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Vanguard - The Atari Times


Like a fat man running up a hill
by Ethan C. Nobles

January 3, 2006
Back in the early 1980s, Vanguard was but one of a slew of space shooters which could be found down at the local arcade. Vanguard, which was inflicted on arcades by SNK Corp. in 1981, was not one of the most popular games of the video era. Regardless, it met with it's share of success and offered two innovative twists to a market crowded with space shooters - the player could shoot in four different directions and could choose to "continue" where it ended provided he was willing to shell out another quarter and put up with his score being reset.

While Vanguard was a respectable game in the arcades, 1983's port of the title to the Atari 2600 is lacking. This isn't a bad game at all, but there are some control issues which make this thing a bit aggravating to play. Specifically, the player's ship is so slow it maneuvers like a fat man trying to run up a hill. That's a pretty rotten quality in a shooter, indeed.

Because the player's ship is so blasted slow, that means you have to really set up in advance to avoid shots from enemy ships. Worse yet, there are "power pods" which appear from time to time, but the player has to steer toward them about as soon as they pop on the screen if he wants to have any chance of grabbing them. Ah, but there's more! There are a number of obstacles to be avoided, and it's no fun to have to set up for those, either. This is supposed to be a "twitch" game, right? Quick movements in Vanguard are next to impossible.

In the arcades, the player moved his ship with one joystick and directed his shots with another. Of course, the "two joystick" setup can't exactly be done on a 2600, so the ship fires continuously to the front and will also fire in the direction the player is moving his ship. This setup can be bothersome, indeed, as it can be difficult to both fire and attempt to avoid enemies at the same time.

In the arcade version of Vanguard, the player had to steer his ship through brightly-colored caves while avoiding enemies and snagging as many power pods as possible to keep his ship's energy level up to an acceptable level. Also, the ship would become invincible once a power pod was touched and a charming, heroic ditty would play. The goal of the game was to get to the final cave and fight the hated Gond.

All the elements are worked into the 2600 version well enough, but there are a few problems. Of course, the graphics are blocky, but you'd think the folks at the Atari could have done a little bit better than this. The caves are very colorful and the enemies are well-defined. However, the player's ship and those of the enemy are stark white and look rather like crude flying crafts cut out of paper. Also, the enemy ships move in boring, predictable patterns.

Also, the conflict with the Gond is very anticlimactic - just simply show up in the portion of the cave known as the Forbidden City, fire a shot right in the critter's nasty little face, and the level ends. I suppose the conflict with the Gond is the lamest "boss battle" I've ever experienced in a video game.

The sound is sparse, but not bad. Most of the time, the player here's explosions as enemy ships are destroyed. Oddly, no ship is made at all as the player fires his shots. When a power pod is touched, however, the aforementioned "heroic theme" sounds great - very similar to what was in the arcade.

All in all, this common cartridge is an enjoyable effort, even if it's not a stellar one. You could do a lot worse while out shopping for video games.


(c) Atari

Four way action!
Careful of the spikes!
Ewww... Fish embryos.
But the Gond looks so happy...
System: 2600
Publisher: Atari
Genre: Shooter
Graphics Score: 75%
Sound & Music Score: 80%
Gameplay Score: 75%
Control Score: 60%

Final Score: 75%

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