Yar’s revenge. This game was unlike anything I had seen.
Back in the “olden times” (the 1980’s), video game graphics were terrible. I mean, they stunk up the place, badly. If you squinted, and tried REALLY HARD, sometimes you could actually see what the artists intended you to see. But 8 bit graphics were hardly able to keep up with the artist renderings on the outside of the box. Yar’s Revenge had a simple box, brightly colored, with what looked to be a fly, shooting fire balls. I mean, this was hardly eye catching, compared to some of the other covers competing for young eye balls.
Inside, there was a comic book. It gave the backstory to the “Yars”. Turns out, the Yars were flies, which were launched into space, on accident, during some human space mission (it’s in the 80’s, they set it ‘in the future’, that’s the best we get!). Somehow, being launched into space gave them the ability to fly in space unprotected, eat literally anything (including energy) and convert it into energy balls they could shoot out of their face. It seemed like a super cool idea (I was 12, give me a break!) So I was pretty hooked, before the game even started. Who wouldn’t want to play as a fly that could eat anything?
To be honest, I expected to be the humans, fighting the invading Yars. Even with the title of “Yar’s Revenge” I didn’t expect to play as the Yar. I expected to play as a human. That’s how video games were played. Aliens invade, we fight them. I mean, Space Invaders captured the trope perfectly! What else would I expect?
Certainly not the Yars defending their race after an evil alien race destroyed one of their planets. It was the entire “humans defending their planet from an evil alien race” trope, but the ‘humans’ were flies. My 12-year-old mind was blown. These were peaceful (mostly) aliens, who simply wanted revenge for the deaths of millions, possibly billions of their species.
Now, you might be thinking “But these are flies!” Sure, they’re giant mutated space flies that can eat any material and convert it to energy to blast you apart with. But these are gentle, peace loving flies. Not the buzzing, annoying flies of earth. Or so I imagined.
And off I went to play the game. Overall, game play is pretty simple. There’s the Yar (you), the shield (right side of the screen), and a “neutral zone” (static bar in the middle) where the Yar-seeking missle couldn’t destroy you, and that’s pretty much IT. Once you eat a piece of the shield, you can summon the Quarlon Cannon (or whatever the name was). But that’s where the evil SWIRLY OF DEATH resides. So, you are being chased by the Yar-seeking missile (and only safe in the neutral zone), while you avoid the Swirly of Death, and you want to shoot the forward-only Cannon into the vulnerable center of the shield.
The cannon followed you, the Yar, across the screen, and fired in a straight shot. So, basic strategy was to eat a piece of the cannon, fire your energy blasts to make a hole, then fly off into the neutral zone, and fire your cannon to destroy the base. Seems simple enough.
But, there are a few twists. First, the missile gets faster. I mean, not TOO fast, but faster. Second, the Swirly of Death changes color, and each color change brings a new ability. Fist, the Swirly of Death just shoots forward. Easy to avoid, and go in for the kill.
Then, the Swirly of Death fires directly at you (well, one of the 8 square directions). Then, it fires at you, and changes direction once. Then it fires at you, and changes direction towards you as long as you’re on the screen. The Swirly o Death becomes the Yar-seeking Swirly of Death. And the neutral zone, which protects you from the missile….is useless. The Swirly will find you, and it WILL kill you. It has a special set of skills, and you will regret ever crossing it.
Which makes it sound like the game is pretty well capped at a certain level. But you could not be more wrong.
In the 80’s, video game magazines sometimes posted screen shots (literally a picture of a TV screen taken on a camera…my mother’s Polaroid for example) of high scores, or such. One game, called “Demon Attack” by Activision, after a certain point, the score would turn into all exclamation points “!!!,!!!,!!!”. You could send the screen shot into Activision and get….”something”. I took the screen shot, and sent it in, but never received the “something”. Maybe it was easier to do than they thought? Either way, you took a shot, and sent it in, and they congratulated you.
On Yar’s revenge, though, there was something similar. If you managed to kill the Swirly of Death with the cannon (instead of shooting into the base), it would beat the level, and give you a free man. In between levels, it was paused. So after a level, you could take a break, and come back later. Shooting the Swirly of Death was rather difficult, as you were the target, and it followed you, rather than flying in a straight line, like the cannon.
But, here’s the trick I found, which allowed me to play the game for over a week.
The trick is to get to the pink Swirly of Death. This is the highest level of Swirly, and it follows you on the screen everywhere. The Yar-seeking ability is critical. So, here’s how to win: Fly up to the shield, eat a piece, summon the cannon. Fly into the neutral zone, and hang out at the very top (or bottom) of the screen. The screen wrapped around up and down, but not left to right. And that is the key to beating the Swirly of Death. Once you’ve summoned the cannon, you wait in the neutral zone, where the missile can’t hurt you. The Swirly fires, and you move off to the other side of the screen (top if you were on the bottom, bottom if you were on the top), and the swirly follows you, now safely inside the neutral zone. Then you wait for it to get close, fire the cannon, and move off to the right towards the shield, and the Swirly follows you, and is destroyed by the cannon, giving you a free life. I won’t say it’s particularly easy to do, but I will tell you that after a week straight, it gets a little boring once you master the move. And get a free life with every stage victory.
I sent in my screen shot, of my Yar’s Revenge game…and I got a response! They said they didn’t track how long someone could play Yar’s Revenge, but congratulated me on my amazing ability.
So, I’ve got that going for me.