Yar’s Revenge was developed by Killspace Entertainment, published by Atari and was released on April 13th, 2011 for 800MSP. A copy of the game was provided to us for review purposes.The original Yars’ Revenge was one of the best selling games on the Atari 2600, making it somewhat of a puzzle why it has taken so long to come back. There have been a couple of remakes and re-releases but this is the first original game based on the license since that first Atari release.

We now have Yar’s Revenge on XBLA, and that apostrophe wasn’t accidentally misplaced. While the original game referred to a race this games title refers to a single Yar, the character players control. Although to confuse matters further she is often referred to as Yar. The game is no longer a single screen shooter but has been transformed into an on-rails affair akin to Sin & Punishment or Rez.

Here’s what we liked:

Beautiful backgrounds – Since the game is on-rails, Killspace always know what players are looking at, which means they have focused a lot of effort on the art. As a result there are plenty of very impressive (but perhaps not very varied) painted backgrounds. Lots of lovely cloudy vistas to take in as you fly through levels. The design of Yar herself is also great, a simple but interesting mixture of insectoid robot and slightly generic anime girl.

Weapon variety – Yar has three main weapons; a pulse laser, railgun and missiles. The railgun has a cooldown time and the missiles have limited ammo (which can be replenished from pick-ups). This means some strategy needs to be employed in their use, but more on that later. There’s also a handful of power-ups, two defensive and two offensive. All these options during combat make the gameplay a bit more interesting than it initially appears. The railgun is also especially satisfying to use.

Simple strategy – Points and multipliers are what drive Yar’s Revenge, as enemies are dispatched the multiplier climbs. Where the strategy comes in is knowing when to take out enemies. There are often brief lulls in combat which will leave just enough time for the multiplier to tick down to zero. So the battles become a balancing act of staying alive while trying not to clear the screen too quickly. When to use power-ups also figures into this, especially the shield as using it means Yar can’t fire any weapons.

Here’s what we didn’t like:

Lacking challenge – To beat all six of Yar’s Revenge‘s levels will take most players a couple of hours max. This is with very few deaths and never using up enough continues to be forced to restart the level. It doesn’t take very long to get into the rhythm of knowing which weapon to use and when. Challenge seems to have been shifted to figuring out the multiplier system with the actual combat taking a backseat.

Same old fodder – There are about six or seven enemy types in the game and that’s being a bit generous. Each enemy is constantly repeated throughout the levels with occasional color changes to add a little variety. This wouldn’t be quite as big an issue if the unique types of enemy had differing or interesting attack patterns, which they don’t.

Poor production values – While the painted backgrounds are great to look at, the same can’t be said for the rest of the game. The enemy design is dull and uninspired and anything that isn’t part of the background looks plain bad. Low-res textures, poorly animated enemies (even the bosses) and visual effects lacking any flair or substance make Yar’s Revenge feel very low budget. The music also leaves a lot to be desired, it’s very flat and instantly forgettable.

It’s difficult to call Yar’s Revenge a bad game, it’s just very mediocre. Killspace have tried to add replay value by making the main modes all about high score. But when the gameplay is so boring and lacking in challenge it’s hard to see anyone caring enough. The same can be said about the games challenges, unique modes with set restrictions (such as no shields and half health) to replay levels. They’re interesting diversions but they don’t change the core game enough to incentivize playing again.

The ideas behind Yar’s Revenge are good but the execution is lacking, whether that’s due to a lack of budget or some other unknown reason. Die-hard on-rails shooter fans may find something to like here, there is some fun to be had from learning how to use the games various weapons and power-ups. Everyone else, however, might be better off just playing Rez HD again…

Score: Try it