As a kids, Yars’ Revenge was always one of our go-to games on the Atari 2600. Despite not being a two-player game, my friends and I would spend hours trying to get the highest possible score … and see if we could catch a glimpse of the Ghost of Yar.
Atari released Yars’ Revenge in 1982. Created by Howard Scott Warshaw, it sold 30 million copies and spawned a sequel (which I never heard of prior to the Replay) called Yars’ Return.
Beside the Atari was a shoebox containing nine game cartridges: Combat, Space Invaders, Pitfall, Kaboom!, Star Raiders, The Empire Strikes Back, Starmaster, Yars’ Revenge, and E.T. — Ready Player One p. 102
You are a Yar, a hyper-evolved housefly from the planet Earth.
Your people settled an alien star system, the sole survivors of a crashed Earth starship. You can fly through space, eat anything, and turn anything you eat into energy … that you can spew from your mouth. Your peaceful civilization is threatened by the Qotile, alien invaders who already destroyed one of your civilization’s three planets.
Your mission is to penetrate the shield surrounding the Qoitle base known as the Qoitle and gather enough energy to fire your mighty Zorlon canon, which is the only weapon capable of destroying the base. To do so, you must evade a slow-moving (but it gets faster) Yars-killing missile. You also have to be mindful of the Quoitle itself, which runs through a pattern of colors before transforming into a deadly swirl that launches at you.
How many hours did we spend playing Yars’ Revenge as a kid? I have no idea, but enough that firing up the game brings back muscle memories I didn’t know I still had, and a wave of nostalgia that catapults me back to my parents’ basement family room.
Although repetitive – in only takes a few minutes, if that, to kill the Qoitle on any given board – the game evolves over time becoming increasingly challenging. The swirl will appear more often. The hunter-killer missile will move more swiftly. The protective energy band that appears down the middle of the screen and protects you from the HK will disappear. And the overall pace will steadily accelerate. It’s a compelling, fast-moving game that’s just as much fun as it as in the 1980s.
Although the game only gets a throw-away line in Ready Player One, it deserves more. Like Adventure, Yars’ Revenge provides an Easter egg for players to find. Unlike Adventure, it was sanctioned by Atari – a clue for it even appears in the manual:
When you destroy the Qotile, or a Swirl, there will be an explosion during which the Yar stays on the screen. Use this opportunity to make up your own victory dance. And watch out for the Ghost of Yars! You’ll see his mean streak, so stay off it!
If you avoid the advice and line your ship up with the vertical black streak in the explosion, “HSWWSH” will appear on the screen – the initials of the game’s designer, Howard Scott Warshaw.
I remember spending many hours trying to find the Ghost of Yars and never succeeding. Amusingly, I did it almost without trying when I go the game on the Switch.
Yars’ Revenge remains a great game, and worth revisiting. It spawned three follow-up games, Yars’ Return, Yars: Recharged, and Yars’ Revenge Enhanced, none of which I’d heard of before the Replay (but now in my queue of games to play).
The Ready Player One Replay is an ongoing exploration of the games that inspired the novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Love it or hate it, there’s value in revisiting our geeky roots.
- My High Score: 85,345
Where to Play
- Games Database: Yars’ Revenge Manual [PDF]
- Atari Mania: Yars’ Revenge Comic Book [PDF]
- Atari Age: The Ghost of Yars