Vectrex Reviews A-L

All Good Things
Grade: B-
Publisher: John Dondzila (1996)
Reviewed: 2002/6/14

screenshotHere's a nifty four-game package by Vectrex programming whiz John Dondzila. The title screen is captivating, and a nice menu makes it easy to select a game. The first entry, "Rockaroids", pays homage to the arcade classic Asteroids. Yes it's an easier game, and there's some slowdown when things get busy, but the game is still crazy fun. The second title, "More Invaders", is a sequel to Vector Vaders (a Space Invaders clone). While it tends to be somewhat plodding, cool extras like bombing UFOs and splitting aliens elevate the gameplay above the first installment. The third game is "Vectris", an ill-advised adaptation of Tetris. The flickering is awful, and the slanted blocks are extremely hard to align. After one play, I had enough. The last game is a cross between Kickman (early 80's arcade game) and Kaboom (Atari 2600). In Spike's Water Balloon, you move the pointy-headed creature from side to side across the bottom of the screen, bursting water balloons being tossed by an anonymous monster with fangs. You also have the ability to "kick" balloons that fall just out of your reach back to the top. While it sounds pretty fun, the game becomes really hard to control by the third stage, and soon degenerates into a button-mashing affair. Annoying pauses between rounds don't help matters. In addition to these four games, there's an extra puzzle game hidden somewhere in the cart. All Good Things is a mixed bag, but there's plenty of gaming here for your money. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

Armor Attack
Grade: B
Publisher: GCE (1982)
Reviewed: 2002/6/14

screenshotArmor Attack plays like a 2D Battlezone. As you guide a jeep around a wide-open maze, enemy tanks approach from the edges. While the tanks are immobilized with one shot, they'll continue to return fire until you finish them off with a second shot. After destroying each wave, a helicopter zooms overhead and tries to bomb you. The menacing copter looks great, especially after you nail it and send it spinning out of control. You can aim quickly with your joystick and fine-tune your turret with the 1 and 2 buttons (a great feature). The controls are responsive, and your fast-moving jeep is smoothly animated. Your missiles are large, which makes it tough to shoot through narrow areas. The game features some awesome sound effects, such as military drums during the title screen, and the realistic sound of the helicopter. Unfortunately, the programmer forgot to add the sound effects for exploding tanks (whoops)! Armor Attack has three challenging game variations and a two-player mode to boot. This game is very well suited to the Vectrex. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
1 or 2 players 

Bedlam
Grade: B
Publisher: GCE (1982)
Reviewed: 2001/9/2


screenshotIt's very rare that I stumble across a game with as much originality as Bedlam. Its closest relative is probably Tempest, but there are more than enough unique features that set this game apart. In Bedlam, you control a ship in the middle of a star-shaped "vector". Your job is to shoot enemies which approach from each vertex. You can't move your ship; you can only rotate it. For emergency situations, you have one smart bomb per level. Clear a level, and you're whisked off to a more challenging stage. The first few stages are pretty uneventful, but in later levels, things start to get crazy. The vector begins to shrink, leaving you less room for error. Fortunately, you can push the edges back out by shooting them. Later stages feature ROTATING vectors. This not only makes the game more difficult, but it can make you dizzy as well. If you're tired of all the copy-cat shooters, Bedlam is a breath of fresh air. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: JDH 27,150
1 or 2 players 

Berzerk
Grade: D-
Publisher: GCE (1982)
Reviewed: 2001/9/2

screenshotWhat happened here? Blasting killer robots has never been so dull! Berzerk is an old favorite of mine, and I especially enjoy the Atari 2600 version. But this translation is sluggish and downright laborious to play. Even your character looks sloppy. The enemy robots have their trademark rotating eyes, but they look more like octopi. The robot explosions are the best aspect of the game. Berzerk plays basically like the arcade game, but lacks the excitement. Your man moves slowly, and the robots don't seem very interested. The graphics are subject to intense slow-down and flicker when several enemies are on the screen. In addition, there's a weird bug that can result in some outrageously high scores. I'll pass on this one. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.

Birds of Prey
Grade: C
Publisher: John Dondzila (1999)
Reviewed: 2001/9/25

screenshotJohn Dondzila is "the man" when it comes to bringing classic arcade games to the Vectrex, but this adaptation of Phoenix misses the mark somewhat. As in the classic shooter, you face two stages of small birds, two stages of large birds, and finally the huge mother ship. The first stage is tough because your missiles don't move very fast. Fortunately, some of the birds can be taken out with your shield. The second stage is my favorite because you can shoot twice as fast, making it easier to clear the screen. Both of the large bird stages are pretty much identical. But unlike the arcade game, you can't shoot their wings off, and you have to nail them DEAD CENTER in order to kill them. These levels are long and tedious, but at least the birds split into meaty chunks. The mother ship stage is a disappointment - it looks kind of junky. Instead of shooting away at the hull, a huge hole already exists. A fleet of birds is present to defend it. It's nice to see a childhood favorite on the Vectrex, but this failed to rekindle the old nostalgia. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.

Blitz!
Grade: A-
Publisher: GCE (1982)
Reviewed: 2001/9/25

screenshotOn first impression, watching X's and squares moving across a grid doesn't sound very exciting, but Blitz is an fine two-player game. If you've played Atari 2600 Football, you know what kind of simplistic fun we're talking about here. There are six players on each side, and six different formations (including kick/punt). The quarterback can run the ball or throw passes which can be "steered" toward receivers. On defense, you control a single player that moves faster than the others. It sounds pretty weak, but it's actually a lot of fun. Given the technology, this game is quite an achievement. When passing, it takes skill to "thread the needle" between the defenders. When running, you can use your blockers to slow down pursuers. Best of all, when a player is tackled - he explodes! You won't see that in Madden! After each game a nice statistics screen is presented. I thought that was a really nice touch. There's also a one-player mode, but it's only intended for practice. Blitz is a pleasant surprise. It's a fun, competitive game on a system not known for sports titles. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
2 players 

Clean Sweep
Grade: F
Publisher: GCE (1982)
Reviewed: 2001/9/15

screenshotI think I'm going to be ill. There are good Pac-Man clones and there are bad Pac-Man clones. Then, there's this one. In some ways it's downright appalling. According to the idiotic background story, you are a vacuum in a bank (shaped like a maze, of course) and robbers are in pursuit. There are four special rooms in the corners of the bank that allow you to "supercharge" and turn the tables. Okay, it's not very original, but is it fun? Hell no! First off, this game is long and moves as slow as molasses. I couldn't wait for it to end! Even worse, your vacuum can only hold so many "coins", so you must periodically return to the center for emptying. But perhaps the worst travesty of all are the Pac-Man sound effects. They're good, but shamelessly pilfered from a far superior game. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.

Cosmic Chasm
Grade: C
Publisher: GCE (1982)
Reviewed: 2003/1/16

screenshotChasm tries to spice up the old space shooter formula by incorporating some new elements, but the end result is pretty unspectacular. Your mission is to navigate a maze of underground rooms and destroy a power structure in the center chamber. Each room has an expanding core and eight kamikaze planet protectors (diamonds) that try to ram you. Your ship looks a lot like a Y Wing fighter (for all you Star Wars fans), and it can rapidly fire double-shots. This formidable firepower will clear out most rooms in short order, although occasionally one of the diamonds, which are small enough to squeeze between the double shots, will get through. That's when you'll want to use your shield. After emptying a room, use your drill to open one of several exits. Employing the drill sounds somewhat inventive, but in fact it's slow and tedious. Once you make it to the center chamber, you must plant a bomb and escape the maze in 15 seconds. Since there's no marked entrance, where exactly you're supposed to go is a mystery. Cosmic Chasm is okay, but it didn't give me a tingling sensation. Its sum is less than its parts. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
1 or 2 players 

Dark Tower
Grade: D
Publisher: GCE (1983)
Reviewed: 2002/2/10

screenshotDark Tower is one of the few adventure games for the Vectrex. You view the action from just behind your warrior, who happens to bear a striking resemblance to Marvin the Martian. As you walk through the forest, different types of trees scale smoothly as you approach. Hidden in the woods are chests, keys, and bags of gold. The goal is to collect all four keys and ultimately attempt to solve the puzzle of the Dark Tower. Initially I was captivated by the smooth scaling scenery, excellent sound effects, and the whole treasure-hunting aspect. There's nothing else like this on the Vectrex. The weakest part of the game is the action - or lack of it. There's really only one action sequence, which repeats ad nauseam. In this repetitive sequence, your warrior is looking down a corridor, with Minotaur warriors peeking around corners and hurling fireballs your way. You need to shoot a certain number of Minotaurs to escape. It's kind of fun the first few times you play it, but you'll be thrown into this stage literally dozens of times. The rest of the game involves a lot of aimless wandering unless you take the time to map things out on paper. Then there's the matter of the "plague" business, which randomly kills you dead in your tracks. I've yet to arrive at the Dark Tower, and I'm not convinced it's worth the effort. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

Fortress of Narzod
Grade: A-
Publisher: GCE (1983)
Reviewed: 2003/11/7

screenshotImmensely fun and relentlessly challenging, Fortress of Narzod is one of those "must have" games for the Vectrex. It's rare to find a shooter that's entirely original, but Fortress of Narzod is just that. Better yet, it leverages the unique strengths of the Vectrex system to create an arcade experience that couldn't be duplicated on any other classic console. You're in control of a hovercraft at the mouth of a 3D gorge with steep walls and cliffs, and a fortress can be seen on the far end. Your goal is to reach it, but first you'll need to blast spiders, ghouls, and "grabbers" that zigzag their way towards you. What's cool about Narzod is that you can fire rapidly and use the walls to ricochet your shots, creating a myriad of crossfire possibilities. Many of your missiles eventually bounce back towards the bottom of the screen, so stay alert. Even enemy fire bounces off of the walls, and the action becomes absolutely furious in the later stages. You have the ability to move up and down as well as side-to-side (a la Centipede), which comes in very handy. The 3D graphics are used to good effect, as enemies scale smoothly and occasionally move out of sight behind protruding cliff walls. Only some fishy collision detection prevents the game from earning a solid A. If you manage to clear the first three levels (a tall order), you'll face the boss - Narzod himself. This is one shooter that I can play over and over again. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

Frogger
Grade: B-
Publisher: Chris Soloman (1998)
Reviewed: 2001/9/2

screenshotThis relatively new homebrew game brings an old classic to the Vectrex. The graphics are a bit "pointy" but the gameplay itself is very faithful to the original. Instead of an overhead view, the cars and logs are viewed from the side. This looks a bit odd at first, but at least you can distinguish the various types of vehicles. The objects are all large - maybe too large as the screen appears somewhat cluttered. Although the control is excellent, the river is much tougher to cross than the street. The problem is that the screen is a bit too narrow, so Frogger can't sit on a log for long before hitting the edge of the screen (which is fatal). After each successful crossing (or death) a short intermission screen displays bonuses or the cause of death, along with a nice animation. The game isn't too exciting sound wise, but there is a nice rendition of Yankee Doodle during the title screen. Not bad at all. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.

Gravitrex Plus
Grade: A-
Publisher: John Dondzila (2002)
Reviewed: 2003/1/16

screenshotBilled as the "biggest Vectrex adventure ever", this awesome new cart is loaded with features. Gravitrex is a superb remake of Atari's Gravitar, where you blow up ground installations and rescue humans from various planets. Along the way you'll need to fight UFOs, maintain your fuel supply, and resist various types of gravitational fields. The game is difficult but ultimately satisfying. There are three levels containing six worlds each, and most of these worlds span multiple screens! The controls are Asteroids-like but also incorporate a shield button. I only wish my ship's missiles had better range. Your well-designed ship with twin firing boosters looks great, and I love how the planets explode after being conquered. In addition, it's a nice touch how the people squeak when accidentally incinerated. Gravitrex features two skill levels, a customizable control scheme, a level select password, and a digitized speech intro! And if that weren't enough, there's another complete game called Patriots III also included! To be honest, I'm not a big fan of this Missile Command clone. While it's probably the best in the Patriots series, your missiles move too slowly and the satellites are a real pain in the ass. But since it's a bonus I can't complain too much. Overall Vectrex fans should be thanking John Dondzilla for this first-class package. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
1 or 2 players 

Heads Up
Grade: F
Publisher: GCE (1983)
Reviewed: 2003/11/7

screenshotHeads Up is a thoroughly dull soccer game with snail-like gameplay and confusing controls. When I first showed this to my friend Scott, he exclaimed, "Wow! A Vectrex basketball game!" That was hardly a good sign, and matters would become far worse once we started playing. In short, this game is an excruciating ordeal which can't come to an end fast enough. The side-scrolling field has stick-figure players which scale in as they approach the bottom of the screen. But Heads Up needs a speed burst button in the worst way. It takes forever to walk the ball down the field, which is often necessary because the passing is so poor. The players on one team are slightly brighter, but in general it's hard to tell them apart. Changing the player you control is a real headache. You can move your goalie up and down, but the dummy always kicks the ball right back out in front of the goal. Even the name of this game is a misnomer - it's impossible to head the ball at all. The Vectrex doesn't support sports games very well, and Heads Up is a perfect example. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
1 or 2 players 

Hexed
Grade: B+
Publisher: Fury Unlimited (2013)
Reviewed: 2013/10/4

screenshotThis is hardly the kind of game you'd expect to find on the Vectrex. Hexed is a Voodoo-themed card game. I'm no expert, but I happen to be of the opinion that Voodoo is awesome. The mesmerizing music and wavy letters of the title screen effectively set the tone. Hexed is a turned-based contest between you and the CPU. The top of the screen displays two "orbs" indicating the life force of both players. You win by shrinking your opponent's orb to a dot. You are dealt three nicely illustrated cards with images of stickpins, voodoo dolls, voodoo priests, shrunken heads, zombies, and potions. Hovering over each card displays a handy tooltip explaining its purpose. Cards have various effects like earning points, shrinking your opponent, causing infection, healing infection, etc. Many cards have multiple effects. You activate a card by simply dragging it to the middle of the screen. Infection shrinks your orb in real-time, so don't dawdle! The miniature instruction book is hard to read (if you don't have a microscope lying around) but it's critical to know that for each 100 points you score your orb is refreshed. The idea of combining cards is cool but underdeveloped. The only cards I could apply this to were the pins and voodoo doll, and frankly there was no advantage to doing so. In addition, the orbs don't vary in size much, making it hard to tell who's winning. When an orb gets small enough, it suddenly becomes a dot - signaling defeat. Despite its flaws, I find myself playing Hexed over and over and over again. I don't know much [about Voodoo], but I know I love [Voodoo], and that may be... all I need... to know. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 200
1 player 

Hyperchase Auto Race
Grade: C+
Publisher: GCE (1982)
Reviewed: 2002/2/10

screenshotI don't know why this game is called "Hyperchase" since there's really no chasing involved. Colecovision fans will recognize this game's likeness to Turbo, while Atari 2600 players will probably see a bit of Enduro. It's a point-of-view racing game where you see the action from above and just behind your car. This gives you a good vantage point of the road ahead and oncoming cars. Two play modes allow you to race for either points or best time. I was surprised how well this game conveys the sensation of speed. Trees, telephone poles, and street lights whiz by smoothly, and you even drive through a tunnel at one point. The road never actually bends, but by altering your perspective of the action, the game actually gives the illusion of curves. Although the road and scenery is smoothly animated, the other cars are not. They move in a jumpy manner, especially when several are on the screen at once. Tragically, this leads to poor collision detection. Other cars tend to pass right through yours; or worse, hit you from out of nowhere. The controls are a bit sensitive, and it's very easy to slam into the side of the road. In addition, it's difficult to shift (using the 1 and 2 buttons) while steering. In terms of sound, the hum of your motor is realistic, especially when switching gears. Hyperchase is an impressive-looking game, but the sloppy animation really holds it back. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

I, Cyborg
Grade: D
Publisher: George Pelonis (2004)
Reviewed: 2012/4/22

screenshotThis sci-fi title looks pretty sweet on the surface, but it's a tough nut to crack. The opening sequence shows the "I, Cyborg" title zooming in over some freaky, Twilight Zone music. The sound has a reverberating quality that's pretty amazing. Start the game and you view your cyborg from behind as he slowly walks down an endless corridor. He's an imposing figure, and my friends would usually say "whoa!" at the very sight of him. He fires some kind of "spray" weapon straight ahead, and while it's possible to angle it, I don't know why you would. As you silently walk up the hallway you'll notice devices on the ceiling that fire electric bolts when you walk below them. You can't shoot these traps, but it's possible to position yourself to avoid their bolts if you can figure out a pattern. Eventually you're approached by a series of swirls that cannot be destroyed - only dodged. At this point my friend Scott was like, "Okay, what can I shoot?!" That's where the saw blades come in. These things require about six hits to destroy, and there's little room for error. Your cyborg can absorb 10 hits from the bolts and swirls, but that saw blade will take his head clean off (as in "game over"). I, Cyborg requires a careful, deliberate approach, and describing its pace as glacial is probably fair. The instructions hint that there are special weapons, bosses, and exotic scenery to be found. Maybe so, but I couldn't get past the first four stages, and they were all pretty much the same! You can come up with subtle strategies to progress a little bit further each time, but each game is so time-consuming that you wonder if it's worth it. There's no score and only one skill level. A code input screen is available, but even with the codes, I couldn't figure out how to enter them properly. I, Cyborg has the building blocks of a great game, but it lacks the fine tuning. Perhaps that's why a sequel is planned for the near future. Note: This game is available from Fury Unlimited. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.


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