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April 2001
 
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Vectrex Frogger voted best Frogger, ever.




Last night I had a chance to bust out the Vectrex and really give a few of the games on my multi cart a spin around the electron. Well, by all rights I shouldn't have had a chance because I got back from work fairly late, but when the games do come a callin' there's nothing short of lashing yourself to the mast that will allow their siren song to be ignored. Since I didn't have any big wooden shafts handy, I fired up the 1982 vector based wonder and tried some stuff out.


First a little aside. I learned tonight that it is a quite tough to take pictures of the Vectrex due to the refresh rate and screen jitter. Now, it is late, and I have been working all day, but I still think that it's probably not my hands that are shaking that badly. So, most of the screen shots are going to look a lot like you've just had 7 shots of tequila and are singing mexican christmas carols. But, you can still get a good idea of the sheer radioactivity of the glow that comes from this glorious little device, and that's really where most of the enjoyment comes from. Well, that and the description I read about how the '3d-visualizer' 3d goggles for this system work. That prompted my housemate to suggest that the original designers of this hardware had since transcended into a higher plane of being thus explaining the rapid end to production of this system in '84. Coincidence? You be the judge.

On the multi cart there really are a lot of wonderful games. All of them, I think, so that should just about cover it. And I've mostly found that the games for this system are just plain enjoyable. They're not anything too flashy, but they're fun because of the medium that they are in and because of their clarity of purpose and cleanness of design. It lets one reflect on a simpler day when gaming was all about points and staying alive the longest. There weren't really 'goals' per say. No Bowser to stomp or Dr Wiley to blast with bubbles. No, these were games that reduced your entire world to trying to land a triangle with retro rockets on a strip of lunar rock labeled (1x) or (2x). But you know what? The little triangle can maneuver like crazy, and it's wonderfully responsive to the controls. That is what vintage gaming is all about, and that is what the Vectrex brings home.

Spike still keeps me coming back for more with the wonderful voice samples and the 3-d platformer madness. I tried out Soccer and found that the game has a very loose grasp on the 'off sides' penalty. This lack of proper ref-ing (perhaps it just adds realism anyway) is well made up by the fact that the players are these wonderful angled 2-d cardboard cut out men. This is way beyond the normal level of stick figure - we're talking about crazy-square-robot-head stylin'. They even have 2 distinct square torso-bits sort of like an ant in a Dire Straits video. But, then I came to the star of the hour...Frogger.


It may be a little hard to see, but nestled there between Empty Slot and All Good Things glares the title FROGGER. This game is just super-fly from the moment you hit 3. It turns out that this game was made fairly recently (1998 I believe) but I feel that it in no way detracts from either the vintage quality of it, or from the skill that was employed in its creation. From the get-go you can just tell it's going to be good. The opening screen has this crazy frog with great big HEY COACH! BALL! shoulders and a grin from ear to ear (as seen in the marquee for this article). There is this wonderful music in the background which has to be the 20th thing in the past two days telling me that I have to get set up to record audio samples for the Preserve. Then, the frog *MORPHS* into the word "written by" which then morphs into h0meb0ys' name ("chris").


All the while, there is a banner scrolling by at the bottom giving shout outs to his crew. This will repeat as long as you can sit there and take the chest x-rays, but if you wait long enough you are well rewarded! In a burst of sound designed expressly to make me want to buy a microphone tonight the background tunes, which were pretty cool to start with, slide into Br0K3 B3aT MOdE and just get totally wacked for the entire next repeat of the song. Don't forget now that BEEF the frog is still morphing into various words and shapes on the screen. So, when you finally feel mentally prepared to enter this wonder before you, whack a button.


OK, the shots certainly don't do it justice, but the sheer number of things that are moving and sliding and driving and floating around on this board are just so much fun to see. I really need to read up on how this thing works, and how it keeps track of so many lines at once. Sure, I may sound dumb saying that, but if and when you ever see one of these, you'll know where I'm coming from. It's just so much smoother (in both edges and motion) than pixel based games of the day. Even compared to some of my PS2 games, the edges of objects are just more pleasant to look at because they don't have to worry about anti-aliasing or artifacts or 'jaggies', because it's all just a wonderful, simple, series of straight lines. Of course this leads to everything looking rather cubist, but something about it retains enough panache to really hold it together.

The controls are nice and responsive, and the side-ways shot of Frogger as he hops intra-lane to avoid traffic is really great, though it won't be clear enough to see thanks to deadly Vectrex screen radiation jitter. The game play is that of Frogger that we all know and love, and when you fill up all of the slots at the top you get the victory music and some bonus points for what-I-don't-really-know (time? Frogs left most likely).


You can't see the text very well, but a nice happy 'level done' scrolls across the screen as the victory-chimes chime. There is another morph here involving what looks to be a bowler hat squatting on a drink coaster but lets just assume it's our guy Frogger chillin' at his pad. If you are foolish enough to be hit by an oncoming truck or miss-calculate and jump right into the icy deep, you get another wonderful little morph animation of Frogger turning into a little tombstone, with an explanation of how you messed up. (I managed to get 'R.I.P. - From Natural Causes' when I took too long trying to set up a camera shot!) A little cross even gets emblazoned across Frogger when he buys it on screen, and then again before he is forced to trans-mutate into his own headstone.


Once you pass the first level, things really get nuts. The road is full of cars and I think there are crocodiles in the water, though it was hard to tell if a bow-tie factory didn't just have a natural gas explosion up-stream someplace. But remember, I love this stuff, so it's all good. Just let me know what'll kill me, what to avoid, and where I may jump, and I'm with ya 100%.


I haven't gotten father than this yet because I committed seppuku a few times to get the headstone shots (shame on me!!). My ruling from last night stands, though, even in the face of this being a newer title than I at first thought it was. Best Frogger Ever. It is still on the Vectrex, and still takes advantage of all of the things that made Vectrex special, and Chris had the added benefit of the extra years of watching the rest of the industry and seeing how they messed things up. So way to go, oh game programming guru. You have bettered the world by making this fine title for a system which must not be lost in the shifting sands of videogame lore, but must continue to be Preserved and remembered!!

Charlie, 4/26/2001
 
 
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