Vanguard is a scrolling shooter arcade game, with a port for the Atari 2600 console released by Atari, Inc. in 1982. Similar to Scramble, players control a ship that automatically flies forward through scrolling levels while consuming a limited fuel supply. Fuel is replenished by destroying enemies, making fuel depletion less common than in Scramble. Vanguard features sections with vertical, horizontal, or diagonal scrolling.
The ship can fire lasers in any of the four cardinal directions using four buttons. Entering an energy pod grants the ship temporary invulnerability, enabling players to destroy enemy ships and tunnel walls by ramming into them.
The game is divided into two tunnels, each containing multiple zones. The first tunnel comprises Mountain Zone, Rainbow Zone, Styx Zone, Rainbow Zone 2, Stripe Zone, Rainbow Zone 3, Bleak Zone, and City of Mystery/Last Zone. The second tunnel includes Mountain Zone, Stripe Zone, Styx Zone, Rainbow Zone, Bleak Zone, and City of Mystery/Last Zone. At the end of each tunnel, players must defeat a boss protected by two moving force fields with openings.
Vanguard employs custom sound chips to produce digitized voices and unique synthesizer sounds. The speech announces the current or upcoming zone, or warns players when a power-up is about to expire. The game’s introductory theme is borrowed from Jerry Goldsmith’s composition for the 1979 sci-fi film Star Trek: The Motion Picture, later used in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Vultan’s theme, composed by Queen’s Freddie Mercury for the 1980 film Flash Gordon, plays as a sound effect when a power-up is obtained.