Atari 2600

Review by Rob "Dire 51"



Graphics: 8

Sound: 8

Gameplay: 9

Overall: 9

Legend has it that a fabled City Of Mystery exists, ruled by a giant called Gond. Now the Vanguard expedition is flying through the tunnels of Aterria in an attempt to find out of the legend is really true. However, a slew of dangers await them... Kemlus snakes, tentacled Garimes, Harley rockets and the mysterious rain of Romedas, among other things. You're in charge of the Vanguard expedition - can you survive the six zones and reach the City of Mystery... and the confrontation with Gond?

Vanguard is adapted from the SNK arcade game of the same name. While some of the graphics and music of the arcade game have been sacrificed due to the VCS' limitations, thankfully the basic gameplay hasn't. However, the four-button firing mechanism of the arcade version had to be converted for use with the one-button Atari joystick. Considering what they had to work with, the guys at Atari did a pretty good job. Now whichever direction you press the stick in, the ship will fire. However, this slows your ship down. Hold the button down to stop all cannons from firing so you can move a little quicker. According to the manual, the positions you have the difficulty switches set in determine your firing scheme, so consult the manual to see what positions do what.

When you start the game, you see a map of the tunnel leading to the City of Mystery. As you progress through the game, you'll see the map before each new zone, showing how much further you have left to go. You start the game with five ships, and earn a new one when you score 10,000 and 50,000 points. Below the playfield on-screen is an orange bar, which represents your ship's energy. As you play, you'll see your energy bar slowly being drained - in order to refill it, you must blast ships. Blasting the ships add bit by bit of energy back to the bar. Should you lose all of your ships, you're presented with the option to continue - which may possibly have been the first time continues were implemented in a game. Just press the button when the continue option comes up to keep going.

You start in the Mountain Zone. Here you'll be attacked by both Mist ships (which have the annoying tendency to hover) and Harley rockets (which will shoot straight at you). Also, you'll find icons with a large letter "E" on them. These are energy tanks. Pick them up and you'll be invincible until the music stops playing. Your energy bar will also be completely refilled. Unfortunately, you only find energy tanks in the Mountain Zone and the Striped Zone. Once you've passed the Mountain Zone, you find yourself in the Rainbow Zone, where you must blast floating Helms until you enter the Stick Zone. Here Mists and Harleys attack you again.

Next, it's onto the second Rainbow Zone. This time you must blast Ammos to move on (they look identical to the Helms, so I'm not sure what the difference is). Then you enter the Striped Zone. You can choose to travel up either the right or left tunnels. In the right tunnels, you'll find the occasional energy tank, gun emplacements and force fields - and beware the Floating Paynes, barriers that move left and right in an attempt to crush your ship. In the left tunnels, you'll find the tentacled Garimes. Once you've passed through the Striped Zone, you find yourself in - yep, you guesed it - another Rainbow Zone. This time, you're blasting Helms again, which still look identical to the Ammos.

Now you find yourself in the Bleak Zone, the last stage before reaching the City of Mystery. Kemlus snakes attack from the bottom of the screen. In an interesting twist, if you can touch a Kemlus, you'll "dock" with it, getting a free ride for a few seconds. You'll also rack up some bonus points. You can do this only three times - after that, they get wise to you. Once the Kemlus snakes are gone, the rain of Romedas start from the top of the screen. Make it past those, and you've arrived in the City of Mystery. Gond is at the top of the screen, with a barrier in front of him, and at the bottom a forcefield is inching it's way toward you. Gond fires at you from the walls. The longer you can dodge his fire, the more points you'll score when you finally do kill Gond (it only takes one hit to do him in), but don't wait to long, or the forcefield will crush you against the barrier and kill you. Then the game starts over again on the next highest difficulty level, with a different map, and the stages are in a different order.

To my knowledge, there was only one other home version of Vanguard ever created, and that was for the Atari 5200 - and if you're looking for a home version of Vanguard that's close to the arcade, then go with the 5200 version. However, if you want a competent SHMUP for the VCS, and one that has a lot in common with the arcade Vanguard, then grab the VCS version. I enjoyed the VCS Vanguard immensely - in fact, I had no idea an arcade (or 5200) version even existed until just a few years ago. Even after playing the arcade and 5200 versions, I still find myself coming back to the VCS game. While not identical to the arcade, it's still quite fun to play - and that's what's really important in the end.


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Last updated: Sunday, October 31, 2004 12:18 PM