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Yars Rising is the comeback an Atari 2600 classic deserves

Blue haired girl shooting big armored robot in laboratory Yars Rising
Image used with permission by copyright holder
Summer Gaming Marathon Feature Image
This story is part of our Summer Gaming Marathon series.

Despite being a certified classic, I never played the original Yars’ Revenge on the Atari 2600. It was well before my time. However, Yars Rising caught my eye as a newcomer with its bright visuals and Metroidvania label. The radical reimaging is built just as much for old-school fans of the classics as it is for new players who have never even heard of the series. In a hands-on demo at Summer Game Fest, I played through an opening chunk of the game, fought my first boss, and even tried a handful of new abilities that show just how deep the Metroidvania goes.

Instead of limiting itself to 2D space shooting, Yars Rising fleshes out a full story and world that reimagines Yars and modernizes it for new audiences. Its panel-style cutscenes mimic the Yars comics that shipped with the original Yars’ Revenge. There are text bubbles and exaggerated caricatures,  that match the upbeat tone that the story imprints with its dialogue. The characters come off as the type you’d see in cartoons: lively and expressive, but somewhat campy. I don’t expect it to be all too rich of a story, but it offers enough context between the quips to give a reason for your adventure.

Emi hacking terminal with neon colored barricade and shooter in Yars Rising
Image used with permission by copyright holder

It’s the action itself that sweetens the deal. Yars Rising quickly drops players into the halls and vents of QoTech Corp, where the main character, Emi, disables robots and hides from sentries to dig deeper into the company. During the infiltration, she uncovers machines hidden in the corners of the map with new abilities to unlock. Emi hacks these machines with short, puzzle-like challenges that call back to the old Yars style with an insect-like shooter and cannon.

In my first puzzle, I shot a cannon placed behind me and quickly moved my ship out of the way so that the bullet hit the target without hurting me. In another, I chipped away at a barrier with bullets before lining up the final shot. These generally were a little underwhelming at first; not so difficult that they would frustrate players, but also not challenging enough that I felt accomplished after finishing them.

They do get more complex as the adventure goes on, though. Later ones had me nibbling through shields, like the original game. The most involved one put a spinning shield in front of the enemy ship that I had to eat through as it moved up and down the screen. Developers from WayForward say that those hacking puzzles will only throw in more twists throughout the adventure. That’ll hopefully elevate these segments above a throwback gimmick.

Blue haired girl dodging orange red lasers in Yars Rising
Image used with permission by copyright holder

I eventually gain enough abilities to traverse places and defeat enemies that I previously couldn’t. One early-level robot shot lasers too quickly for me to edge in and dispatch them. However, I later gained a drone-like weapon that let me disable it from far away, so I didn’t need to jump into the line of fire or risk my health. My jetpack also enabled me to reach higher platforms that I previously couldn’t. The demo’s biggest upgrade was a fire mode that allowed me to chip away at enemy shields — a clever nod to the original Yars recontextualized as a Metroidvania tool.

Those abilities come in handy during boss fights, too. The one boss I fought spawned spider-like minions that I needed to shoot before continuing my onslaught. I’d need to shoot it while using my double jump to land shots on it when it flew overhead. Another boss we fought, a giant robot, had a green shield that we had to eat before attacking it. Those were both solid encounters to end the demo, showing how all of my acquired powers come together.

At the end, I was rewarded with more insight into the company Emi was hacking and an appreciation for combat that initially felt simple. Everything had its place without bloated features cluttering the combat or exploration. That should hopefully make for a solid ode to one of gaming’s classics while still giving WayForward space to make something all its own.

Yars Rising is set to launch in late 2024 for PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

Jess Reyes
Jessica Reyes is a freelance writer who specializes in anime-centric and trending topics. Her work can be found in Looper…
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