Villordsutch reviews the ZX Spectrum Vega…
I’ve been interested in getting my hands on the ZX Spectrum Vega since its conception a year or so ago. I’ve been a ZX Spectrum user since the early 1980’s, my first Sinclair product was the ZX81, then I went straight to the hard-shelled 48K and moved to the 128K with the heat-sink screwed to the side. Inside my head there is a corner reserved as a shrine to the Vitamin D suppressing machine and when the Vega was announced I wanted to know more and I’ll be honest I was a little wary of it.
The ZX Spectrum for myself wasn’t just a gaming machine. When I was younger I wasted numerous hours typing code from either INPUT, Sinclair Programs, Sinclair User and eventually when they stopped producing user-grown programs, it became simple pokes from Your Sinclair and my own dodgy games and text-based adventure games; heck I even had my own game in Your Sinclair’s “Crap Games Corner”. I was ever so slightly a nerd – I’ll admit that I wasn’t as hip’n’happenin’ as I am now. However, it was possibly losing that programming joy that gave me a uneasy feeling of what the Vega appeared to be. Still not wanting to being ignorant I was willing to give this newcomer the time to show itself off, to give the ZX Spectrum Vega a moment to prove itself.
You’ve possibly already seen the list of the thousand games crammed into this handheld device [if not look here]; there are a fair few classics including Skool Daze, Sabre Wolf, Atic Attack, Jack the Nipper, Auf Wiedersehen Monty, Horace Goes Skiing and it is quite fantastic having the ability to load these up with a mere press of a button. Yes, the loveable six to nine minute epileptic fit inducing loading system has gone to be replaced with instant play, but this is something I can now live with in my new world of PC and PS4 gaming. Not only this but I’ve got the chance to rapidly introduce these games to my children whose attention spans are nothing like mine were some three decades back; if they don’t like Back to Skool then I quickly jump to Horace Goes Skiing which I’m informed is like Crossy Road.
There is however in amongst these classics a fair amount of fluff padding out the 1000 titles. I’m sure Olympics was loved by somebody out there, but it’s one of the number of games on here that quite frankly I’ll never look at again. This being said there is – underneath the handset – an SD card slot and with a micro SD you can easily start adding games to the library within a matter of minutes. ZX Spectrum games can be found over at the World of Spectrum, downloading games and dragging them over – to the card – will have you soon playing a few of your favourite classics. The only issue can come with the fact the keys haven’t been mapped to the Vega’s cursor buttons – this can often be rectified by selecting the Kempston Joystick or if you subscribe to the ZX Spectrum Vega Facebook page, they are in the process of key-mapping other games not currently on the Vega. Not only this readers of Flickering Myth may remember Aquanoids featured at the beginning of September, a new platform game created for the ZX Spectrum – well this too runs brilliantly on this new black box.
You’ll also find on the Vega a large number of text-based adventure games, and all be it there isn’t a physical keyboard, there is a virtual keyboard within the device itself; this is surprisingly quick and simple to use. I loaded up Zenobi’s Balrog And The Cat to give it a try and found it fairly easy to scroll through, though I must admit I still would have preferred a full keyboard for this variety of game.
The look and feel of the Vega reminds me of a shrunken rubber keyed ZX Spectrum, with four red arrowed keys, which granted we’d never have seen before but understandably we do now due to what we have here. Along with this we have four Spectrum “Rubber” keys, four more minor option buttons and a reset button; the layout is simple and non-fussy. It’s clearly designed for purpose and that’s a ZX Spectrum gaming machine. Yes, I’ll admit it that this isn’t prettier than the replica ZX Spectrum Bluetooth keyboard, which is out on the market right now, however this isn’t a Bluetooth keyboard which comes with zero games, but only an emulator app and already a checkered history amongst the Spectrum Community. This [the Vega] is a slice of Sinclair history that holds 1000 games inside of it. Looking at the size of a this new device and you’ll see it’s no bigger than a Gameboy Classic, plus you’ve got just under three meters of cable between you and the T.V. so you can happily sit down knowing you’re not slowly baking your eyes like you did way back when.
There are a few of issues that I’ve found with it so far, occasionally you find a game where albeit the key-mapping has been completed it doesn’t seem to run correctly upon the key presses, or you have to switch to the secondary key map mid-game, causing a small bit of confusion. The Donkey Kong clone game seems to be in a language I can’t comprehend and once you die and press a key it seems to rotate the controls, but the biggest issue appears to be – for myself – is I can’t update the firmware on the device. I’ve followed all the instructions, I’ve even tried two different SD Cards, however no matter what I do, I cannot get the device to recognise the new firmware file. At the time of going to press I’ve emailed ZX Spectrum Vega support for assistance, along with this I’ve also been in communication with the helpful people over at ZX Spectrum Vega Facebook page where it also appears somebody else has ran into the same issue.
There has been a bit of negative feedback I’ve picked up on in relation to the cost of the machine as it comes in at a penny off £100. The first thing to keep in mind is not only have these 1000 games been licensed, so the original creators are being paid for their work, but you’re getting your nostalgia delivered rapidly and with minimum fuss. People have commented it would be cheaper to buy a second-hand Spectrum and some games than the Vega. This may be correct, but you have to take into account time, storage, finding the games… will these games work after thirty (nearly forty) years? Not only that, but will the Spectrum work after the same amount of time? All of these issues may not concern you and there are numerous websites and Facebook pages like Retro Games Forever or ZX Spectrum that will help you fix up a ZX Spectrum from a shell, however not everyone has this ability or time.
Others may say, “I have a Spectrum in the loft I’ll just get that out!” Again, go ahead, hopefully the constant fluctuating heat up there hasn’t spilt the membrane or rotted the magnetic tape in storing your games, as that’s my current fear for my Spectrums in my loft. What I’m getting at is if you’re not interested in the Vega, that’s your choice. However I too had my doubts and now I’m more than happy for it to sit in front of my television. It has not only reminded me of games I’ve forgotten, it has also opened this Spectrum Universe to my children too.
The Vega is a ZX Spectrum nostalgic treat! It isn’t attempting to usurp the original ZX Spectrum from its throne! If anything it’s showing you what the gemstone you have boxed away in the dusty, dark loft marked “NEVER THROW AWAY!” and that you should really invest in some silicon gel packs if you’re going to keep it up there for much longer. Yes you can’t program on it, and it is purely a gaming machine, but these games deserve to be brought back out into the light and I believe the ZX Spectrum Vega is the correct little black box to do it.