Written by Howard Scott Warshaw and published by Atari, Inc. in 1982, Yars’ Revenge is one of those old video games that plays a lot better than it looks, and is much more subtle that you might think upon first inspection.
In fact, it took me decades to actually ‘click’ with the game and finally be bothered to learn how to play it properly.
You control an insect-like creature called Yar who is trying to destroy “the evil Qotile” – an opponent hidden within a shield-like dome that protects it. Yar can shoot bullets at the shield to remove it, and once he’s made an opening he must then touch Qotile to activate the “Zorlon Cannon” (which appears on the left side of the screen), and then successfully use it on Qotile to destroy him. Which is easier said than done because Yar is in danger from a number of things.
Firstly, there’s a “Destroyer Missile” that slowly follows Yar everywhere he goes. It will destroy him wherever he is on screen – except inside the central barrier area – so it can be ignored inside there.
Also, Qotile can (and does) transform into a “Swirl” occasionally that will fire in your general direction after powering up. Yar will be destroyed by the Swirl even when he’s inside the central multicoloured barrier area, so must avoid it at all costs. In early levels you get an indication that Qotile is about to ‘swirl’, but in later levels you don’t get this warning. Thankfully the screen ‘wraps around’, so Yar can go off at the top and come back out at the bottom, which helps dodge it.
What makes Yars’ Revenge good is the challenge of staying alive and biding your time, in order to take out the boss at the right moment. And when you manage that it really does give a feeling of satisfaction.
Yars’ Revenge is obviously fairly limited in terms of scope, but it does have enough going for it to make for an interesting old video game still worth playing nowadays. There are four different skill levels available, each with single and two-player mode, and these change the speed at which the missile moves and also the frequency of the swirls.
Yars’ Revenge is an Atari VCS classic, quite frankly, and was re-released and re-made for the Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance, among others.