Through tight corridors, against numerous foes, with only a four-way blaster for defence, a solo fighter took on the challenge of Vanguard, a pioneering shoot-em-up from SNK (released in the U.S. by Centuri).
In a unique move, this 1981 game scrolled not only horizontally and vertically, but also diagonally up and down, following a long tube through several short stages.
As seen on a map at the top right of the screen, the Vanguard course was a crooked one, and each bend brought new challenges. The game began as a traditional side-scrolling shooter, as your jet-like spaceship flew against two different types of enemy fighters.
Fuel was limited, but every enemy shot awarded a slight refill, and handy “ENERGY” tanks could be flown through for a speedier fill-up. The tanks also gave your ship temporary invulnerability – along with a catchy change in theme music.
In the diagonal stages, new enemies appeared – oval-shaped saucers that bounced up and down, menacing your craft. Later stages brought more ships, energy barriers and more, and as always, the walls were as deadly as the enemy’s laser blasts.
The final stages rotated your ship 90 degrees for a vertically-scrolling finale, as your ship passed worm-like aliens, arrow-shaped missiles, and finally the insect-like boss itself.
There were dangers in abundance on this long journey, but your ship had a pair of secret weapons: First, four separate control buttons allowed your ship to fire in four directions, picking off enemies wherever they lay.
Second, the game allowed players to plunk in another coin and continue with their game – a rarity at the time.
After the first tube, however, the option to continue ended, and your last life was indeed your last.
Vanguard was one of the first major arcade hits for SNK, a company that would build its reputation on fighting games like Art of Fighting and King of Fighters in the 1990s.
A sequel was released in 1984, but Vanguard II actually shared more in common with another early 80’s classic shoot-em-up, Namco’s Xevious.