Atari 5200

Review by Dave Giarrusso



Graphics: 6

Sound: 8

Gameplay: 8

Overall: 8

5200 VanguardEver had a "SkyBar"? If you have, then, great! Vanguard is like the videogame version of a SkyBar. If not, well, a SkyBar is a milk chocolate candy bar that has four different sections, each of which contains a different filling: fudge, vanilla, caramel, or peanut butter. There are different sections to it that all have a distinct flavor, but it's still one candy bar. Vanguard is the same way, just not quite as tasty or full of empty calories. I first saw Vanguard neither in the arcade, nor on a home system, but in Atari's commercial for the 2600 game. You know the one. There was an announcer asking a group of guys about the game, specifically, which guy specializes in which "zone." Each of these bozos explained which zone they played through, and finally, the announcer asked the question that I still remember to this day. "But fellas, who destroys the Gond?" To which they responded in unison, "Luther destroys the Gond." Cut to really-big-football-player-type-dopey-guy blasting the Gond and laughing in a really-big-football-player-type-dopey-guy way.

Shortly after seeing that commercial, I picked up the 2600 cart. I had never seen the actual arcade machine until several years later, when I happened upon it at one of those highway rest stop "information" buildings that are still decorated in mid seventies browns, oranges, and occasionally, those daring tans. "Wow, this game looks much better than the VCS version!"

So, let's discuss the arcade Vanguard here, 'kay? Man, this game is great! Drop in your quarter. Press start. What's that? Voice? What's it saying? "Bon voyage." In order to really appreciate the voice in this game, imagine the most mechanical, flat, forced computer voice you ever heard, and make it just slightly above the barely comprehendible level. You're off, and you're piloting a spaceship that has the unique ability to fire in four directions. Each direction is indicated by a corresponding fire button, and, yes, you can press all four at once to fire in all four directions simultaneously. You also have the ability to energize your craft (computer says, "let's attack!") by flying over the energy pods that sometimes drift by. While you are invincible, a little victory tune plays and the enemies change color, a la Pac-Man eating a power pill, and when your power is about to wear off, "be careful!"

Vanguard is comprised of several different "zones," and each zone's name is announced upon entering that particular zone. The first unnamed zone involves a scrolling screen of the left to right variety filled with two kinds of enemies, Mists and Harleys. These Harleys are not of the motorcycle or hot Batman villain-babe variety, but look more like the ship in Defender/Stargate.

"Rainbow zone." (Use that computer voice you imagined each time we start a new zone. Fun, huh?) Here, the screen scrolls by diagonally while white circles, Helms and Ammos, attempt to bombard your ship. Why this zone is called the Rainbow zone is beyond me, since it is probably the single most colorless zone in the game. Maybe "Diagonal," "Colorless," or "White Circle" zone would have been better. How about "Diagonal Colorless White Circle Zone" ?

"Styx Zone." While this left to right zone is sadly devoid of Dennis DeYoung and Tommy Shaw, and instead contains more Mists and Harleys, feel free to hum a few bars of "Too Much Time on My Hands" while playing through it. Another Rainbow zone follows the Styx zone.

"Stripe Zone." Yet another left to right scroller which is the best of the three in the game, and is inhabited by Bases I, II, III, Garime and Barime. Still another trip through the Rainbow zone follows the Stripe zone.

"Bleak Zone." This top down scrolling zone is easily my favorite in the game. Here, we're first attacked by laughing snakes, "Kemlus," that can be either zapped or docked with. Docking (computer scolds Kemlus, "Keep quiet!") yields more points than zapping, but after docking three times, your ship will be destroyed by these cackling space reptiles. After the Kemlus bombardment, Romeda attack your craft.

"Last Zone," is merely a shrinking room where the Gond lies in wait. The bottom wall moves ever closer to the top as you jockey for prime attack position, but a little practice will find you blasting Gond back to wherever it is he came from, and you'll be off on your way through the second maze.

Vanguard is a superb shooter with great sound, a variety of enemy attacks and a very interesting color scheme. The 5200 version is an excellent port of the arcade sleeper, and the 2600 version, while still very good, loses the urgency and the detailed backdrops of the original. It feels a bit too sluggish, like piloting the River Raid jet through a molasses filled sky. Molasses reminds me of sugar, which reminds me of candy, which reminds me that I could really go for a SkyBar right about now, and, hey! Speaking of SkyBars, maybe I'll go plug another quarter into Vanguard while I'm at it!


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Last updated: Saturday, February 14, 2004 06:01 AM