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Posted on Feb 15th 2011 at 05:00:00 AM by (singlebanana)
Posted under Atari, Vanguard, Retro Gaming, 2600, Classic Gaming

VANGUARD



SPECS:

Game:  Vanguard
Year:  1982
Publisher:  Atari, Inc.
Developer:  SNK Corporation
Designer(s)/Programmer: David W. Payne
Rarity (according to AtariAge): 2 = common+
Controls: Joystick
Number of Players: 1 - 2 (turn based)
Average Cost:  $.50 - $2 loose, under $10 CIB
Also Available On:  Atari 5200, originally an arcade coin-op (Vanguard II later released, arcade only).

Tagline/Description:  "Join the Vanguard expedition on a thrilling space odyssey.  Through perilous tunnels you will fight your way to the fabulous City of Mystery and the great Gond."

Vanguard is a vertical and side-scrolling cave shooter for the Atari 2600. Your goal is to pilot your spaceship to the City of Mystery, which is located at the end of a heavily guarded tunnel, to battle the creature Gond. Your spaceship is equipped with lasers that can fire in four different directions, however your speed is decreased when firing. You will also need to keep an eye on your fuel gauge, a solid bar, located at the bottom of your screen.  Your fuel depletes at a rapid rate, and your ship will crash if it runs out; fuel is replenished by destroying enemies.  The tunnel is broken up into several different zones, called the mountain zone, rainbow zone, stick zone, stripe zone, bleak zone, and City of Mystery. Each zone features a variety of enemy spaceships to dispatch and earn points.  In the mountain and stripe zones, you will come across energy pods marked with an 'E'.  When you pilot through these pods, your ship temporarily becomes invincible to the deadly cave walls and enemies which are trying to stop you.  When you finally make it through all the various zones of the tunnel and defeat Gond, the game will repeat at a more difficult skill level.

Early 80's Atari commercial for Vanguard.  Every good video gaming home needs a Luther.


What makes Vanguard such a great game for the 2600 is it's concept.  As many of you already know, the majority of games produced for the Atari system (besides sports titles) have no real ending and were primarily points based.  Vanguard not only allowed the player to accumulate points, but also had one of the earliest defined endings in a video game, which also incorporated a boss.  Though Gond, the overlord of the City of Mystery, is a one-shot pushover, the ultimate goal and challenge of Vanguard is to successfully navigate the tunnel and make it to the boss.  Modern day gamers might be disappointed at such a lackluster boss battle.  However, and I speak as someone who grew up on the 2600, because I grew up with no preconceived expectations of what a "boss battle" was, this ending was quite epic.   

The fierce and all-powerful GOND!!!! (insert sarcasm here)


Vanguard is not the easiest game to finish and since the game repeats at a much quicker and more difficult skill level, one could argue that there is no strictly defined ending.  Before battling Gond, you must navigate through seven (7) zones (the rainbow zone is repeated a few times).  There are always a plethora of enemies on the screen: ones that shoot back at you, as well as those that attempt to ram your spaceship.  The developers of Vanguard made sure that players are never comfortable for long within the tunnel; in some zones, you travel from left to right, while at other times the game becomes a vertical shooter in which you must navigate from down to up, or up to down.  Since the game is a 4-way, multi-directional shooter, players must make full use of the joystick and fire button, since enemies approach from all directions.  Areas within the cavern can get very tight on occasion and my only complaint with the controls is that your ship may move slightly when trying to direct your fire with the joystick.  Since Atari controls are typically very stiff anyway, attempting to fire in a specific direction can cause you to lose control of your ship and plow into an enemy.       

Though the handling can be a little frustrating at times, Vanguard is an excellent port for the Atari 2600.  The graphics are superb under such limitations and the exceedingly vibrant use of color creates an other worldly atmosphere.  Though Vanguard lacks a soundtrack, it's omission is masked by the constant zinging of lasers and exploding enemy starcrafts.  The lone piece of music in the game occurs upon collecting an energy pod.  Fans of 1980's "Flash Gordon" and/or Queen may recognize a familiar tune entitled  "Vultan's Theme: Attack of the Hawkman" (http://www.the-top-tens.c...s-theme-attack-197148.asp).  Some dispute their similarities, but it's quite hard to brush it off as coincidence. 

Vanguard is one of a handful of tight scrolling shooters for the 2600, similar to Fantastic Voyage and Super Cobra (a Scrabble clone).  If you are a fan of early shmups, this title can easily be picked up at a great price either individually or in a large lot of 2600 commons.



**video courtesy of googoo11672

RATINGS (on a scale of 1-4: 4 being the highest):

Controls: 3
Graphics: 4
Sound Effects/Music: 3
Concept: 4
Replay Value: 3
Cart/Box Art:  2
Overall Score: 3.17



                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               
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