The most recent in a line of Atari ‘Recharged’ re-imaginings, succeeding the likes of Gravitar and Breakout, Yars: Recharged sets about updating what was once the best-selling game on the Atari 2600. Originally released in 1982 and designed by Howard Scott Warshaw (also responsible for Atari’s infamous E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial), Yars: Recharged maintains the concept of wearing down the defences of a fortified boss, making a through-path and destroying it with a cannon. Unlike the static screen arrangement of the Atari 2600 title, Recharged increases the scope of the gameplay by introducing the ability to roam freely around the screen in 360 degrees.
A twin-stick shooter, you direct your craft with the left stick while firing multi-directionally with the right. Each stage features a boss protected by geometric arrangements of hexagonal, honeycomb shield that must be blasted away to leave it vulnerable to attack. Gun turret emplacements are now hedged within the shield, firing at you with bullets and lasers. As you chip away at the honeycomb exterior and detonate a turret, glowing orbs are released, that, if collected, build a cannon meter situated at the back of the screen. When the meter maxes out you can dock with the cannon to move it vertically in line with your target, and fire massive, high-powered blasts down the line. This doesn’t just do heavy damage to the shield, but will destroy bosses in two strikes if landed correctly.
The game gets increasingly tough over its 30 stages, throwing out dense and more mathematically complex shield arrangements to plough through, more turrets to contend with, as well as bullets encroaching from off-screen. There are achievements to shoot for as well as high scores, and a mission mode that offers up a challenging set of arrangements.
Your ship can take three strikes, can power up its firing spread in different ways, and collect the occasional one-time-use weapon uncovered in the shield’s webbing. All parameters are reset with each new stage, and there are 30 to get through in total. It starts at a pedestrian pace, but gets much busier around stage 15. For seasoned shoot 'em up fans there’s not a huge amount of challenge until later in the campaign, and one can’t help but think that upping the ante to give both your armaments and the incoming missiles a boost would have made things more immediate. At the same time, it’s clear the developers weren't looking to recharge this into bullet hell territory, and that’s fine.
Owing to its new, broader structure, it’s slower in pace than the Atari 2600 title, but also relaxing to work through. Detonating turrets to take out chunks of shield, in turn releasing weapon power-ups and cannon orbs, is nicely balanced and offers enough strategy to keep you engaged.
If you liked the previous Atari Recharged titles, Yars: Recharged presents another enjoyable diversion and interesting take on the theme. While not always as thrilling as it could be, the design overhaul still works well. That said, those who aren’t entirely intrigued by the formula may find it repetitive and ultimately tiresome. This reimagined Atari catalogue would probably be better off as a compilation title rather than a segmented anthology. And who knows, that may still eventually come to pass.