Classic Retro Video Game Reviews

Atari Vanguard -Atari 2600
Retro Gaming Review

Atari 2600 VCS console Classic Retro Gaming Video Game ReviewAtari Vanguard for Atari 2600 Classic Retro Gaming Video Game Review
Title: Vanguard
Manufacturer: Atari
Platform: Atari 2600
Release Date: 1982
Part #: CX2669
Rating: 3 out of 5
ESRB Rating: N/A

Rating: Atari Vanguard Classic Retro Video Game Review Rating
Atari Vanguard Screenshot:
Atari Vanguard for Atari 2600 screenshot Classic Retro Gaming Video Game Review

Licensed from Centuri, Atari brought this arcade favorite of mine to the 2600 as part of the silver series. Those shiny boxes always caught my eye on the shelves especially since the bulk of them were arcade conversions - my fave arcade games were now sprawled across my living room floor and Vanguard was high on the list.

I was drawn to Vanguard in local arcades for several reasons: I loved space games, it's multi-directional scrolling, 4-direction moving & firing and I was all about zooming through galactic tunnels. The Atari 2600 version begins in auto-play mode which shows you the terrain you'll be navigating through. You're briefly shown a map of the tunnel prior to starting.

Vanguard Story Arc

Having joined the Vanguard expedition your goal is to navigate the seven tunnel zones as you head for the City of Mystery to defeat the Gond. Along the way you'll encounter Mist ships, Helm balloons, Harley (not the motocycles), Romedas and Kemlus snakes. Energy Pods give your ship 10 seconds of invincibility (complete with theme music) - you can't fire, but you can smash anything in your path. You're given 5 lives to begin with. Bonus lives come at 10,000 and 50,000 points.

To hone your skills, Tunnel 1 features a Continuous Play option. After losing your last life press the fire button on the "continue screen" continue playing rather than having to start over. Your score goes back to zero and you get 5 more lives to help you get to the City of Mystery. Subsequent tunnels don't have this option.

Vanguard Zones

I like the variety of the different zones. They scroll either horizontally or vertically, offering different challenges with each one - most fairly simple. However, the Striped Zone gives you 2 paths to choose from. Tentacles on the left side will reach out to grab you whereas the right side is filled with enemies and force fields that need to be deactivated.

The 7 Vanguard Zones:

  1. Mountain Zone
  2. Rainbow Zone
  3. Stick Zone
  4. Rainbow Zone 2
  5. Striped Zone
  6. Rainbow Zone 3
  7. Bleak Zone

Difficulty Switch Settings for Vanguard

With the 2600's joystick and single fire button, getting the ship to move and fire in 4 directions takes some adjusting of the Difficulty Switches. The arcade controls for Vanguard provided a joystick to move the ship and 4 buttons to determine the direction of fire.

For the 2600 release you have 4 options depending on how you set both the A and B Difficulty Switches.

  1. Left A, Right A: Press the fire button and use the joystick to determine the direction of fire. Release the fire button to guide the ship.
  2. Left A, Right B: Same as #2 above except you dont have to move the joystick to fire forward.
  3. Left B, Right A: Move the joystick to determine direction of fire. Release the fire button to stop firing.
  4. Left B, Right B: Same as #3 above, except the forward gun fires automatically.
Holy shit! Check this out...
The Vanguard arcade game was published by SNK in Japan in 1981 and licensed to Centuri for manufacture in the US in October 1981. It's one of the first shooters that allowed scrolling in multiple directions.
The theme music composed by Jerry Goldsmith for the 1979 sci-fi film Star Trek: The Motion Picture, later utilized for Star Trek: The Next Generation, is borrowed as Vanguard's introductory theme.

Game Variations for Vanguard

Your game variations are pretty simple... Are you playing alone or with a friend? Yep, the options are 1 or 2 player versions of the game.

Once you defeat the Gond and clear the City of Mystery, it's on to Tunnel Two where you'll see the same damn things (in a different order, thankfully), but the pace is faster. At a certain point, a survival instinct should click in your mind and you will realize that trying to shoot everything is riskier than just staying alive. Don't try to shoot all the enemies - some patterns will draw you into crashes when firing and moving will conflict a bit.

A Mist can only fire once, so once he does that's the time to move on him. Constant firing can be a good strategy, but you'll move faster when not firing. In the City of Mystery the longer you wait to kill the Gond, the more points you get, but the two barriers will be closing in on you.

I loved Vanguard in the arcades and enjoyed being able to play it at home where I could save my quarters and the food was better. However, the Atari 2600 version doesn't offer a lot of variety once you've mastered a tunnel or two. It's repetition kind of detracts from its re-play value.

Atari Vanguard Arcade ROM

As a side note, I frequently lament not being able to find Centuri's Vanguard on any of the modern compilation discs for PS3, Wii, etc. The arcade ROM is readily available, but I'd like to have it on my TV. Having done numerous searches for it online I conclude that is doesn't exist for modern consoles. I've also discovered a financial group of the same name is always the first search result in Google as long as the term "vanguard" appears.

I'm not sure what the lesson learned here is, but I still can't find Centuri Vanguard on any modern platform except MAME on my Mac. Dammit!

Atari 2600 VCS console Classic Retro Gaming Video Game Review
Final Judgement:

Atari Vanguard

features both horizontal and vertical scrolling from level to level with 4-way firing and offers a fair amount of challenge. I was passionate about the arcade version, but the 2600 variant is worth a play now and then.

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