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Posted on May 28th 2011 at 09:00:00 PM by (singlebanana)
Posted under Vectrex, Pole Position, Classic Gaming, Retro Gaming

Game:  Pole Position
Year:  1983
Publisher:  General Consumer Electric (a Milton Bradley company)
Developer:  Namco, Ltd.
Rarity (according to RarityGuide.com):  rare - 80% out of 100%   
Controls: Vectrex Control Panel
Number of Players:  1
Average Cost:  around $100+ CIB
Also Available On:  Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Atari 8-Bit, BBC Micro, Commodore 64, DOS, Intellivision, TI 99/4A, VIC-20, ZX Spectrum, arcade cabinet, and various Namco gaming compilations.

Tagline:  Do you possess the skill, dexterity and courage to pull out from the crowd for qualification in one of the exclusive starting positions or will you end up as an also-ran?

Pole Position was a very popular arcade cabinet in the early 80s and it was eventually ported to many early, home gaming consoles.  I remember going into the local arcade at the mall as a kid and seeing the Pole Position sit-in cabinet (one, if not the very first ever made) for the first time.  Atari had revolutionized gaming in the creation of this cabinet, because they not only allowed you to experience a racing game with an actual steering wheel, gear shift, and gas pedal, but also placed you inside the machine for what was, at that time, as close as most people would come to driving in an actual Grand Prix.  Creating this simulated experience, resulted in bigger, more interactive cabinets and changed the way people and manufacturers expected games to evolve.  While most initial attempts to bring Pole Position to the home gaming console were poor to average at best, an early black and white, vector graphics system know as the Vectrex created a port that set a standard above all others.   

The premise of Pole Position is fairly simple.  Your objective is to first qualify for the race during a time trial in which you must place in the top 4 on the pole to earn a starting position for the race.  If you make it through the time trial, then you are allowed to race in the Grand Prix in a starting position that is determined by your time trial finish.  In Pole Position you earn various points by passing other cars, position bonuses, a bonus for finishing a track with time left on the clock, and points simply for the distance you travel:


- Every 5 meters driven: 50 points
 - Passing Car Bonus: 50 points per racing car
 - Time Bonus: 200 points per second left on the Race Timer

Bonus by Position

- Pole Position - Lap Time: 58"50 seconds - 4,000 points
- 2nd Position - Lap Time: 60"00 seconds - 2,000 points
- 3rd Position - Lap Time: 62"00 seconds - 1,400 points
- 4th Position - Lap Time: 64"00 seconds - 1,000 points

You have 120 seconds to complete your qualifying lap, and must complete the lap well ahead of 120 seconds to qualify for one of the four starting positions.  If you qualify, you get 90 seconds to complete your first race lap and an additional 60 seconds for the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th laps.  Time is added after completion of each lap and carries over, so it is very important to finish each lap as ahead of time as possible.  Your game is over when you run out of time or do not qualify for a race.

One of the best features of Pole Position on the Vectrex is the controls.  The Vectrex Control Panel offers a great, analog, self-centering stick that is very sensitive and responsive.  Since you spend the entirety of the game weaving in and out of other racers, the controls are the most essential element of the game.  Where many ports for early systems went wrong was in the controls; the often rigid joysticks of most gaming systems did not allow for the precision needed to successfully navigate the tedious Grand Prix track.  The Vectrex was the perfect system to port this game to because not only were the controls fantastic, but the control panel also included four buttons, two for accelerating and one each for shifting gears up and down. 


Joystick:  Push right or left to change directions.
Button 1:  1st Gear.
Button 2:  2nd Gear.
Button 3:  Gas.  Press to accelerate, release to slow down.
Button 4:  Gas.  (Same as button 3)

Though the Vectrex is challenged by its linear graphics, all of the cars and scenery of the game are impeccable.  The tires of your racer have lines on them which move up the tires and give them the appearance of motion, the track weaves fluidly, and the scenery (Mt. Fuji included) moves from side-to-side to provide an accurate representation of turning.  Though the Vectrex lacks color, a special overlay can be placed over the screen to give the raceway and scenery what little color it actually needs.

I am especially impressed with sound effects and music in the game.  The car engine roars as you accelerate and even provides a less intense noise as you slow down.  Crashes are accompanied by an intense explosion sound and an expressive graphic (unlike other ports), and the music between qualifying and racing provides a catchy and fairly accurate to the original (but most of all appropriate) soundtrack for the game. 

The concept of Pole Position, like most racing games, is very simple, but the addition of time trials and positioning gives it an edge over the majority of other early, similar titles.  Pole Position is fun and entertaining and unlike the other Vectrex sports titles, this one will keep you coming back for more.  Acquiring Pole Position is a bit difficult, since not many Vectrex games are found out in the wild (you can thank the video game crash of 83/84); however, several copies pop up on eBay and other auction sites from time to time.  Don't expect to get out cheap, a complete copy will run you upwards of $100, but if you are a serious collector, it is well worth it.

(on as scale of 1-4: 4 being the highest):

Controls:  4
Graphics:  4
Sound Effects/Music: 4
Concept:  3
Replay Value:  3
Overall Score:  3.60

Not the best quality video, but it does incorporate the overlay

**video courtesy of Chainsaw1974**

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Great job! I totally want a Vectrex. That is the first time I have seen a Vectrex in action....maybe I should search YouTube more often. Keep up the good work.
Very cool. I'd love to track down a system for myself also.
I'd highly advise picking up a Vectrex if you ever come across one, or if you are really interested, scoop one up online.  It was a bit of an ordeal getting one online, but was well worth it.  If either of you (or anyone else for that matter) decides to go that route, let me know and I can tell you what to look for and what questions to ask the seller.  Also, I have 4 games with overlays on my FS/FT list if any of you are interested in them before they go up on Game Gavel.
I've always had a soft spot for odd systems like the Vectrex, and I'd love to find one someday.  Great post!  I've also never seen a Vectrex in action either.
Thanks for the offer banana! I'm not ready at the moment to add a new system to my collection, but when the time is right I'll be in touch.

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