Review: Vanguard (Atari 5200)

In this review, we fire away at the Atari 5200 game Vanguard. We find out if this game is worth a replay.

This game was released in 1983. It is a port from an arcade game.

You play a space ship and you travel through various tunnels. The ultimate goal is to destroy the boss at the end of the tunnel. After that, you advance to the next tunnel.

There are various zones you come across. There’s the standard left to right scrolling zones like the stripe zone and the styx zone. There’s diagonal zones like the rainbow zone. Finally, there are bottom to top scrolling levels like the bleak zone.

While you have the standard firing button to shoot forward, you have a secondary firing method. If you move up or down (or left or right in the case of the bottom to top zones), you’ll be able to fire in that direction as well.

On occasion, you’ll come across a flashing “E” item. Collect this item and you’ll be granted temporary invulnerability. There is a catch to this moment of invulnerability: the lack of an ability to fire. This makes coming out of this a little risky, but doable.

Standing in your way are various enemies. With the exception to one enemy in the stripe zone, every enemy (including the final boss) are on a one hit kill system. Some enemies fire at you. A few enemies will only fire at you if you are on the second tunnel. So, strategies need to be formulated to evade danger. After all, you too are on a one hit kill basis as well.

In total, you have 5 free lives. If you earn 10,000 points, you’ll gain an extra free life. Unfortunately, this seems to be the only free life you can earn in in the entire game because I didn’t get a free life when I hit 30,000.

One good thing about this game is the fact that if you die, you’ll respawn at roughly the same area you died in. This may not be obvious at first because you fly into the tunnel from black every time, but you do restart roughly where you last died. In addition to this, if you lose all of your lives, you’ll start over from the start of the zone you died in. Your score resets to zero, but you get your full compliment of free lives again.

One pitfall is the controls. You have no way to move diagonally. You can only move up, down, left, or right. This does restrict your flying agility somewhat and is something you need to keep in mind.

Another pitfall of this game is the fact that there are only two tunnels. Once you beat the second tunnel, you automatically go to the first tunnel again and the game loops at that point.

Still, the number of different zones adds a lot of variety to the game. In tunnel 1, there are 8 zones. Tunnel 2 removes two zones, but the first zone has a chance in color pallet. For a game made when it was, this is a lot of variety.

One puzzling aspect of this game revolves around the final boss. If you die during the final boss stage, you’ll be taken to the next tunnel. If you defeat the final boss, you’ll, er, get taken to the next tunnel. You don’t get any points for defeating the final boss or anything extra. All you get is the ability to retain a free life. Kind of bizarre of you ask me.

Generally speaking, this is a pretty good game. It might be rather difficult at first, but you eventually start to recognize the patterns and have the ability to go through the game with few problems. The controls don’t allow diagonal movement, there are only two tunnels, and defeating the final boss doesn’t get you anything in particular. Still, the variety found in the various zones are impressive and the respawn system is great. Very solid game in spite of a few flaws.

Graphically speaking, the variety of the zones is very good eye candy. I’m not entirely sure why the rainbow zone is called that since most of what you see is grey, but otherwise, it’s still a nice visual journey. The only thing I would have liked to see is more detailing on your ship. Otherwise, I have little to complain about here.

The audio is also impressive. There is some decent music in some zones and the engine sounds and sound effects give you plenty to hear in other zones. The invulnerability music is also nicely done.

Overall, this game is quite impressive for the time. There are flaws revolving around lack of diagonal movement, the way the final boss is handled, and the fact that this game features only two tunnels. Still, the variety of the zones is well done and the respawn system is great. the graphics also shine through for this game with everything you see in the various zones. The audio also is nicely done. A great game overall.

Update: This game now shares the title with Dig Dug for the 1983 game of the year.

Furthest point in game: Traveled through every zone and even defeated the boss a couple of times.
High score: 38,350

General gameplay: 21/25
Replay value: 9/10
Graphics: 9/10
Audio: 5/5

Overall rating: 88%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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