Scramble for the Vectrex

The enjoyment of any game can be subjective. This is especially true when one is talking about “best” or “worst”. It would be nearly impossible to state with certainty that a game is the best or worst for a given system. Consider the Atari 2600 with its hundreds (or is it thousands) of games. Or the Commodore 64 with its zillions of games. Which is best? We may never agree. But, let’s turn our attention to the Vectrex. With a very limited library of games (fewer than forty), you’d have a much better chance of making a solid argument as to which is the best or worst game. Scramble, I’m happy to say, is a solid contender in the “best” category. Now, I personally prefer Fortress of Narzod or Polar Rescue, but Scramble is right up there with the finest offerings that this system has to offer.

Scramble is a fitting entry into the Vectrex lineup, but for less than ideal reasons. As a second tier system that was late to the 8-bit party, the Vectrex had fewer opportunities to get solid arcade transfers. The Colecovision, Atari, and even the Intellivision all had first-rate ports of the most popular games. But, for the most part, the Vectrex was left out. Konami’s Scramble was certainly an arcade hit, but definitely not as famous as Pac-man or Donkey Kong. Furthermore, the arcade original wasn’t a vector-based game, making its translation to the Vectrex an uncertain proposition at best. Fortunately, the game designers were able to draw on the best elements of the Vectrex and created a home gaming success.

Let’s start by reviewing how Scramble looks on the Vectrex. The side-scrolling shooter is a good fit for the Vectrex’s color overlay, but, I must confess, I’m not sure why. The overlay is divided into different vertical color bands, which would suggest that an oncoming missile would change color as it shoots through the air. That could be distracting, but (you may have to take my word for this until you play the game) it isn’t. Somehow, the different color schemes work well, despite ships and landscapes moving to different vertical levels. It should be less than optimal, but it just works. The enemy ships and installations are graphically simple but effective. In terms of audio, the sound effects and introductory music are good, but nothing spectacular.

Where the cartridge really shines is the gameplay. Scramble makes such good use of the Vectrex’s joystick and button layout, you may be inclined to think that this game was packaged with the system. Controls are fast and responsive, making the game a joy to play. Scramble starts off easy, but the later levels get tough. The difficulty curve is gradual though, so as not to be frustrating. If you die, you return to the beginning of the level you were on. There are six – providing a good degree of variety.

I’ve got to be honest – I didn’t plug in the Scramble cartridge today expecting to be all that impressed. In my youth, I liked the look of Cosmic Avenger for the Colecovision (considered by many to be a Scramble clone) but found the gameplay lacking. What I found with Scramble was a game that is greater than the sum of its parts. And, while it may not be the very best that the Vectrex has to offer, it is definitely a “must-play” game for that system.

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Author at Retroist
Vinvectrex has not only reviewed every game made for the Vectrex, but discovered a long lost game for the IBM Jr. and probably changed the history of Star Wars fandom.

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