YARS: RECHARGED (VCS)
Published 2022 (Atari)
Developer: Adamvision Studios, Sneakybox
YARS: RECHARGED is a modern take on Yars' Revenge, the 1982 smash hit for the Atari 2600. Programmed by the incomparable Howard Scott Warshaw, Yars’ Revenge went on to become the best-selling original title for the platform. This is quite a legacy to live up to.
YARS: RECHARGED is available on multiple platforms, including VCS, Switch, XBOX Series X/S, XBOX One, PS4, PS5, Steam and Epic.
Let’s take a quick look at the VCS version!
At its core, YARS: RECHARGED is a twin-stick shooter. It borrows elements of Yars’ Revenge and combines it with a dash of “bullet hell” and a slick future retro aesthetic to deliver a fresh take on HSW’s classic.
As with the original, you control a Yars, an insect-like space race that – according to lore – descended from the common house fly on Earth. Of course, this being a modern, digital title, YARS: RECHARGED eschews any story that might have made its way into a manual or accompanying comic. At any rate, the Yars are again at war with the Qotile. It’s your job to take out Qotile defenses through 30 levels in either Arcade or Missions modes: for 60 levels total.
The first time you play YARS: RECHARGED you’re automatically taken to a quick tutorial to acquaint you with the game’s controls. This is a first in the Recharged series and is a welcome addition to the game. The controls are fairly intuitive and harken back to that old Atari adage “Easy to learn, difficult to master.”
Using the Modern Controller, the left thumbstick controls Yar’s movement while the right controls fire and aiming. The controls are tight and precise, and I found the Modern Controller to be ideally suited for the twin-stick action. The game also offers support for the Classic Controller. Use the rotary to aim your Yars and the joystick to maneuver. It’s a novel way to play for fans of the VCS’ unique controller.
Qotile defenses are hidden behind rows of hexagonal shields. The shield strength is indicated by each hexagon’s opacity; near transparent shields are easily foiled, while solid white shields take a lot to break through. The shields are frequently interlocked in a honeycomb and protect various “cores.” You must shoot or “nibble” through the shields to charge your Zorlon Cannon, expose the Qotile Cores, and eliminate them as quickly as possible. Eliminating the last Qotile Core will destroy all remaining enemies and clear the level. There is a time bonus in both Arcade and Missions modes, so play strategically to clear each level as quickly as possible.
Enemy types range from the “Swirl”, Silorak Cores, and bullets coming from off screen. The Swirl behaves in much the same way as it did in the 1982 original. Watch for the Qotile Core to change into a Swirl and dodge or shoot it. If your Yars is hit by a Swirl, its GAME OVER. In later levels, there will be multiple Swirls to contend with. Importantly, Swirls can penetrate the Glitch Shield to destroy your Yars.
The Silorak Cores serve as Qotile defense turrets and target you with spread shot, railgun, explosive shot and rapid fire. When destroyed, these “minor” cores will drop a power-up the mirrors their attack. The Silorak Cores are also tied to select shields. As you attack a core, you’ll notice several hexagons flashing with each hit. These will be destroyed once you take out the connected core.
Bullets coming from offscreen add a level of danger to the proceedings. You’ll need to pay close attention to the patterns of the bullets to avoid hitting them. Alone they are easy to avoid, but with the assault from the cores, things quickly become chaotic.
Your greatest weapon against the Qotile onslaught is the Zorlon Cannon. Only the Zorlon Cannon can destroy a Qotile Core. Charge the cannon by nibbling or shooting enemy assets and collecting the resultant golden orbs. Once charged, take aim and fire across the screen. Timing is critical as there are frequently moving Qotile Cores and rotating shields.
When the Zorlon Cannon appears, so does the Glitch Shield. The Glitch Shield protects Yars from all enemy weapons with the exception of the Swirl. It dissipates as soon as your charge is depleted.
In Arcade Mode, the default setting provides the player with three hits. The hit counter will refresh with each cleared level. Taking a similar approach to Gravitar: Recharged, Yars offers the option to stack modifiers for bonus points. Each modifier adds 2.5% to the score at the end of arcade play. There are three modifiers:
- The “Hyper” modifier dramatically speeds up your Yars. While this might seem like an advantage, it’s actually a bit unwieldy.
- The “Hunger” modifier eliminates your ability to shoot forcing you to rely only on your “nibble.” The nibble is more effective and in early levels this too seems like an advantage. However, in later levels the need for a ranged shot becomes clear.
- The “Heavy Cannon” modifier increases the damage of your cannon but takes longer to charge and moves slower.
The choice of whether or not to use a modifier adds an interesting strategic element to the game.
In Missions Mode, your goal is to complete the missions as quickly as possible. The missions play like the hardest versions of the levels that you’ve already completed in Arcade Mode. In this way, it feels like more of the same. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, I personally preferred the creativity and variety of the goal-oriented Challenges Mode from earlier titles in the Recharges series. One thing that I do like about Missions Mode is that score bonuses are displayed upon the completion of each level.
Couch co-op returns to YARS: RECHARGED and greatly enhances the game in either Arcade or Missions mode.
The look of YARS: RECHARGED is reminiscent of the art style found in Gravitar: Recharged. Backgrounds are muted and - with the exception of your Yars, the golden orbs and Zorlon Cannon - monochromatic. The Yars itself looks nice and everything from the hexagonal shields to the in-game menus, to the Silorak cores are very clean. Its functional but not terribly exciting to look at. One wonders if the Geometry Wars inspired art style of the earlier Recharged games might have worked better here.
SOUND & MUSIC
Sound is a weak point for YARS: RECHARGED. For this outing, Atari has once again partnered with composer Megan McDuffee for the in-game music. The soundtrack is stellar and some of the tracks have an almost cinematic vibe. McDuffee has definitely brought her “A Game.” Unfortunately, the in-game music is barely audible with default settings. It is utterly overwhelmed by the sound effects, including player and enemy shots and ambient sounds. In order to enjoy the soundtrack, I had to go into audio settings, crank the music to 100 and reduce effects to 30. My feeling is that there is some wave interference taking place between the competing sounds. It’s truly a shame because the music really is fantastic.
As for the effects, they are just what you would expect from booming shots, lasers and spinning swirls.
YARS: RECHARGED includes proper unlockable achievements which have become a staple of modern gaming. Some are progressive. Other achievements are awarded for completion of a single task. If you've played the other RECHARGED titles, these will be familiar to you. The inclusion of achievements is a welcome addition to the game, particularly on the VCS. However, as the VCS does not support trophies, the achievements are only viewable in-game.
Fans of the highscore chase will be pleased to know that the game includes local and online leaderboards. In Missions mode, scores are cumulative. This contrasts with previous entries in the Recharged series, where each mission had its own scoreboard.
YARS: RECHARGED is a solid update to Howard Scott Warshaw’s 2600 classic. Atari and its development partners have a tricky balancing act with the Recharged series; at once satisfying longtime fans and introducing the brand and IP to new generations of gamers. With YARS RECHARGED, they have largely succeeded. Some tweaks to the audio mix and goal-oriented missions would make this near perfect. As it is, YARS: RECARGED is the best sequel to the original yet attempted.
Have you played YARS: RECHARGED on the VCS or on another platform? What do you think of the game?
Edited by Sabertooth