Atari 5200 Review: VANGUARD

by Atari

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Title Vanguard
Publisher Atari
System Atari 5200 SuperSystem
Graphics 5
Sound 5
Gameplay 4
Overall 4
Reviewer Karlis Povisils

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