Yar’s Revenge (have you played Atari today?)

As a grown man of a certain age, I have a certain fondness for the Atari 2600 era of gaming.

I never owned one as a youth, but spent endless hours playing on the console whenever the opportunity arose, usually in the form of an in-store demo kiosk or at the house of a friend.

Knowing that, I also knew that it was a forgone conclusion that I would be buying the Yars’ Revenge rehash.

Of course, as a more prudent chap now than in my earlier years, I did wait for the inevitable Steam sale so that I could pick it up for five bucks or less. I then more or less sat on it for several months before getting around to playing it.

Should I start with the bad or the good? Let’s go with good.

Yar’s Revenge is hella pretty and the design aesthetic is designed to reach right into the lizard brain of any science fiction geek and give it a good squeeze. It’s a nice mix of futuristic floating industrial complexes and creepy organic caves, the enemies are insectoid or mechanical or a mix of both, and – in a nod to modern sensibilities – your mutant fly-thing character from the first game is now a hot girl with four arms and a predilection for wearing shapely Powered Armor with Strategic Cutouts.

There’s enough plot in place to cover the needs of any shooter – you’re a slave who’s been conditioned to fight for her conquerors, you break the conditioning, realize the plight of your people and, well, the game is called Yar’s REVENGE and you’re Yar…

The gameplay is classic shooter gameplay, the sort of thing that hasn’t significantly changed since Scramble, to wit: You are moving from point A to point B, where you will fight a boss. While you are moving you have limited maneuverability but are always moving forward as things try to kill you and you try to return the favor.

Yar’s Revenge livens the amusement-park ride style of game up with a fun scoring system and a weapons system that adds a touch of strategy, but it is, at its heart, a new incarnation of, say, Space Harrier or Panzer Dragoon.

That last is in no way a complaint.

For complaints, now we must come to the bad parts.

Firstly, this genre of game usually doesn’t give the player a whole lot of choice in movement. Generally you are either moving a character with a fixed target, or you are moving a target indicator with the character following the target.

Yar’s Revenge uses the twin sticks of the Xbox360 controller – and the game pad is the only reasonable way to play the game, by the way – to move both the character and her completely separate targeting reticule. You then use all four triggers and occasionally the face buttons to fire weapons or select powerups.

Until you learn to look at the screen as a whole and manipulate both character and target to, say, aim at the weak point of a boss with the right stick while simultaneously dodging incoming fire with the left, you are going to be constantly bumping into things and getting shot, and your hands will be in terrible pain after an hour or two.

After the controls become second nature, you will be darting around the screen like a heavily-armed hummingbird, effortlessly dodging barrages of incoming fire and raining laser death upon your enemies, also your hands will STILL be in terrible pain because the control scheme was made for players with the same four arms as the protagonist.

It reminds me terribly of Gunvalkyrie, another game with fantastic visuals for the time and with a control scheme that actively rewarded those willing to put in the time to learn it but which was not designed for humans with human anatomy.

In addition, the game has difficulty settings labeled “easy” and “normal”, but there is a yawning gulf of difference between the two. While I had trouble completing even the first level on “Normal”, switching the game down to “Easy” resulted in my coasting through the game in a matter of about two hours, often killing bosses without bothering to dodge their attacks or use any of my shield powerups.

I like easy games, but a middle ground might have been a nice thing.

As you might expect, then, it’s also quite short, a mere six stages and out. They are some of the best looking stages I’ve seen in a while, but it’s still a very quick game.

These are things that I was able to forgive the game for, and your enjoyment will likely be based on whether you can do the same.

Less forgivable, though enjoyable from the point of view of someone who is leading up to a miserable pun, is that this game – which is about shooting giant insects – is full of bugs.

For a few examples: when you launch the game for the first time, you have the option of choosing a Dx9 renderer or a Dx10 renderer. Upon choosing Dx10, the game would invariably crash for me.

When using Dx9, I was able to set graphical options – for example, to set the game to 1920×1080 and fullscreen – and those options would stay in effect until such time as I exited the game and came back in, upon which time the game would revert to a windowed 1024×768.

Furthermore, this was obviously designed as an XBLA title and they reused assets in a somewhat inconsistent way when making the PC version. The tooltip for “Exit Game”, for example, reads “Return to your game library”, and the on-screen powerup display shows icons of the Xbox360 controller, but in-game tutorials tell you to press keyboard keys for things, even if you’re playing with a controller.

There are also some graphical elements that are cut off when playing in a 16:9 aspect ratio. I’m not sure what those are, unfortunately, I just see the borders of windows taunting me from the top of the screen.

I had fun with Yar’s Revenge, though it definitely didn’t make itself easy to love, and I’d recommend it to anyone who likes the genre, with a couple of caveats:

First, don’t bother if you don’t already own a game pad.

Second, wait for the Steam sale. 🙂

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