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Moldy Oldies: Vanguard

On 08/09/2019 at 05:06 AM by SanAndreas

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My best friend in childhood got an Atari 2600 Jr. in the twilight years of the system. The 2600 Jr was one of those newer Ataris that was black plastic instead of wood grain. So until he got a NES, we played a lot of well-renowned classics that benefitted from advances in coding but are sadly sometimes hard to find today, like Solaris. One of my favorites, however, was Vanguard. As a kid, I thought Atari made this game, since Atari did the home licensing. I would have never connected it with the same company that did games like Athena, Ikari Warriors, and King of Fighters.

Vanguard was one of SNK's earliest games. It was really pretty innovative for its time. You flew a spaceship through a long tunnel that would scroll left to right, up and down, or even diagonally, fighting enemies. Your ship had four-way fire, which was still a bir of a novelty save for games like Berzerk or Robotron 2084. There are 6 different types of zones. The Mountain Zone is the starting point for both tunnels, inhabited by Mists that fly erratically and Harleys that fire rockets at you. The Rainbow Zone scrolls diagonally and is lined with little rock particles, you fight balloon-like enemies called Helms (Blue) or Ammos (Pink), with Ammos being worth more points. The Styx Zone was probably the hardest zone. It had Harleys and Mists, but was very narrow and didn't have energy pods. The Stripe Zone was a zone with unique enemies and bases. Stripe Zone enemies are worth by far the highest number of points in the game, as each section has an electromagnetic barrier whose generators are worth a whopping 800 points apiece! The Bleak Zone is a vertical scrolling stage and the penultimate stage in the game. First up are Kelmus Snakes. You can let up to three of these wrap around you for a bonus of 1090 points each. Any more after that and you'll be blown up. The laugh that comes with touching the snakes in the arcade version makes me think the snakes are doing something bad to your ship, but maybe I'm just too corrupted, LOL. After that are Romeda rockets which fly straight ahead, but their debris when destroyed are just as deadly as the rockets themselves, which is unique in the game. And finally, the Last Zone, also called the City of Mystery, is the boss zone, where you fight an enemy calleed the Gond. You have to get your shots through two barriers whose holes must line up, all the while dodging shots and while barriers are closing behind you, restricting your movement. The longer you wait to blow up the Gond, the more points you getf when you do kill it. If you get killed in this zone, the game simply proceeds to the Mountain Zone in the next tunnel. 

There are two tunnels with various configurations of the zones. In the first tunnel, the Rainbow Zone repeats between the Mountain, Styx, Stripe, and Bleak Zones, while the second one has only one Rainbow Zone but is faster and much tougher.  The Romeda rockets in the Bleak Zone fire sideways missiles at you in the second tunnel. Though there's a tunnel map, you advance throught the tunnel by defeating a certain number of enemies rather than the distance and time you've traveled.

Vanguard has energy pods in the Mountain and Stripe Zones. When you touch them, you're invincible and can fky through walls and destroy enemies by touching them. However, you can't shoot while under its effects, but you don't really need to. 

Vanguard had some impressive sound for its time. The Rainbow and Bleak Zones play little musical ditties. The opening bars from Star Trek: The Motion Picture's theme song (which also sounds like the theme song to TNG, which hadn't been made at the time) play at startup, while the Flash Gordon theme plays when you grab an energy pod. There are cheesy digitized voices in the arcade version.

I played this at home before I played the arcade version. The 2600 version was actually a fairly competent port, it just modified the Rainbow Zone and Stripe Zone to be vertical scrolling to fit within the limitations of the game, but otherwise, it played pretty well. My friend had this version. I had the Atari 8-bit version, which was even better, with sounds tand graphics that were pretty close to the arcade game for its time. 

One of Vanguard's biggest claims to fame is that it may have been the first arcade game to ever feature a continue function. Instead of losing all your ships being a game over, you could plug in another quarter and keep going. Even the home versions let you continue, albeit without the quarters. If you die in the second tunnel onward, however, you'd get a game over and wouldn't be offered a chance to continue.

A lot of old arcade and Atari games have been lost to the ravages of time, Thankfully, Vanguard isn't one of them, as it was one of my favorite games from the pre-NES era. It never got a NES release, since SNK had moved on to more sophisticated games, but  was released as a PS Mini on PSP and PS3. It's available as part of the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection.


On a side note: Fire Emblem: Three Houses is an amazing game. I haven't put it down since I started playing tt. There's so much to do, and everything about it is great, from the graphics to the music to the tactical combat. This is definitely a top GOTY contender for me, depending on how great Dragon Quest XI S turns out to be. It could end up being my favorite SRPG of all time, and there is stiff competition in that genre. Nintendo, Intelligent Systems, and Koei Tecmo, who helped Intelligent Systems make sure the HD presentation of this game was on-spot, did a fantastic job here. I was also fortunate that my local Best Buy had copies of the Seasons of Warfare edition. This is such a wonderful game, nothing else that's come out this year even comes close.



Cary Woodham

08/09/2019 at 05:24 PM

I don't really remember seeing Vanguard in arcades when I was a kid.  Unless I just didn't notice it.  Which is strange because nearby arcades sure seemed to support other SNK games.  It must've been popular enough, though, since it got home ports on systems like the 2600 and even the Vectrex!


08/10/2019 at 03:51 AM

I don't think I ever saw the arcade version until it was re-released on PS1 as a PS Mini. But it's easy to see why it was popular, it was a really good game even on the 2600. The earliest SNK games I can remember seeing in arcade games were Ikari Warriors, Time Soldiers, and P. O. W.

Cary Woodham

08/11/2019 at 01:17 PM

The first SNK games I remember in arcades were Munch Mobile and Alpha Mission.  But Ikari Warriors and the others you mentioned sure were popular in nearby arcades as well!

Super Step Contributing Writer

08/09/2019 at 11:47 PM

There's a lot I don't know about SNK's history. Every time SNK is mentioned developing a non-fighting game, I think, "oh yeah."


08/10/2019 at 03:48 AM

The SNK Anniversary Collection has their pre Neo-Geo catalog, and it's actually pretty varied. It includes the arcade and NES versions of its games as well as Crystalis, one of SNK's few RPGs. They produced a PS1 game, Koudelka, that was the predecessor to the Shadow Hearts games.

One of the neatest things about their history is about how they got bought out by a company that wanted to abandon video games and just use their characters in pachislot machines. The original founder of SNK slowly went about buying back all of his copyrights and rehiring all of his former staff under the Playmore banner, and within a few years he had completely resurrected SNK as a video game company, independent of its former owners.


08/10/2019 at 07:18 PM

This game makes me think of Scramble and how that game frustrated me. At least in Vanguard you can shoot in four directions. 

Matt Snee Staff Writer

08/11/2019 at 08:24 AM

you know, this looks familiar, but I'm not sure if I've ever played this or not. 

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