In 1984, SNK released a sequel to Vanguard. As was to be expected, graphics and sound have been improved – it even features pretty neat parallax scrolling. But Vanguard II makes a major change in gameplay that may not resonate with most fans of traditional shoot-em-ups. Rather than the automatic scrolling approach taken by the first game, the sequel takes place in multi-directional scrolling top-down stages, where you are free to fly around and change directions as desired. In this way, it’s rather similar to Konami’s Time Pilot. You not only have to fight airborne enemies, but also ground targets, which are bombed with the aid of a crosshair like in Xevious.
The controls might take some getting used to. Rather than being able to move the joystick in the direction you want to go directly, you must rotate it all the way around, just like an actual fighter jet. Maybe this issue is what inspired the rotary joysticks used by Ikari Warriors. The ship is always moving at full speed with no means to slow down, which makes it tricky to bomb ground targets at first. Trying to multitask bombing various targets while avoiding enemy fire and shooting enemy ships at the same time can be a bit overwhelming. The bomb target stops in place when the bomb button is pressed, making it slightly easier to estimate distances, but it’s usually still necessary to take two or three approaches at a new target before hitting it properly.
In each stage you fly over an elaborate orbital installation, with lots of buildings and connecting joints. The targets each time are the power pods, which provide the station with energy. Cutting off a section’s power supplies causes the whole area to break down, which makes it a lot safer to traverse as the local anti-air turrets blow up with it. Only after destroying the allotted number of pods it becomes safe to take on the central core – or relatively safe, anyway, as it still keeps shooting at you with deadly accuracy if you approach it frontally. At the same time you also need to outmaneuver the countless interceptors that try to shoot you out of the sky. After the core is destroyed, the game moves on to the next level, and the process repeats.
Unlike the first game, Vanguard II was never ported outside of the arcade in its day. However, the game has a very striking similarity to the first two entries in the Thunder Force series. Technosoft’s title actually predates Vanguard II by several months, but it seems likely that simply both were inspired by Bosconian, which already came out in 1981. It appears on the SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 0 release for the PSP (Japan only), but like the original, was also released on PlayStation Minis. It is also mostly arcade perfect and allows multiple options to view the game.