ZX Spectrum Vega Review - Is this as good as a real ZX Spectrum?

The ZX Spectrum Vega

It's here! We've waited a long time, but finally the missing piece of the Spectrum puzzle has arrived! Well, it arrived months ago but as I only received one at Christmas, I'm a bit behind with the times. Original backers of the Vega would have received their console a quite a few months back, and going by various reviews and visits to Spectrum groups, it's had a mixed response. Before it was released there were grumblings for various reasons. From a lack of keyboard to no joystick port, it seemed people were hoping for it to be damned, which I find rather odd.

Surely, hardcore Speccy fans should have been praising the lord (other religions are available) that something new and exciting was heading our way, brandishing the Sinclair logo but more importantly, the Spectrum name? I, for one, was excited at the prospect of seeing something new, something Spectrum that was accessible to the masses. Something new and fresh. Something that would show younger gamers what they missed out on in the 80's and early 90's.

Despite pointing out the negativity in previous paragraphs, this is not something I want to dwell on. Let's get positive, shall we? It's Sinclair, it's Spectrum and let's celebrate this fact by enjoying that this could well be an important piece of the Spectrums' history (and future, hopefully). I have owned the Vega for a couple of months now so it's had a good workout, and I have had time to fully test different aspects of the machine and to see what it's capable of, including positives and negatives.

This is my own personal hands-on review of the Vega so I hope you find it of use, or just entertaining would do for me in all honesty. Ha! On with the review!

Hmmm...that box looks kinda familiar....
What's the first thing you see? Well, a tribute to the orignal packaging we saw on the original 16K/48K Spectrums, which is an excellent homage to the original machine. Open it up and you are greeted by the user manual, push this to one side (I did come back to this later, though. I was a bit excited) and there she blows. Your shiny new Vega awaits you. Equipped with it's red D-Pad, four action buttons similar to the rubber keys on the ZX Spectrum (though with updated commands), and four smaller buttons underneath. I'll go through what these buttons do a little later.

....ah, I see!
I found the Vega a little smaller than I was expecting. That said, I wasn't expecting it to be massive but I guess you just get used to things being a lot bigger these days what with the current trend for larger phones and etc. To look at it, you may think it will be uncomfortable in the hand given it's rectangular shape but weirdly, it's a nice fit. I've played for a couple of hours at a time and found it become one with my hands. The only slight quibble with regards to comfortability, I guess would be the d-pad. It can lead to a bit of soreness on the thumb after a prolonged period of use, though not so much it becomes unusable just more likely you just need to toughen up that thumb like a learner guitarist does.

Flowers and Sky+ Box not included.
But it seems I'm getting ahead of myself! Talking about prolonged use and I haven't mentioned the setup and the whole getting started shabang! The Vega is powered via USB, whether this be via your TV, if your TV has this option, or via a USB adapter plugged into wall socket (a phone charger will suffice, which is how I power mine), and the other cables you see are the three RGB cables which are used to the display the Vega on your TV. These can be connected straight into the relevant sockets of your TV or if you prefer a SCART connection, this is also possible via the use of a SCART adapter.

There is a lot of cable sticking out of the Vega which at first glance does look a little excessive against the delicate look if the unit, and does seem to swamp it ever so slightly. The positive side of it though means that you have a lot of freedom to slouch back into your sofa as far as you want whilst you play. Win!

What happens in Vega - stays in Vega. Unless it's on an SD card.
Right, enough talk of wires, cables and appearances - onto the games and playability!

You'll see on the front of the box you are informed that the Vega contains '1000' classic games. 'Classic' may be pushing it slightly, well in terms of 1000 of them anyway, so you may look at the majority and think that it was possibly misleading. But hey, they can't exactly say 'Yeah, there's some good ones, but mostly filler.' That wouldn't exactly be great marketing. Hmmm...

That said, the guys at Retro Computers did manage to attain the rights to the Ultimate Play The Game catalogue for inclusion on the Vega library so you will have the likes of Jetpac, Underwurlde, Sabre Wulf and Atic Atac at your fingertips - bonus! Other genuine classics include Skool Daze, Fred, The Magic Knight series of games, Horace Goes Skiing.... I could go on. But I won't. That would take far too long!

Still a little dissatisfied? No need to worry as the Vega comes with an SD card slot on which you load your own choice of games! Some will have to be keymapped for full use on the Vega due to lack of keyboard though I won't go into that here as I would rather concentrate on the gaming aspect, though help can be found on the Vega forums. The Vega controller supports the Kempston control so if this is selected in the games' menu, job's a good one and you can get started straight away! When downloading games, of course use only legal downloads from trusted websites of which can be found on the official Retro Computers website. There, that's me being serious for a bit. Now back to my usual jovial, semi-serious ramblings!

Oh, I forgot to mention the keys! The infamous rubber keys are brought back to life on the Vega. I have to say, they're not exactly the same as what you will find on an original Speccy though they're as near as good as, dammit! They feel slightly tougher than the original though I guess they need to be more hard wearing if you're going to be hammering that fire button!

Choose your game! #purplefilter

Right, gameplay! After selecting your game from the lists (listed alphabetically in the menu), the Vega will let you know how the keys have been mapped for use within the game. Additional 'fire', 'pick up', 'drop' buttons etc. are allocated to the four larger buttons on the Vega and sometimes to the smaller buttons to the bottom right. Make a mental note (or in my case, just press every button while playing until you find the right one) and you're on your way.

Now, I'm not one easily upset but imagine my face and heart dropping when I loaded up RoboCop (legally downloaded, of course!) from my SD card only to find it was the 48K version! No way! No music? No speech? I might as well throw it in the bin straught away! Of course, I didn't do this (the wife would kill me). But instead, I took to asking about this in the ZX Vega Facebook page and glory be! You can indeed have the 128K version of RoboCop! If for any reason your TAP version of a game doesn't load in 128K mode, a quick download of the Z80 version should solve the problem. So, there's a little tip for any worriers out there who may indeed already have a Vega and are at their wits' end as to why oh why won't this work!! Or words to that effect.

Give me guns, give me fire, give me the 128K that I desire!

You will, of course, notice the lack of keyboard on the Vega (if you haven't - where have you been looking?!) but there is an on-screen keyboard for you to use in it's absence. Simply press the 'M' button on the Vega and you are presented with a menu, which neatly pushes up the game screen to accomodate it. You then have the option to select the keyboard option, but before I go there, there are a few more options also. From this menu, you can pause, save or exit the game. You can also restore a saved game from here. The save game option is indeed a godsend! Not having to find a blank tape to save your progress on is indeed a relief, if indeed the original game had this option. Though, the only quibble here is that there is only one save space. Still, I guess you don't need more than one but for hardcore gamers it would be nice to have.

Menu options - #nofilter #iliethereisafilter
You can also select the Keyboard option from this menu, so I'll just go through how the keyboard works,

The keyboard - #anotherfilter #illstopwiththefiltersnow #andthehashtags

When the keyboard is selected, you are presented with the D-Pad and the four main buttons on-screen, of which you will find the latter has a letter allocated to each. For example, the four buttons will initially show 'A', 'B', 'C' 'D' until you scroll the D-Pad across which will then show the next four letters of the alphabet, and so on. The D-Pad graphic will show you what each direction will give you. Shifting left or right will escalate up or down the alphabet, shifting down will give you numbers, up will give you the various symbols of the original Speccy keyboard. Phew! It will take a bit of getting used to, sure, but again it's just a case of using it more and more so it becomes second nature. If you don't have the patience, I'd just stick to staying away from adventure games! (Which are listed separate to the arcade games in the Vega menu, incidentally!)

Is the Vega worth buying? The simple answer is 'Yes'. As with all things, there are negatives but also a lot of positives. Yes, maybe a power button would have been nice, having the option to save favourites in the game list would be favourable, though the will be firmware updates so this may be addressed in the future. Hardcore Speccy fans may have been shouting to have room for expansion but, it's plain to see that this is not what it's about. If you look at this at what it's meant to be, a handheld Speccy to play games on, you can't got far wrong. I agree that you can't beat the original Speccy, the same goes for any original computer but as a pick-up-and-play, it fits perfectly.

Any comments? Follow me on Twitter! @florinthedwarf

If you are interested in joining the ZX Vega Facebook group where you can share your thoughts, ask questions or just see what it's all about, you can find it here;


The Vega is available to buy from these retailers (amongst others);




Or indeed, you can try your luck on eBay :)

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