29 years ago, Atari released what would become the most popular game for the Atari 2600. Unable back then to convey back story in detail with its limited graphics capability, a comic book came as companion to the game. In it, it detailed a world where the Yars, seeking vengeance for the destruction of one of their home worlds descend upon the Qotile in retaliation.
While Atari's reboot of the 1982 franchise bears little resemblance to the original in game play (which is a blessing considering the overly simplistic and repetitive nature of the time), the story of Yar's Revenge follows loosely follows the original. But does this new rendition of an old classic do its namesake justice?
Yar's Revenge is about the story of a female warrior known only by her race's namesake, Yar. Yar's story begins as the Qotile's most prized warrior, fighting on their behalf. As she returns from her latest mission, an elderly man approaches her and shows her a Scrying Glass. The glass is a device that unlocks her memories which were suppressed by the Qotile at a young age to hide the truth; that the Qotile had been the ones to bring her race to the brink of extinction. Armed now with a thirst for revenge, she turns against her captors in an effort to rescue the few remaining Yar.
Yar's Revenge is a rail style shooter game much in the same vein as Space Harrier or Panzer Dragoon. It has a very coin-op arcade feel to it. Enemies swarm across the screen en masse for you to destroy as you fly about the beautifully detailed, toon-shaded landscape. Your score increases as you destroy those unfortunate enough to wind up in your sights. Multipliers are awarded as you destroy enemy after enemy in a continuous chain. After you clear through the endless scores of bad guys, you encounter the typical overly powerful level boss at the end which typically will have a pattern that can be predicted after a few minutes of toying with them. However, you shouldn't play down the difficulty of this game. The pace, which can best be described as frantic, gives you little to no time for a breather in between waves of enemies until the end when it displays your performance card for the level.
During a level, you control Yar with one analog stick and move the targeting reticule with the other as you dodge and attack simultaneously. The control is fluid and would be easy to handle but for the fact that the reticule, and sometimes Yar herself, can be lost in the flurry of enemies, projectiles and explosions. While these moments are brief, they are somewhat frequent and can make for a somewhat frustrating game play experience at times as you can take a significant amount of damage or even die while trying to find yourself in the fray.
A number of weapons are at your disposal to aid you in your task of exterminating the Qotile. Such as an energy shield which can protect you for a short time that bears a strong resemblance to the "neutral zone" in the original game. However, like in the original, you have no ability to fire back at your enemies while under the protection of the shield. Beyond your standard weapon, the Pulse Laser, you also have the ability to fire a barrage of missiles, locking on to a maximum of five targets at once which is highly useful against enemies that are able to maneuver out of your firing line easily. And then there's the Rail Gun which deals massive amounts of damage to enemies, but requires a recharge time in between shots.
While the game play is repetitive, you have to forgive that a little as it seems that Atari is going back to the arcade style roots which leave little variety in the mechanics. This is a formula that works for what it is; a simple rail shooter. For what it lacks in variety of game play, it wholly makes up for it in deeply rich art, texture, and effects. This game is enjoyable not only because of its simplistic, yet challenging nature, but for the shear beauty of it. Even the anime style artwork shown in the cut scenes that resemble a manga brought to life by simple animations can be appreciated.
Atari makes an effort to bring a deeper story to the table than the original Yar's and they have succeeded, mostly. The cut scenes do provide a well fleshed out story; however, it can be difficult to follow the text lines as they seem to flash across the screen rather quickly. Even more annoying is the fact that text boxes of the characters communicating back and forth flash in the corner of the screen while in the middle of this frantic play. While you can be sure it contains something important regarding the current mission, the fate of those comrades you seek to rescue, or the meaning of life in general, you'll simply begin ignoring them as you're just too busy shooting at everything on the screen to care. Atari could have spent a few dollars more to throw in some voice-acting and possibly charge an extra 400 Microsoft Points and would probably find its players far less frustrated; either because they wanted to know what the hell was being said in that little text-box in the corner and getting annihilated in the process, or why the hell that little text-box in the corner was constantly popping up and distracting you from shooting bad things.
Overall, Yar's Revenge is a fantastic game with a few minor gripes. Atari has managed to put a new spin on an old classic in shining fashion and still maintain that old arcade style feel. Beautiful graphics, upbeat music, and fairly solid game play for 800 Microsoft Points makes Yar's Revenge a solid investment.