Vectrex Round-Up: Rip-Off, Spike & Spinball

There is no particular common theme for the 3 games I’m highlighting in this post beyond being Vectrex games that I own copies of. These 3 games offer varying gameplay, graphics & sound (voice even!) while also offering different levels of quality.

Rip-Off is a fun Asteroids-like game where you operate a space ship and your job is to protect the fuel canisters located in the middle of the screen from pirate scavengers. You can move around the screen using thrust while firing at the pirates as they move in and attempt to grab the fuel. If the pirates get to the fuel before you can shoot them, they will attach it to their ship and start to head back off screen. You still have an opportunity to get your fuel back if you shoot the thief before it exits the screen but the fuel canister does not go back to the middle as it is dropped right where the ship was destroyed, making it more difficult to protect. To make things a bit interesting and prevent you from camping out in one location shooting at enemies, there are kamikaze pirate ships that go directly after you instead of the fuel. You have to be able to identify these ships immediately and either move out of the way or destroy them to stay alive. I like that the thumping heartbeat-like music slowly gets faster & faster as you lose fuel canisters to the pirates and adds a tense feeling to the game. Your game is over once all of the fuel canisters are stolen. Rip-Off is a tough game with an interesting enough premise to keep me coming back.

“Eek! Help! Spike!” “Oh no! Molly!” The Vectrex has a voice! That’s one of the premises behind this Donkey Kong action platformer clone. Spike is the unofficial mascot of the Vectrex as well as the hero of this particular game. You play as Spike attempting to save your girl Molly from your nemesis, Spud after she is kidnapped (repeatedly). You need to jump from slanted moving platforms, climbing upwards while searching for a key that will allow you to open the locked door at the top of each level, rescuing Molly (“Oh Spike”). At the beginning of each level you are treated to the animation of Spud bursting into Spike and Molly’s room/house (who knows) and stealing her away while the aforementioned voice exchange repeats. The digitized voices are relics of a much simpler time in video gaming and often lack any emotion with the exception of Spike’s “darnit” whenever he loses a life. From a gameplay standpoint, Spike is not as appealing as Donkey Kong and I haven’t progressed through the game enough to know if the levels vary beyond the 3 tiers. It does make me chuckle each time I hear Spike yell out “Molly!”

Spinball, if you might have guessed, is an early attempt to play video pinball. Pinball games are inherently tough to recreate on video but they are virtually impossible to do on the early, less powerful video game consoles of the 80’s such as the Vectrex. Spinball doesn’t offer very interesting gameplay with only a few bumpers and targets to shoot at. The ball detection leaves a lot to be desired and you’ll see the ball go over your flippers and other parts of the virtual table. The manual calls these “glassies” but my guess is that this was just the developers cover up for sloppy hit detection. Additionally, the distance between your flippers is way to large and you’ll lose a lot of balls draining down the middle. I appreciate GCE trying using vector graphics to recreate pinball experience but it’s just not enough to make Spinball a memorable game.

Currently in my collection:

Rip-Off: game, manual, overlay and box. B

Spike: game only C

Spinball: game, manual, overlay and box. D-

Wish List: Spike manual, overlay and box.

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