Today’s blog post isn’t about any particular game or genre of games for the Vectrex but instead it’s about the artwork and overlays used. Since the Vectrex wasn’t a particularly popular console when it was released, there are a lot of people that have no idea what the cartridges, boxes and overlays even look like.
The boxes that Vectrex carts came in are have a gray/silver grid like pattern to them and are fairly large. The boxes had to be large to accommodate the size of the overlays that fit over the screen and were mostly filled with plastic to hold the cartridge in place and provide some sturdiness to the box as well. All the boxes were uniform in size/shape/artwork/color scheme as opposed to many other consoles that varied their games’ look over it’s lifespan. For example, Nintendo going from black box games early on to more variety as they advanced into third parties developers.
The overlays, as mentioned in earlier post on the Vectrex, are a unique inclusion for this console to provide color to a colorless vector monitor. Most overlays do a decent job of giving you a better feel for what the actual game play and “plot” of the game is. Oftentimes the general color of the overlay will be based on the theme. For example, Clean Sweep, a bank robber/Pac-Man clone, has a green hue to its overlay. Minestorm, which is an Asteroids clone, has a blue hue to mimic the darkness of space. Other overlays attempt to provide a variety of colors to indicate what is going on in various locations on the playfield. Rip Off, includes a couple of different colored hexagons to bring attention to the center where your characters’ gold nuggets are kept. If they get pulled outside of this hexagonal region you know that you’ve been ripped off. For Pole Positon, the colors change from brownish/yellow to green to blue to simulate the change from dirt and road to trees to sky in the horizon as you drive your race car down the track.
In all, I find the overlays to be sturdy and unique enough in their design to warrant their purchase but my favorite aspect of the overlays are how each one tells the player what the 4 Vectrex controller buttons are used for that particular game. For some games, like Berzerk, where all four buttons are used to fire your weapon, its not that useful. But for games like Cosmic Chasm that have 4 unique controls (drill, shield, thrust, fire) for each of the four buttons, this reminder is invaluable while you’re learning the game. Video games from this era attempted to do this and mimic the arcade experience as often as they could to help out the console gamer with sophisticated (for the time) controls. Most times this was accomplished by providing overlays for the controllers but Vectrex took a different but logical approach. Nowadays, a gamer is expected to memorize 6-8 different button combinations without missing a beat, making the learning curve that much steeper. I appreciate the Vectrex’s attempt at providing a top notch home gaming experience and appreciate the sturdiness of the cartridges and overlays and even to a lesser extent, the boxes. I have a number of boxed games in my library and that is pretty rare from the era.