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10  |  Vecmania (Vectrex Review)
Scoots , 9/26/2003 8:00:12 AM
One thing that fans and collectors of the Vectrex know is that it’s a rare occurrence to stumble upon Vectrex carts at a yard sale or thrift store. Ebay’s always a possibility, but that can be pricey (at least $5 to $10 per loose cart, plus shipping), and we’ve all had our fair share of problems dealing with online auctions. You can imagine my excitement then when I heard about homebrewer John Dondzila’s Vecmania multicart—6 complete original games, and 2 playable demos, all for just $20! After about a second of deliberation I headed over to Paypal and then held my breath for the next few days in eager anticipation of the gaming goodness due to arrive in my mail box.

After tearing into that package like Oprah at a pie eating contest, I have to admit I wasn’t blown away with the initial presentation. The game comes packaged in plastic hardcase, similar to a Genesis game. The cover was generated by a color printer and featured artwork that can be charitably called “lackluster” at best. The cart itself is housed in a modified Intellivision cart case (being much more readily available than Vectrex cases). Due to its small size the cart is free to rattle around inside the box. To account for this, it comes sheathed in bubblewrap. It does the job, but it’s certainly not going to win you any style points.

“But enough of your petty art-school gripes,” I hear you say, “how’re the games?” Glad you asked.

Star Fire Spirits is based on the original Star Wars arcade game. I bought this compilation primarily to play this game and I was not disappointed. The graphics and sounds are great. There’s no music, but you’re constantly shooting anyway and the sound effects of your lasers, enemy shots, and exploding enemy spaceships create their own soundtrack. Each level has three parts; in the first, you are in space and must destroy the enemy ships with your lasers. This part is pretty easy and you shouldn’t have much trouble completing it without taking a single hit. The second stage involves flying over the surface of this neo-Death Star while firing at the gun towers and other weapons installations. This is easily the most challenging part of the level, as shots come at you from all over and the section is relatively long. If you manage to get to the end before your shields are depleted and your ship destroyed, you’ll tackle the final stage: the trench leading up to your target. After a short flight through the trench, dodging enemy fire all the way, an opening appears and you’ll automatically fire into it, destroying the Death Star. It’s then back to the first stage, only this time there are even more TIE fighters on screen for you to deal with. The action is great and you’re even given the option of a speed adjustment for your targeting cursor, as well as flip-flopping the controls for a more flight-sim type feel.

Repulse is tough, there’s no getting around it. Basically, you’re trying to fire into the center of a rotating space station. You only have a small shaft you can fire into. If you touch the space station you’ll die, and if you take too long a fighter ship will be sent out after you. There’s also an enemy ship that can’t be destroyed unless it hits the space station. Shooting him will make him rebound off the walls (and possibly into the path of the space station). His shots have the same effect on you. Needless to say, this is a hassle you don’t need when trying to aim a shot down that narrow little target area. It’s frustrating as hell, but still quite fun.

Birds of Prey is your basic Demon Attack clone. If you can survive the successive waves of alien attackers you’ll get your chance to destroy the mothership It’s a very well-done translation and more challenging than most home versions of Demon Attack that I’ve played. Nice graphics and good twitchy gameplay. If you’re into vertical shooters, here’s one to test your skills.

The next three games are all “remixed” versions of Dondzila’s earlier works. They are also all based on some of the most classic and revered titles in videogame history. Rockaroids is obviously your Asteroids clone, Patroits is an excellent Missile Command clone, and Vector Vaders handles your Space Invaders fix. Suffice it to say, if you’re familiar with the original games, you’ll know what to expect here. Of the three, Patriots was easily my favorite (no surprise since I love Missile Command). This is as good as Missile Command in the arcade, without anything missing. The graphics and sound effects are top notch and the action above level 8 is frighteningly fast. Optional cursor speed-ups and a pause function are quite welcome (and overdue) options. Patriots is a truly great arcade translation that was sorely needed in the Vectrex’s library.

Overall, Vecmania is great compilation at a great price. If you own a Vectrex, it’s a no-brainer—you need to own this! I give Vecmania a 10 out of 10.

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