Review – Yars: Recharged

Yars’ Revenge is the best-selling original Atari 2600 game of all time. It is also one of the best Atari 2600 games of all time. I want to remind you all of that because of the idiotic stigma created by the its developer’s (Howard Scott Warshaw) follow-up title, the infamous E.T., released in late 1982. Because of that game’s catastrophic sales, which are more of a consequence on Atari’s atrocious management at the time, it unfairly cemented Warshaw’s end as a developer, and it basically resulted in the crash of 1983. It means that people don’t give Yars’ Revenge and Warshaw the credit they deserve. The latest iteration in Atari’s Recharged series, Yars: Recharged, plans on fixing this issue.

Yars: Recharged

It’s such a simple gameplay loop, and yet so addictive.

Before talking about Yars: Recharged, I feel like I should explain the gameplay loop of Yars’ Revenge, as it was somewhat feature-filled and complex for Atari 2600 standards. You took control of a sentient fly-like alien, with the objective of destroying a space station-like thing by shooting and nibbling (yes, nibbling) down its defenses until you were able to destroy its core by shooting it with a massive cannon. You had to avoid shots from said station, as well as a borderline guided one-hit-kill shot that would destroy you even if you were currently stationed inside a small area in the middle of the screen, which acted as your safe zone. Just like most Atari games of its time, its gameplay was a simple eternal loop of increasing difficulties once destroying the space station.

Most Recharged titles act like a reskin of a classic gameplay loop, just with one or two new additions to the mix, such as a handful of power-ups. Yars: Recharged felt like an exception to the rule. Yes, the main objective is still the same: destroying a gigantic orb by shooting it with a cannon after nibbling/shooting down its defenses. But that doesn’t mean that’s all the game has in stock.

Yars: Recharged Cannon

That gigantic ball of energy shot by the cannon is the only thing that can destroy the core in the middle of the screen.

For starters, the gameplay has been changed to a twin-stick shooting control scheme, which works pretty well for the most part, with the exception of some excessive sensitivity regarding the aiming, which can occasionally result in missed shots, especially when you acquire some special powerups comprised of a single, stupidly strong direct shot. There are lots of enemies shooting at you at once (even though the main core is still your target), so having access to a faster-paced and more aggressive control scheme was a very welcoming addition.

Yars: Recharged also feels like more of a puzzle game than a straightforward twin-stick shooter at times, as you constantly have to figure out a strategy in each specific level in order to reach the core and destroy it. Sometimes, all you’ll need to do is tear down the small hexagons surrounding it, without an issue. Other times, the core will be protected by a near-impenetrable wall, which can only be destroyed by eliminating nearby turrets that act like “keys” of sorts. There are even some instances in which you have to deal with more than one core at once, so each new level is an intimidating puzzle to deal with.

Yars: Recharged Puzzles

Some levels feel more like a puzzle than a straightforward shootout section.

Its arcade mode is fun and addicting, but that isn’t, in my opinion, the best mode Yars: Recharged has to offer. What caught me completely off-guard was the incredible collection of side puzzles included in the Missions mode. The name is a bit deceiving, as the objective is always the same (shooting down the damn core), but level structure, which is now selectable from a menu, is completely different. If the arcade mode felt like a series of puzzles to deal with, Missions feels like the hard-as-f*** version of the arcade mode, with some controller-throwing-worthy levels to raise your anxiety levels. I cursed at the game almost every single time I was shot down by the core. But I was still trying to beat it. I couldn’t put the damn thing down.

Yes, that means that Yars: Recharged is easily the most entertaining, and most certainly the most addictive game in Atari’s mixed bag of a revival series. I usually prefer to tackle these smaller, arcade-like games on the Switch, thanks to the benefits of portable play, but playing it on the PS5 was equally entertaining. No loading times, instant level restarts… no matter where you choose to play it, Yars: Recharged will be enjoyable. With that said, its presentation is flawed.

Yars: Recharged MIssion

The Mission mode is hell on earth. And I loved it.

Thankfully, the game’s visuals aren’t comprised of the now-fatigued vector-based graphics featured in almost every Recharged game up until this point. There are more colors and bit more variety in this title in particular, but it’s nothing too overly exciting. Simplistic, but pleasing to the eyes. I have witnessed some weird frame pacing issues at times, though, especially when things started to get a bit too hectic onscreen. That happened mostly during intense shootouts on the latter stages of the Missions levels.

Its biggest mixed bag is its sound department. It’s a mixed bag because I actually loved it… but damn, was it glitchy. The soundtrack is nothing short of MUY EXCELENTE, featuring a wide assortment of tense and epic sci-fi tunes that meshed perfectly with the game’s setting and gameplay loop. The problem lies in everything else, namely the sound mixing (which is clunky and absolutely DEAFENING) and the wide amount of glitches regarding the sound effects, which would simply disappear during tense situations. I feel like these are things that can be fixed with a few patches, but they did affect my overall enjoyment at the end of the day.

Yars: Recharged Powerups

This is part of the Recharged series, therefore you can expect a bunch of generic (yet fun) powerups.

More than just a reskinned version of a very old Atari game, Yars: Recharged is the culmination of what this particular subseries from Atari was intended to be. It’s not a mere HD version of a classic arcade game with one or two new elements, it fully reinvents the formula of the original with a brand new gameplay loop, all while staying true to its roots. Add in an addictive (and very infuriating, may I add) mission mode, and you get what’s possibly the peak of the Recharged series, and most certainly the best title Atari has released in more than a decade.

Graphics: 7.0

It follows the same art style of this second wave of Recharged titles. Simplistic, but pleasing to the eyes. I have witnessed some weird frame pacing issues at times.

Gameplay: 8.0

The Yars formula was adapted to a twin-stick shooter control scheme that works a lot better than it had any right to. That said, it’s a bit too sensitive.

Sound: 6.0

It’s good, but with caveats. The soundtrack is EXCELLENT, but the sound mixing is atrocious. Sound effects are good, but obscenely loud. They also disappear from out of nowhere every now and then.

Fun Factor: 9.0

More than just a reskinned version of an old Atari game, Yars: Recharged reinvents the formula of the original with a brand new gameplay loop. It’s easily the most addicitve Atari Recharged title I have played so far.

Final Verdict: 8.0

Yars: Recharged is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PC, Switch and Atari VCS.

Reviewed on PS5.

A copy of Yars: Recharged was provided by the publisher.