Solar Quest was an old vector arcade game released by Cinematronics way back in 1981 (and was ported to the Vectrex home vector console a few years later). This title was designed by Scott Boden and was the last of the Cinematronics black and white vector games.

In the future hats will be made out of meat! No, wait thats not it. Let me start over. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise ..., no thats no it either. This game doesn't really seem to have a proper plot to it. You simply pilot your spaceship around, blasting the bad guys and avoiding the sun. Pick up survivors from the enemy ships to gain extra lives.

The game

You control a spaceship in a field of stars. In the center of the field is a small yellow vector sun. The ship has a similar feel to the one in in Asteroids, but it stops almost immediately after you stop thrusting. The graphics are done with a 64 intensity black and white vector system, combined with a color overlay. They looked great for 1981, but are beginning to show their age today.

Your enemies consist of hordes of spaceships that have to be blasted. The game starts out rather easy, the opposing ships don't fire, and they seldom attempt to run into you. You can blast them with your main weapon which is a laser, or you can use your nuke which is capable of taking out several enemy ships at once. If you get into a tight spot you can escape using your hyperspace button. Each killed ship will leave behind a survivor that you can either shoot, pick up, or simply ignore. Picking up the survivors scores the most points, and is the only way to earn an extra man. On factory settings you get an extra man for every 25 survivors. If you ignore the survivors they will quickly fall into the sun and be destroyed, but they were bad guys anyway, so you don't have to feel so bad.

The game slowly ramps up in difficulty, sending more ships that are smaller, move faster, and attempt to ram you. Eventually the enemy ships finally figure out how to fire back at you, making the game even more difficult.

The Machine

Solar Quest machines came in a white upright cabinet with a black front section. The sideart covered the top half of the machine, and showed a scene of a white spaceship and a sun on a blue background, along with the title. The marquee was black and had the Solar Quest logo superimposed over a multicolored explosion. The control panel and monitor bezel were blue and decorated with small spacecraft zooming to and fro.

The control panel has no joystick. Play is instead controlled with six buttons, thrust, fire, hyperspace, nuke, rotate left, and rotate right. It seems that most vector games had buttons instead of joysticks, they were probably just following what Asteroids did.

This game uses a black and white vector open frame monitor, but it has several color overlays installed to make the sun yellow, and the top of the screen red. The monitor is actually installed deep inside the machine, and the player views a reflection of it, instead of the actual screen.

Where to play

This title is supported by 3 emulators; MAME, CINEMU, and Retrocade. Gameplay is perfect, but you lose the nice effects of having an X-Y monitor displayed on a mirror. If you own a Vectrex you can play this title in true vector style, but you will have to locate the cart for it.

I usually warn people away from games that use X-Y monitors, because of their high cost, and high failure rate. This game is fun, but it really doesn't have anything truly stunning to justify the high cost of ownership associated with titles that use X-Y monitors. My suggestion is to avoid it, unless you find a working one for under $200. Do not purchase one of these with a dead monitor. A replacement monitor will quickly turn that $100 "needs work" game into a $500 game.