by thanks to the Thanksgiving holiday and a very busy work & personal schedule so I’m a bit saddened to be saying goodbye to the Vectrex for now. I hadn’t played my Vectrex in years until I started this blog and chose it as one of the first consoles I would dedicate an entire month to playing.
First and foremost, I’m thrilled that after sitting unused in my video game room for probably 9 years and 2 moves from Illinois to Wisconsin (2007) to Missouri (2013), my Vectrex worked like a champ when I plugged it in and fired it up on November 1st. I was honestly a little nervous it wouldn’t. I guess that just goes to show these machines were built to last and I’m sure there are plenty of other Vectrex owners that can attest to that.
I have also heard that the controllers can start to fail after a number of uses so either my controllers were well preserved when I bought the machine in 2001 or my lack of use in the past 9 years has benefited the fragile joysticks. They all worked great and were as responsive as the day they were made (as far as I know). Spending this month getting to know my Vectrex again did exactly what I had hoped, it reinvigorated my love for early ’80s consoles and video games.
There are a number of retro game collectors that just can’t get into the Atari-era gaming simplicity and don’t really enjoy anything pre-NES. I totally understand and respect that perspective and maybe my age (41) has something to do with my enjoyment of those earlier games and consoles. When I play the Vectrex, I am not expecting an immersive 30-60 minute experience ala Super Mario Brothers or Legend of Zelda. What it gives me instead is an arcade like experience where you sit down, plug in your quarter and if you’re good, a 5-10 minute game. That’s what the early ’80s home consoles were all about anyway, offering you an arcade library in your home. This is where the Vectrex excels.
From a collection standpoint, I didn’t spend as much time buying and adding to my existing collection in November as I did the last couple of months for the Genesis, Sega CD and 32X. One of the reasons for that is the lack of titles and availability of the Vectrex games in the wild. There were countless trips to retro game stores where I would ask if they had any Vectrex games or if they ever saw them and I would either get a chuckle followed by a “no” or I was told that they hadn’t heard of it. Unless you get lucky, which I was able to do at a local video game store picking up 4 loose titles for $15 a piece back in September, finding Vectrex items in the wild is a rarity.
I found myself in New Jersey for work in October and ventured out to one of the premier retro game stores in the USA, Digital Press and lo and behold, they had a pretty robust Vectrex selection! I picked up a couple of titles on that trip, including my complete copy of Rip Off. I could have bought more but I had already grabbed enough other Sega CD and 32X items that my bill was rapidly approaching $200 so I held off. In retrospect I wish I hadn’t skimped because back home in St. Louis, my only Vectrex outlet is eBay.
One game I did purchase in November however, is Solar Quest. Solar Quest is a fun Asteroids clone (haven’t I used that term to describe about half of my Vectrex library already?) where you rotate around a sun blasting your enemies and then making the choice to either a) rescue the survivors that jump out of the ships you destroy (most points), b) shoot the ships AND the survivors (less points) or c) let the survivors float into the sun to die (zero points). Clearly the best option for a high score is A but the option B or C is more satisfying. Does that make me a sadist or gaming sociopath? It’s not exactly like shooting pedestrians in Grand Theft Auto 3 so spare me the judgement.
I am trying to procure complete copies of all my Vectrex titles as well so I have an Armor Attack box, overlay and manual on it’s way to my doorstep thanks to eBay. I have many more loose titles to try and complete, however and will continue to do so after I’ve put the console away.
I would love a complete collection of all original run games for the Vectrex and since the console was only around for a couple years, its definitely achievable. Some of the Vectrex titles I am missing and currently looking for are (not counting the super rare promo cartridge Mr. Boston or any prototypes and home brews):
- Polar Rescue
- Star Castle
Polar Rescue will be the toughest for me to get because of its rarity and cost. Complete copies are currently selling on eBay for over $200 and a loose cart is pushing $100. All for a late system release that most Vectrex enthusiasts consider very average. Star Castle & Starhawk are all readily available on eBay for a decent price ($25-$35 for loose carts) but I will bide my time and seek out complete versions to avoid having to do what I’m currently doing with all my existing loose carts and buying complete versions to get the manuals, overlays and boxes then trying to sell my duplicate loose copies to avoid redundancies.
The other official release titles I am missing all revolve around the two peripherals released for the Vectrex, the light pen and the 3D imager. I have neither of these peripherals and they are both a bit on the pricey side, especially the 3D imager, which can goo for as much as $700-$800 complete in box. The Vectrex was clearly ahead of it’s time attempting to provide home console gamers with a 3D experience when this peripheral was released in 1983, several years before the Sega Master System and their 3D glasses.
There were 3 official games released for the 3D imager; 3D Crazy Coaster, 3D Minestorm and 3D Narrow Escape. A 3D version of Pole Position was planned but never released due to the discontinuation of the console. The light pen allowed users to interact and write on their Vectrex screens which is an interesting concept but I have no idea how fun it would be to use today in the era of touch screens used for everything from phones to tablets to computers and gaming consoles (e.g. Wii U). The games that utilize the use of the light pen are Animaction, Art Master and Melody Master. I suppose I could buy these games in hopes of someday owning the peripherals but they aren’t high on my wish list.
In summary, the Vectrex was ahead of time as a console and if it would have been released a year earlier it would have enjoyed greater success and a larger library. As it stands today, it is widely considered an afterthought from the second generation of console gaming and some have never even heard of it. I guess that makes me happy and proud to not only have owned one for 15+ years now, but to also thoroughly enjoy the games and not consider the Vectrex just an oddity that is nice to own but not fun to play. I promise not to go another 9 years without plugging the system in and playing a few games of Minestorm, Cosmic Chasm, Solar Quest and Fortress of Narzod again. Long live the Vectrex!
Overall grade: A-