Atari have revamped their retro classics in the past but usually only to the extent of a fresh lick of paint and some fancy new special effects. Yars’ Revenge – which as the loading screen reminds us, was Atari’s best selling original Atari 2600 game – is less of a revamp and more of a total re-imagining, with Sega’s Panzer Dragoon series cited as an influence.
Presumably in order to appeal to the youth of today, Yar has gone from being an insect-like organism to an anime-style female cased inside mechanised power armour. You still get to blast bugs though as you make your way through the five on-rails levels to confront and defeat her former master. Yar also gets a new set of armour about half-way through giving access to the Zorlon Cannon – a ridiculously powerful weapon that will ring a bell with fans of the original. The colourful effect that occurs when using a shield will also please retro purists.
The bosses meanwhile are a varied bunch and each have attack patterns to learn. The second boss resembles a caterpillar and only occasionally pops his head out of holes in the ground, while the third boss can only be described as Jabba the Hutt’s sail barge.
For a game targeted at both casual and hardcore gamers, Yars’ Revenge has something of a steep difficulty curve – I had to drop the difficulty level from Normal to Easy on my first play-through after failing to make it even as far as the first boss. It takes time to learn what weapons are best to use on each enemy – the crab-like tanks go down with one shot of the rail gun but take dozens of shots from the pulse rifle, for instance. Although Yar can lock onto enemies to fire up to six missiles these are not in infinite supply. Therefore it’s best to use these when there are half a dozen enemies on the screen, and not just one or two, to save wasting them. The power-ups also have to be used wisely – the shield power-up restores 50 health points so there’s not much sense in using it when you still have, say, 80 (out of 100) points left.
As entertaining as Yars’ Revenge is, it could have done with taking inspiration from Starfox 64 instead of Panzer Dragoon. Alternative routes through the levels would have done wonders for the replay value and although Yar talks to her peers throughout there’s way too much going on to be able to stop read the text. If she chatted away then we could have listened to what she had to say rather than ignoring it all.
On another note, developers Killspace have kindly included scans of the original Yars’ Revenge comic book, but because you can’t zoom in to read the tiny text all you can do is look at the colourful artwork. Err, thanks?
Fortunately these are just minor quibbles that don’t spoil the franticness of it all or deter from the fact that it’s surprisingly polished. The cel-shaded visuals are smooth, the menus are attractive and the soundtrack helps to add to the atmosphere. You’ll have to put some serious effort into it in order to unlock the achievements too as they don’t come easy. Believe it or not, the first one I unlocked was for defeating the last boss. You do though unlock a T-shirt for your Avatar to wear as soon as starting the game, which is – much like the game itself – is rather tastefully retro.