The Vectrex, the world’s first portable gaming device
With the pending release of the Nintendo 2DS (what are Nintendo thinking?) we at team RD thought that it would be the right time to take you back to the very first portable gaming system.
Although you wouldn’t call a Vectrex system a handheld, it was the first of its kind!
Developed by Western Technologies/Smith Engineering and licensed and distributed by Milton Bradley, it was released way back in 1982 at a retail price of $199.00.
Unfortunately, it was doomed to fail as it came out right before the video game crash of 1983: the Vectrex dropped to a measly $100 before it exited the market in early 1984.
Rather than connecting to a traditional TV like other consoles at the time, the Vectrex had it own Vector Monitor which, believe it or not, displayed Vector graphics. Now considering that it wasn’t in color (unless you consider Vector a color), it did use plastic overlays to simulate it.
Each game for the system came with its own plastic overlay, even the built in game MineStorm had its own overlay, and while you can play these games without them, it just doesn’t have the same nostalgic feeling.
Many arcade games that used Vector displays were ported to the Vectrex: arcade perfect installments of Space Wars and Armor Attack were the popular games to buy at the time.
There are many firsts for this portable system. Other than the fact that it was the first home based system to ever use a vector based screen, it had 3D, that’s right! You could buy a 3D peripheral, appropriately named the 3D imager. This turned the 2D black and white image into a color 3D extravaganza! The imager worked by spinning a disk in front of the viewers eyes while the user looked through the imager onto the Vector monitor. This predated the Sega Scope 3D by about 4 years.
The control pad was another innovation, which can be neatly packed into the unit and was equipped with the first analogue stick.
Nintendo must have taken a page out of the book of Vectrex with its DS use of a pen, another peripheral this console had: the light pen allowed the user to draw images on the monitor directly.
While there are only a handful of official games for this system, it led the way for homebrew applications to be made later in life, with some awesome games being developed for it in the later 2000’s. Most notable games are Zantis, Vector Pilot and War of the Worlds 2011.
The most rarest and valuable game on the Vectrex system to date is MineStorm II. While this isn’t a sequel to the in-built game, it was actually a patch. MineStorm would crash on level 13, and believe it or not at the time, if you had purchased one, could write into the company and receive the cart MineStorm II for free! However, due to the games difficulty in reaching level 13, not many people had experienced the issue and therefore not many MS2 carts were produced. Funny how games can become valuable from simple glitches in the system…
For those of you who do not own a Vectrex, but wish to experience it, look no further than the Vectrex App for the iPhone and iPad. Plus, you can play it on your Apple TV using Airplay. I would recommend this to most readers, as you would pay a fraction of the cost to play these awesome Vector Graphic games.
All in all, the Vectrex came out at the same time as the Atari, and while it did not have the critical success of Atari, it was far superior in almost every way.
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