Atari 5200 Review: VANGUARD
It starts out promising. You pilot a spaceship that can fire in four
different directions, you actually sense that you are progressing in
your mission, which ultimately leads to a showdown with a final
"boss". In addition, each time you complete the mission (it's not
easy unless you are in the "auto-fire" mode), the sequence of the
different zones changes. Finally, there's the inspiring intro theme
(repeated when you capture the invincibility tank) that actually
makes you feel invulnerable. Unfortunately, this game just plain
suffers for some very basic reasons: at least half of the zones are
simply too boring to play more than once, and the control is
garbage. Allow me to expound.
You can fire in four directions, which is cool. With almost twenty
buttons on the 5200 joysticks, you'd imagine that four different
buttons allow fire in four different directions. This is sadly not
the case. You must move in the direction you wish to fire. This
alone is probably a fatal blow in the minds of most gamers (me
included), but unfortunately there is an even more repugnant flaw:
most of the game is simply too boring to be any fun.
Each mission in Vanguard is divided into 7 or 8 "zones" which include
some combination of the following:
Mountain Zone: Navigate the mountain corridor while avoiding two
types of enemy ships. Minimally entertaining except when you grab an
energy pod and become invincible (you get to hear the cool music).
Except on the novice level, you have to watch your fuel gage too.
Rainbow Zone: The most boring part of any game that I've ever
played. That these zones appear with greater frequency than the
others is enough of a reason to never get involved with this game in
the first place. Look at the picture to see how ridiculous this
zone is. You simply fire at orbs which idiotically move up and down
only. In reality, all you have to do is shoot up or down to zap the
ships that can enter your column. All the others will never ever hit
you as long as you don't move side to side. You must also suffer
through some silly music during the entire duration of this zone. I
can't emphasize how much this part of the game sucks.
Styx Zone: Basically a re-hash of the Mountain Zone, except that it
looks different, there are no energy pods, and the corridor is
narrower in some places. Considering the Mountain Zone wasn't all
that exciting, you can guess how much fun a stripped down version of
it is. Not much.
Stripe Zone: A fun zone! You can fly in one of two corridors (top
or bottom) and evade or destroy many different types of enemies.
However, the lousy control scheme has an extremely deleterious
effect. There are things to shoot above and below you, and having to
move in that direction makes it extremely and unnecessarily difficult
to avoid hitting the walls. A pity.
Bleak Zone: Better than the first two zones, but not as much fun as
the Stripe Zone. Two types of enemies, but this time you are flying
toward the top of the screen, and not toward the right side, as in
the Mountain, Styx, and Stripe Zones. Two types of enemies in this
zone, snakes (which you can "ride" for bonus points) and spaceships.
The City of Mystery: A genuinely fun little boss sequence. Avoid
missiles from the side while the navigable area steadily diminishes
and wait for an opening to hit Gond, the giant mosquito-looking boss.
After this it's on to more of the same crap from before.
I can appreciate the effort of the original. Many different types of
screens, a final boss, multi-directional firing, etc., but it seems
clear that Atari made only a half-assed effort to bring this game to
the 5200. It's truly offensive that Atari decided not emulate the
four fire buttons on the original. There is absolutely no credible
excuse for this omission. This game is worth playing until you beat
Gond. After a half hour, it'll probably be a long while before
you'll want to give it another try. Some may feel I'm being too
hard on this game. I feel sorry do for it, but I'm not afraid to
call a spade a spade.
Atari 5200 SuperSystem