Lets Play: Gekisha Boy on the PC Engine

We take a look at the weird Japanese photo-em-up

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Vectrex

Western Technologies / Smith Engineering Vectrex

2nd Generation Competitors
Mattel Intellivision Atari 2600
Region Release Date Discontinued Lifetime Sales
Japan Jun 1983 1984
North America Nov 1982 1984
Europe May 1983 1984

The Vectrex is an interesting beast.  It was created with the idea of portability in mind, the idea that the owner could pack it up and carry it wherever they wanted then plug it in and play.

To this end it had a lovely Vector based display.  Unlike the raster based displays that televisions employed, the vector display was designed to draw lines.  The result is an image that, whilst only black and white, pops off the screen and has a fair 3D effect.

Western Technologies shopped this idea around to manufacturers and eventually signed a license agreement with General Consumer ElectronicsGCE would build and distribute it and pay WT royalties.

GCE showed it off at the Consumer Electronics Show in 1982 and released it in November of the same year, just in time for Christmas.  The initial sales were promising, so much so that Milton Bradley, who had been looking to break into the games market, decided to purchase GCE.

With the extra muscle that the large toy company bought, the Vectrex was marketed in Europe and, in a partnership with Bandai, Japan.

However, the promising start ended when the video game crash, which affected North America and parts of Europe, hit.  The Vectrex sales disappeared and MB lost millions of dollars, causing them to merge with Hasbro.

Because the Vectrex was a black and white device, and the built-in screen meant it always would be, games came with a colour overlay.  This overlay marked off certain parts of the screen and highlighted score areas.

The downside of this technique is that over time the display becomes misaligned, so the overlays no longer line up properly.

The Vectrex produces a loud buzzing during operation, due to a noise issues with the high voltage line.  There is a mod that can be made to reduce this.

The Vectrex was the first home console to offer a 3D peripheral, the 3D Imager, which used a spinning disc to alternate eye covers.  The Vectrex also had a light pen which could be used by a couple of titles.

The Vectrex was a phenomenal achievement for it’s time and still has a devoted fan following.  The screen is hard to describe and can’t be adequately reproduced in pictures and video.

All Vectrex units come with Mine Storm, an asteroids clone, built-in.  It loads when a game cartridge is not detected.

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Atari 7800

Atari 7800

3rd Generation Competitors
Sega Master System Famicom / NES Amstrad GX4000 Commodore 64 Game System
Region Release Date Discontinued Lifetime Sales
Japan NA  NA NA
North America May 1986 1st January 1992  3M
Europe July 1987 1992  500K

Atari were hit hard in the video game crash and were eventually sold off a couple of time.  They mostly concentrated on the computer market but still attempted to regain the glory they’d felt with the 2600.  The 7800 followed the largely failed 5200.

The 7800 was basically an expanded 2600.  It featured the same audio chip but a vastly improved graphics system.  It was the first console developed outside of Atari, instead designed by General Computer Corporation.

The 7800 was an improvement over the 2600 and 5200, but not enough to compete with the incoming Japanese consoles.

The 7800 is compatible with the 5200 and 2600 range of games.

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Atari 2600

Atari 2600

2nd Generation Competitors
Mattel Intellivision Vectrex
Region Release Date Discontinued Lifetime Sales
Japan Oct 1983 1992  30M (total)
North America 11th Sep 1977 1992
Europe 1978 1992

Whilst the Atari 2600 didn’t start the console industry (the Fairchild Channel F came out a year before) it certainly popularised the idea of a machine capable of playing different games with the use of a ROM cartridge.

Released in 1977 as the Atari VCS, it was later renamed to the 2600 mirroring it’s model number after it’s successor, the 5200, was released in 1982.  Sensible pricing and some strategic licensing saw the 2600 achieve huge success.

The Atari 2600 has been quoted as a reason for the games crash in the 80s due to Atari’s policy of allowing anyone to release games meaning that there were huge numbers of poor quality titles.

In reality, of course, the crash was caused by many factors, although Atari were certainly key.

There were several models of the 2600 released:

  • Heavy Sixer (original release)
  • Light Sixer
  • 4 Switch Black (Darth Vader)
  • 2600 Jr

The 2600 faced strong competition from several competitors, mainly the Mattel Intellivision

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Amstrad GX4000

Amstrad GX4000

3rd Generation Competitors
Atari 7800 Famicom / NES Sega Master System Commodore 64 Game System
Region Release Date Discontinued Lifetime Sales
Japan NA  NA  NA
North America NA NA  NA
Europe Sep 1990 1991  15K

Amstrad produced a fairly popular range of 8 bit computers during the 80s, in third place for most of the era in the UK after the Commodore 64 and Sinclair Spectrum.

But Alan Sugar was well known for being able to sniff out a promising new market and so, when Nintendo and Sega hit the shores he realised he could take his existing 8 bit system, remove the keyboard and leverage the existing range of games.  They gave it a futuristic, spaceship design and bundled it with a joypad that was pretty reminiscent of the NES pad.

On paper this was a good move, the Amstrad had an amazing library of games and could certainly compete with the NES and Master System.  It already had joystick support, so converting games across was a breeze and Amstrad’s existing supply and sales chain would work for the new machine.

But the GX4000 didn’t release until 1990, which meant that it was competing with the Mega Drive and then the Super Nintendo.  Whilst it had a fighting chance against the 8 bit era, it was entirely outgunned in the 16 bit world, they weren’t the only company to make this mistake though, Commodore followed with the C64GS.

There is a fairly large software library for the GX4000 and developers have ported other titles across in recent times.  There are a couple of issues to look out for.  The PSU is not great and can cause component damage to the GX4000 if it’s unplugged or plugged in whilst turned on (usually this just means you have to replace the voltage regulator).

It’s recommended you use a replacement PSU (9 – 12v 1a center positive) instead of the included one.

 

Specs

Processor Zilog Z80A 4 MHz (PAL)
RAM 64k
ROM 32k
Custom Chips ASIC with Support for sprites, soft scrolling, programmable interrupts, DMA Sound
Video 12-bit colour palette (4096 colors)
Up to 32 on-screen colours (16 Background, 15 Sprites, 1 Border)
Audio 3 × 8-bit stereo PCM channels)
DMA
Removable storage None

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