Yar's Revenge Hands-On Impressions
The first time I played Yar's Revenge was some time in the 90s, when my dad found an Atari 2600 and several games at a yard sale. It had spent some time in a flooded basement, so a lot of the games wouldn't work at all. Yar's Revenge was tossed in the “didn't work” pile, not because it was broken, but because my young brain saw it as impenetrable nonsense and assumed it was broken. Years later, even after understanding the game, I still find it a bit haunting, with its abstract graphics and constant assault of noise.
The Yar's Revenge Atari showed me a few days ago was a much different affair. Meant as a re-imagining of the “plot” of the original game (most of which was included in a comic book that came with the 2600 cartridge), the game features a heroine in an insect-like power suit shooting her way through swarms of enemies in a rail-shooter inspired by Sin & Punishment and Panzer Dragoon.
While just about everything in this new game is a drastic departure, the update takes most of its inspiration from the comic, maintaining the conflict between the Yar and the Qotile empire. The one major nod to the original comes in the form of a shield power-up that resembles the rainbow-colored safe zone – it even prevents you from shooting while activated. Beside that, you could probably make a case for the ethereal electronic soundtrack as a nod to the haunting sounds of the original, but it seems to be taking more cues from Sin & Punishment than anything.
The gameplay is pretty typical rail-shooter fare, taking you through a pre-determined path against huge swarms of enemies. The game leans heavily towards the style of Sin & Punishment in many ways, giving you independent movement and aiming, a combo system for chaining many kills together, and a dodge roll for avoiding shots.
Three weapons make up your arsenal. You have an automatic-firing straight shot, fire and forget lock-on missiles (a-la Rez or Panzer Dragoon), and a powerful blast that does major damage but has to recharge afterwards. Along with those you'll also grab power-ups like the aforementioned shield and some all-killing bomb-like weapons for clearing out big groups of enemies.
The game isn't easy either, so you'll want to make full use of all of that fire-power. Even as someone whose favorite game series is Panzer Dragoon, recently finished Sin & Punishment 2, and considers Rez a masterpiece, I found Yar's to be surprisingly tough. The enemies are relentless, so you'll probably die a few times getting the hang of the controls and learning to dodge constantly.
That said, it isn't the challenge that's the biggest obstacle for Yar's Revenge, but a seeming lack of originality. The game borrows from every other rail shooter without establishing its own identity. There's a satisfying feel to the other games I've mentioned that was lacking in Yar's. Sin & Punishment has its melee and dodge moves, Panzer has lock-on missiles and 360 degree view, and Rez has the music integration, but Yar's Revenge simply has bits and pieces from all of these games.
If you can't get enough rail shooters, Yar's Revenge may still be a good time – it's a rather small genre after all. With six stages that are said to be about an hour each, drop-in/drop-out co-op, and a very reasonable $10 price tag, it may still be worth it for the challenge, even if it wasn't super-satisfying in my time with it.
Yar's Revenge is coming to Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Network, and PC this March.