Best of the Old: Vectorman
Blue Sky Software, a company that has about as much name recognition as a rapper peddling fire mix tapes at a mall. However, back in the mid-1990s, this game studio released one of the best games for the Sega Genesis (or Mega Drive, if you’re feeling particularly overbite-ish). This game was the one, the only, Vectorman.
To truly appreciate Vectorman, one has to have lived through the torrent of 2D games that thrived in a 16-bit graphics world. Most of these games were, objectively, about as fun as being an unvaccinated child at a measles convention.
Vectorman (much like Donkey Kong Country for the 16-bit Super Nintendo) utilized pre-rendered spherical sprites that allowed for the game to simulate 3D graphics on a 16-bit system.
While the game was a graphical masterpiece (in its final form) for the time, the Karl Robillard and Marty Davis (the duo responsible for the animations in the game) originally intended Vectorman to be entirely made up of spheres, which would have allowed the character to be viewed completely in three-dimensions. However, Robillard and Davis realized that making a glorified bouncy ball as the main character wouldn’t fly well with audiences, so they sacrificed true 3D modeling for an anthropomorphized Vectorman.
Vectorman’s brilliance didn’t just end with impressive graphics. The soundtrack for the game was also something to behold.
According to the soundtrack’s producer, Jon Holland, the Genesis was limited to playing no more than six notes at a given time (or one cord). To craft one of the best video game soundtracks at the time, Holland utilized syncopation techniques common to EDM music that simulated audio echoes, which allowed the genesis to play music that any glow stick twirling raver would enjoy. In fact, the soundtrack was so well received that it was one of the few American-released Sega titles to have a standalone CD album.
As anyone knows, a game must have more than just impressive graphics and music to avoid being tossed into the dumpster fire of failed video game concepts (which you can get access to with your next season pass or EA DLC purchase). Fortunately, Vectorman also had an impressive level design and used engaging gameplay mechanics. The game would go from being a platforming run-and-gun shooter to an auto-scrolling shooter game from level-to-level.
Additionally, the game offered more variety than a hotel buffet by allowing the player to control a morphed Vectorman who could be a tank, spider, drill, bomb, or even a mutated guppy that apparently grew up in a pond next to Chernobyl. Each of these morphed forms was further accentuated by power-ups that changed Vectorman’s single-shot blaster into a shotgun, machine gun, or bolo gun.
As if the game wasn’t engaging enough, each boss battle required the player to use a different fighting strategy to complete the mission. Additionally, some bosses would transform mid-fight, which would force the player to adopt a new strategy than the one they had been using moments before. Just to tickle this pickle even more, the final boss battle took place in a literal tornado.
The plot of Vectorman was probably the weakest aspect of the game (if the plot can actually be seen as a part of the game itself).
The plot was very simplistic. Humans over-polluted earth; robots clean up the waste. One robot gets (accidentally) wired to a nuclear warhead and becomes a dictator; Vectorman fights the tyrannical robot and its minions after dumping off a load of garbage (probably from the dumpster fire of good video game ideas) into the sun. While the game has been touted as one of the radical environmentalist games of the era, the actual plot is only mentioned in a series of stills presented before the first level. This is probably for the best, as a plot-driven Vectorman would probably have led the game to jump into a pool of gas before jumping into the AAA dumpster fire mentioned earlier.
Vectorman spawned a sequel in 1996 (creatively titled Vectorman 2), which kept all the things that made the original Vectorman a success and added more levels, more morphed forms of Vectorman, and swapped tyrannical robots for cybernetic bugs.
Besides the one sequel, the epic of a battle-hardened Wall-E ended in 1996. Both games have been re-released on Steam, on the Sega Forever download for iOS, and Android, GameCube and PS2 (as a part of the Sonic Gems Collection), and PS3 (as a part of Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection). Instead of releasing a botched remake or reboot, the integrity of Vectorman has been preserved through these rereleases (something I think is for the best).
Vectorman holds a special place in my personal game library, as it was the first video game I ever owned. This probably is the underlying reason behind my seeking innovative game titles that push the industry forward in any given way. While the true marvel of Vectorman cannot be truly appreciated through an emulator or a rerelease, these modern ports still serve as a shining example of why you don’t fix something that isn’t broken…unless you think the fire in the dumpster isn’t hot enough to spontaneously combust the money in your pocket.
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