Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Memory Bank: Vectrex (1982)

The first video game console wars are long behind us, now.  But thirty years ago -- way back in 1982 -- Milton Bradley produced a unique alternative to the Atari 2600 and Intellivision.  That alternative was called the Vectrex, a game console with a built-in "arcade-style" monitor which meant, in short, that you didn't have to connect it to your television antenna with a box.

The built-in monitor wasn't Vectrex's only distinction.  The "revolutionary" design featured "line graphics" for "laser sharp visual effects" rather than the standard pixels we associate with other game systems.  In other words, the games looked a great deal like the arcade version of Battlezone: Green lines against a deep black background.

Selling for about wo-hundred dollars at the time, the Vectrex came complete with a "panel controller" (rather than the traditional joystick) and  a consumer could also purchase peripherals including a light pen and a 3-D imager.  The latter looked a lot like an early 1990s-style virtual reality helmet.

A great number of games were released for Vectrex, including the popular MineStorm, which pitted the player (in a spaceship) against floating mines, magnetic mines, fireball mines and the like.  Other games included Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Berzerk, Cosmic Chasm, Pole Position, Starhawk, and CubeQuest.  I never had the Star Trek game, but it certainly looks awesome.  Your mission was to travel through the "nine sectors" of space and "seek out and destroy the Klingon mothership."

Vectrex barely survived the Great Video Game Crash of 1983, but the system was discontinued in 1984.  I remember owning one of these toys and, during my amateur movie-making high-school days, featuring the Vectrex as a background "space monitor" in one of my productions, called The Solaris Enigma.

The Vectrex?  It "stands alone."  Or it did...for awhile, anyway.


  1. Wow. I don't recall this system at all. My earliest console was Colecovision which I still have somewhere complete with a nice leathery covering case and nine games. I was a child of the '70s and '80s so I definitely remember the hype surrounding Intellivision and the early systems. Electronic Games was the only non-movie magazine that I drooled over at the time (at least from those I was supposed to be reading). The videogame crash was very real. John Travolta and videogames were pretty much dead around the same time. I am always amazed at both comebacks. Anyway, thanks for the info and the vintage commercials always hit the spot. I dug out my old Coleco Table-top Donkey Kong and it still works. There were some great TV ads for those imitation systems that offered nothing along the visuals that Vectrex appears to.

    1. Hi Indiephantom,

      I always wanted a Colecovision. That's one game system I never owned, but one of my best friends did. I remember it seemed amazingly advanced compared to my Atari 2600.

      The Vectrex was super cool, though ultimately kind of unwieldly, since the monitor was part of the system. The graphics weren't exactly advanced, but the look of them was incredibly neat and arcade-ish.

      Great comment!


  2. John, I also owned the Vectrex (bought it second-hand), and played it for several years. I think, eventually, I collected almost all the available games, including the 3D ones, with the headset. I remember beating the built-in game, Minestorm, on two occasions, as well as Cosmic Chasm, and the Star Trek-The Motion Picture game.
    I was always a big fan of Vector Graphic games like Battlezone, Tempest, and the original arcade Star Wars, so Vectrex was a great way to enjoy that style of gameplay. I was disappointed when they went out of business before they could release the much-talked-about computer keyboard they had planned.
    I remember back in 1996 finding someone online who modified a Vectrex cartridge so that every game invented for the system, as well as some new ones, could fit on one cartridge. I gladly shelled out the money to buy that as a back-up for all my individual games.
    The last time I played my Vectrex was probably about 15 years ago, but I still have it, albeit in storage.
    Thanks for bringing back memories of some fun afternoons.

    1. Hi Howard,

      What a fantastic comment on the Vectrex. Man, you had all the cool games. I always wanted the Star Trek game, but never got it. I agree that the graphics were cool, and I wish I had kept my Vectrex. I think I threw it out (!) sometime around 1990.

      I wish I hadn't done so, but I was moving to Virginia, and it just seemed to be taking up extra space, and I'm not sure it still worked.

      But you are one lucky dog to have a Vectrex in storage, and that cartridge with all the games. Wish I had prepared as well as you did for the video game future!

      Great comment,

  3. Anonymous12:29 PM

    I got a Vectrex for Christmas back in 1982, and some more cartridges for it the following Christmas. I enjoyed playing with it for most of that decade (I think the last time I played with it was over twenty years ago).

    It remained in my closet up until June 2012 until I finally got the idea to simply shuck it all out to the dump. Unfortunately, my mother and sister didn't take that well when they learned of what I had done (they were both moved to tears with my sister claiming that she was promised it and further claiming that I betrayed mom's trust. Worse, my mom said that revenge was coming).

    But it must be understood that the Vectrex, like the Atari, Intellivision, and Coleco, all had its time and fun. But in the end, like all possessions, it simply ceases to be either useful or stimulating. When that time comes, it's best to just let it go. If it is into a landfill or recycling plant, then so be it.