MonkeyPaw Games has a knack for bringing forgotten gaming gems to our gaming community. Sometimes they dust off a classic title that I recall from my younger days of gaming, and sometimes they bring us over a title I never heard of, but wish I had before. One such example of this is Vanguard Bandits, which is available for download as a PSOne Classic via the Sony PlayStation Network.
I enjoy all kinds of different games, but the ones I think I spent the most time with when I was younger were RPGs, sports and strategy titles. I never got to play Vanguard Bandits back then, but I wish I would have. This would have been right at home with me as I poured over games like Dark Wizard, Master of Monsters, Shining Force and more.
Of course with a title like this, graphics and sound are usually not of the highest priority, and Vanguard Bandits is obviously not a new game either. I look for those qualities in any game, but they are more important in titles that really try to draw you into a visceral atmosphere like a horror game or a first person adventure. It is a good thing these are secondary concerns because the music is something of a mixed bag. Some of the songs are better than others - none of them were particularly memorable for me though there was a nice variety in the tunes at least. The sound design does not hold up nearly as well. I would not go so far as to say it is offensive, but it is not good by any means either.
Where the real meat is at in a game like this is the combat and progression system they give you. I love leveling up characters. And at first, they are all pretty similar in terms of functionality, passing as little more than generic 'fighter class' units. Thankfully over time as you gather experience, you can see the diversity in the characters really develop. You can also hit shops and buy new equipment, and these menus are a bit awkward in my opinion, but they do not hurt the game's otherwise entertaining mechanics.
Battles take place on a somewhat traditional map that is made up of quadrants you move around on, and attack nearby enemies on, often choosing from a set of moves to use. Maps show a pretty decent amount of variety - which is good because there are a ton of missions. You do not do any exploring between maps, though you get cut scenes to help further the somewhat ordinary if sufficient story. I would compare this to say, Shining Force on the Sega Genesis CD in that you just bounce from one map to another, getting rewarded with a bit of story between maps.
You get most of the usual trappings you would expect from the combat. You can attack, use special skills, terrain effects defensive ability and striking from the sides or back yield additional damage.
Combat is fun, but a nice wrinkle in my opinion is the way defense is handled. Usually a very passive experience, you are often presented with several options on how you want to respond to an attack. It adds a layer of depth I really appreciated - especially since in these types of games you usually see one of two scenarios: you stand there and take it, or you auto-retaliate. Both processes however are completely automated, so this additional level of strategy was appreciated.
Even more appreciated? The branching story line and different endings you can attain. The story itself may not be anything revolutionary, but I enjoyed the way it could diverge into different directions along the way. These different plots could lead to different endings. I will play a game without a real story (I really liked Master of Monsters on my Sega Genesis, but there was no story to speak of), but it helps invest you. Considering how often I beat a few of the other titles like Warsong? I would have loved some divergent storytelling.
For me this is an easy game to recommend - I enjoyed it quite a bit and hope others get the opportunity to play this title they probably missed out on the first time around as well.