Apr 8, 2020
The Vectrex was a unique and impressive console. It differentiated itself from other home offerings of the time by using vector graphics instead of a more traditional pixelated approach. The machine could handle crude 3D graphics years before the competition, and in the modern day it's become a cult classic. But what were people saying about the Vectrex on release day? Lets take a look at how Byte described the console in a 1982 article(https://archive.org/stream/byte-magazine-1982-12/1982_12_BYTE_07-12_Game_Plan_1982#page/n93/mode/2up).
Overall, the article casts the console in a positive light. The title itself declares the Vectres "brings true arcade adventures into the home". And that headline is mostly correct. Vector games did exist, titles like Asteroids were extremely popular and rendered totally in vectors. In terms of power the Vectrex was pretty on-par with it's arcade counterparts, in some cases the Vectrex outpaced these cabinets. Asteroids, for instance, ran off of a 6502 CPU which was slower and all around less powerful than the Vectrex's 6809. By going for the smaller niche of vector based games this new console was able to accurately recreate arcade games in the home market.
The article also brings up portability as a major feature of the Vectrex. Since it didn't plug into a television you could play it anywhere with a power outlet. An integrated screen was part of the Vectrex's design due to necessity: it needed to have full control over it's CRT tube so it couldn't work with a standard TV set. But as it turned out not needing a seperate TV was a selling point. And as would be expected the screen is one of the most mentioned features in Byte:
"And the display -- well it almost has to be seen to be believed; imagine playing games at home (or in the office) using vector graphics with three-dimensional rotation and zoom."
Even in 1982 the Vectrex was surprisingly different from every other game console out there. From day one the machine was set apart from competition. Not only did it look different, it was capable of things that other consoles simply couldn't do. Rendering wire-frames in 3D that were easily rotated and scaled was unheard of outside of arcades. But for $200 you could have that in your home with the Vectrex.
Also included is a brief listing of some launch titles for the console. What surprises me is just how varied the launch line up was. The Vectrex is often known for it's space-themed and 3D games, but the first set of games represent a pretty wide swath of genres. You have Mine Storm, the Asteroids-like game that comes in an internal ROM on every Vectrex. But you also have a port of Berserk, a car racing game, football, and a few different shooters. To round things out is what I'd say is one of the more impressive titles on the console: StarTrek, a fully 3D first person spaceship shooter. Its clear from this 1982 article that people have always been impressed by the Vectrex.
If you want to experience the Vectrex for yourself, then you're in luck! The Internet Archive has an expensive collection of games that can all be played from your web browser. Check them out here:
To learn more about the history of the Vectrex, listen to my episode on the topic: