Back in the days of the Atari 2600 people made games about anything. Freeway's creator supposedly got the idea for the game from watching people trying to cross busy streets. The creator of Crackpots was inspired by looking at his girlfriend's potted plants. So, it leads me to wonder if Howard Scott Warshaw, the creator of Yars Revenge, got his idea from watching giant houseflies. Well, maybe not, but Yars Revenge certainly has one of the most bizarre game ideas behind it. You control the Yar, a giant mutant housefly, as it exacts revenge on the Qotile, an alien that has destroyed the Yar's home planet. Weird as it may be, Yars Revenge is one of the few Atari 2600 games that has really stood the test of time well, and is fun and challenging even to this day.
The graphics of Yars Revenge are about as good as they get on the Atari 2600. The playing field consisted of only one "screen" with several different elements. At the far right side is the Qotile, an evil alien head that constantly changes color. The Qotile is surrounded by a shield that would alternate between a somewhat semi-circle shape and a rectangle. Down the middle of the screen is a glittering, sparkling path of flashing colors known as the Neutral Zone. It's supposedly the remnants of the Yar's planet that the Qotile had destroyed, but whatever the case may be, it was mesmerizing! The Yar sprite looks and behaves appropriately, buzzing its wings and bouncing off the Qotile's shield like a fly on a screen window.
The coolest thing of all was the gigantic explosion that occurred upon scoring a direct hit on the Qotile. The entire screen lights up in a burst of flashing, colorful pixels, which gradually dissipates. It was worth destroying the Qotile to see this happen!
From the moment Yars Revenge starts, a steady drone buzzes, rhythmically pulsating with the movement of the Qotile. The Yar buzzes around the screen and the Swirl answers with its raging shriek. The cataclysmic explosions are satisfying down to the last sizzle and pop. As far as Atari 2600 games go, Yars Revenge has excellent sound effects.
Yars Revenge has some of the most fluid control of any game. The Yar has complete freedom of movement across the entire screen and can even move diagonally. The fast control is part of what makes Yars Revenge work so well, since the Yar moves at a fast clip, and can easily outmaneuver his foes, even if he can't outrun them. Nowadays, I prefer to play Atari 2600 games with a Sega Genesis controller, rather than those old crappy Atari joysticks (yes, a Genesis controller will work.) It's amazing just how smoothly Yars Revenge plays with a control pad! If you have an Atari 2600 system, I highly recommend giving it a try.
Yars Revenge was originally packaged with a comic book that told the story of the game. Unfortunately, I've lost my copy of it over the years, but I still remember it quite well. The Yars, which are giant mutant housefly-like creatures, had three home planets, but one of them was attacked and destroyed, without provocation, by the mysterious alien Qotile. Now the Yars not only want revenge, but must destroy the Qotile in order to keep it from doing the same to their other worlds. While the Qotile doesn't have a giant flyswatter available, it does have a number of tricks to keep the Yars at bay. It's quite a bizarre and original story, and Yars Revenge goes down in history as being the first (and probably last) game to ever make heroes out of houseflies.
Many Atari 2600 games consisted of a simple element pattern that would repeat endlessly, whilst becoming faster on each consecutive loop. Space Invaders and Asteroids are good examples of this: There was essentially little difference between each loop of the games, but the speed of the enemies would increase until eventually it became too fast for the player to keep up with. Yars Revenge, although limited by the technology of the time to the "looping" style of gameplay, managed to somewhat break out of this tradition by introducing a host of ever-changing game elements that the player would have to adapt to.
The game, unusual as it may be, is simple enough, but difficult to explain. The Yar's ultimate goal is to defeat the Qotile at the right side of the screen, which constantly moves up and down and is protected by a shield. The Yar must eat away or shoot a hole in the shield, and then fire upon the Qotile with a missile. All the while, the Yar is pursued by a relentless homing missile that cannot be destroyed. The Yar must keep moving to avoid being hit by the missile, and he is only safe from it whilst in the Neutral Zone - the glittering path down the middle of the screen. But the Yar cannot fire while in the Neutral Zone, and he is not safe from the Swirl in there.
Yes, the Swirl. Every now and then the Qotile changes into a Swirl, a deadly weapon that homes in on the Yar, which the manual describes as resembling a "pinwheel". I don't care if it look like a harmless child's toy, this thing used to scare the crap out of me when I was really young! It's mostly because the Swirl is one of the first things I knew of in video games that would specifically come after you. Enemies in games like Space Invaders, Asteroids, and Defender had random movements and shooting patterns, and although killed you upon contact, didn't really chase after you. But not the Swirl. That thing was out for blood! And it was often unpredictable, sometimes shooting out instantly, and other times waiting awhile before coming after you, as though trying to psych you out!
After scoring so many points, things begin to heat up. The homing missile, in the tradition of other Atari 2600 enemies, speeds up. The Qotile changes into a Swirl three times as often. Sometimes, there's no Neutral Zone, which really keeps you moving in order to avoid the homing missile. And if I didn't find the Swirl scary enough to begin with, it will eventually change direction in mid-air to hunt you down!
The appeal of many Atari 2600 games has worn off over the years. Heck, the appeal of some of them would wear off after an hour of playing. But the fast pace, dynamic elements, and fluid control of Yars Revenge made for an engaging experience that I continue to enjoy playing, even to this day. The appeal isn't defined by trying to improve my score or destroying the Qotile a record number of times. The appeal is in just simply playing this game: Outmaneuvering the homing missile, evading the Swirl (for some real fun, trying to hit it with your missle in mid-air!), and adapting to other variations, such as a rotating shield that's not so easily blasted through.
Yars Revenge also has a few different selectable game variations, some of which involve a faster Swirl and homing missile, but one of particular note is described by the manual as "Ultimate Yars Revenge". In this mode, the Yar's missile is produced in a different manner, and it will bounce off the Qotile's shield. Since the Yar can be destroyed by his own missile, this makes things a bit more difficult. Although I have, on rare occasion, gotten the satisfactory result of hitting the Swirl in mid-air by bouncing the missile off the shield.
Yars Revenge is a game I love to whip out every now and then and thrash on, and for more than just nostalgia. It's stood the test of time pretty well. Though I admit that I probably won't play it more than once or twice in a row, because I've gotten so good at it that merely one play can last quite a long time. If there is any truth to the theory that Howard Scott Warshaw's Atari 2600 E.T. game was largely responsible for the '80's videogame market crash, Yars Revenge is great enough that I can easily forgive him for it!
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