The Game: Your Vanguard space fighter has infiltrated a heavily-defended alien base. The enemy outnumbers you by six or seven to one at any given time (thank goodness for animated sprite limitations, or you’d be in real trouble!). You can fire above, below, ahead and behind your ship, which is an art you’ll need to master since enemy ships attack from all of these directions. You can’t run into any of the walls and expect to survive, but you can gain brief invincibility by flying through an Energy block, which supercharges your hull enough to ram your enemies (something which, at any other time, would mean certain death for you as well). At the end of your treacherous journey lies the alien in charge of the entire complex – but if you lose a life at that stage, you don’t get to come back for another shot! (Atari, 1982)
Memories: Viva Vanguard! I remember quite a few of my buddies at the time preferring this cartridge edition to the arcade game that inspired it, and with a little bit of thought it’s easy to see why. With only one button, Atari’s home version of Vanguard allowed players to dispense with the arcade’s compass rose of fire buttons; for lack of any better way to handle it, this version of Vanguard just unleashed white-hot electric death in all directions everytime the fire button was pressed. Hey, problem solved! No more getting broadsided by enemies dropping down from above. Simple, elegant. Even those of us who regularly got our butts handed to us by the coin-op could be Vanguard victors now.
All things considered, the graphics weren’t bad either. Vanguard reserved its fanciest graphics for unusual backgrounds in the arcade, and here those cavern walls and ceilings are instead rendered as extremely colorful graphics, especially by Atari 2600 standards. The sound’s decent too, right down to the Flash Gordon music. And with the greater ease of play…let’s face it, Vanguard was just fun again. Even for wimps like me who couldn’t last more than a minute or two when we had to pay 25 cents a game for it. (This was also the first 2600 game ever to ask players if they wanted to “Continue?” – quite an innovation in the pre-NES days.)