Originally released in 1981 for the Atari 2600, Howard Scott Warshaw’s Yars’ Revenge eventually became the best-selling game for the system. Published by Atari itself, the game was championed as one of the system’s crown jewels. Such commercial success has of course led to several remakes over the years, on everything from Game Boy Color to Nintendo DSi. Now available on modern Xbox and PlayStation consoles, Yar’s Revenge has undergone a somewhat significant change in recent years.
The original game featured a player avatar on the left of the screen attacking a boss unit on the right. This solitary enemy would host a force field which the player had to penetrate before being able to inflict damage. Once having broken through, the enemy would be able to return fire. Forty years on, and the modern Yar’s Revenge retains the shooting essence of the original game. However, it is almost unrecognisable as a descendant of the Atari 2600 classic.
Yar’s Revenge’s Lylat Harrier
Playing like a modern rendition of Space Harrier or Star Fox 64 (aka Lylat Wars), Yar’s Revenge casts the player as a humanoid with wings. You are able to move around the screen with both speed and grace. Simply moving the analogue stick will reposition your on-screen avatar, while holding a shoulder button makes much swifter but less precise dodge maneuvers available. The screen scrolls onwards continuously through the levels at varying speeds. New enemies come into the line-of-fire in a regular sequence.
Yar’s Revenge presents a significant challenge. Even on the normal difficulty setting, players will find themselves struggling through the later levels. While the level design is remarkable for the most part – relentless but fair – issues do occur when the camera pans to the extreme left-or-right. Enemies that were missed previously can once again fire on the player. However, now it’s without any prior warning, as they can shoot before even coming back into view. Of course, Yar’s Revenge is a game that’s designed to encourage pattern learning. Players will eventually learn which enemies have such an ability and take them out before such an opportunity arises. But still, it does feel like an unnecessary hurdle, and one that may well put off many players.
Yar’s Revenge’s Dodging…
As mentioned above, In addition to the basic movement across the screen players are given a dodge maneuver. Simply by holding the shoulder button and moving the left stick in the desired direction players can avoid incoming projectiles. However, it comes at the cost of not being able to return fire until the momentum has ended. This is coupled with the power-ups available for killing enemies, ranging from a shield/health recharge, to a kill-all attack. The player is ably equipped for the task at hand, but not so much as to diminish the skill level that the game demands.
Yar’s Revenge on Multiplayer
In addition to the single-player game are co-operative and Challenge modes. Co-operative gameplay is limited to a single system, which was probably wise. The Challenge mode tasks the player with combating the levels from the campaign under special conditions. Those well versed in 3D scrolling shoot-‘em-ups will surely welcome the Challenge mode with open arms, but the name is very much appropriate, and those who found the Campaign too taxing will most definitely sit those one out.
Yar’s Revenge is a surprising game visually, remarkable with it’s seemingly hand painted backdrops and particularly well animated enemies. However, it’s an unfortunate circumstance that one level appears much the same as the next. There’s a variety of locations but none are particularly striking, and the same short-stock of enemies is repeated throughout. Even the bosses, though well presented, are less than inspiring. The sound quality of the game does sparkle however, with a soundtrack that would stand the test of time, if only enough gamers were to notice it.
As much as there is to love about a modern Yar’s Revenge, it’s not the successor that everyone may be hoping for. Those returning to the franchise may appreciate the significant overhaul of the gameplay. And yet they will undoubtedly balk at the aggressive difficulty level throughout the game. Retro fanatics who long for a return to the punishing practices of some 1980’s games will welcome Yar’s Revenge with open arms, but for most gamers it will simply demand too much without offering much in return.
In addition to Yar’s Revenge a new edition of the series launched in 2022. Despite being available for just a few weeks at the time of writing this article, you’d be forgiven for having missed it. Yar’s Recharged arrived on multiple formats with surprisingly little fanfare. The game was billed as a “bullet-dodging revival of the 1982 Atari classic title, Yars’ Revenge.”
Players can fight through 60 unique enemy encounters alone or with a friend in local co-op. All sorts and manners of gameplay modes, power-ups and more make for a revival that doesn’t reinvent the wheel like Yar’s Revenge attempted, but certainly does warrant a second look. It’s a shame that the media attention seems to have fallen flat in 2022, unlike in 2011.