Yars’ Revenge – The Record
I love Yars’ Revenge.
It’s my favorite 2600 game, no question about it. Sure, Demon Attack was great, and Pitfall is a classic, but if I had to choose one Atari game to hold above all others, it would have to be Yars’ Revenge.
I played the hell out of this game as a kid, emulated it like crazy in the 90s, and even bought it legit again (on Microsoft Game Room no less) a few years back so I could rock it on my Xbox 360.
I love this game.
So I am totally stoked that I own it on vinyl.
The third of three Atari-themed records that Kid Stuff put out in 1982, I was far more interested in this one than their Asteroids or Missile Command albums, and not just because of my love for the source material. No, I was mostly excited to hear this particular record because, unlike the other two games that Kid Stuff chose to adapt, Yars’ Revenge actually has a story.
Fans of the game might remember that the original cartridge came with a comic book that told the story of Yars’ Revenge. It was simple, no doubt, but it was certainly light years ahead of stories for other games from that era. I mean, what’s the plot behind Pitfall other than “get treasure?” And what about crazy, abstract batshit like Demons To Diamonds? Does that game even have a plot? Or was it just the machinations of a man with a dream, a paddle controller and a pile of PCP?
Happily, Kid Stuff’s adaptation of the game is pretty accurate to the original source material. In fact, the first story track is almost an exact retelling of the comic book in its entirety: Yars (descendants of Earth flies that were affected by radiation) are a peaceful race who control several planets in a distant star system. All is well, until they are suddenly attacked by the evil Qotile, who decimate one of their homeworlds into a cloud of space dust. Seeking revenge, (duh) the Yars plot a counter-strike that becomes the basis for the game itself: lone Yar warriors must fly to the Qotile bases, chip or shoot away at their protective shields, and then summon a cannon on the Yars homeworld to fire into their exposed core. And repeat. Failure do to so will result in the destruction of the entire Yars species! Or at the very least, game over.
While that first story track is just the comic book’s story retold, the second track expands on the story a bit, albeit in some rather out there ways. Apparently the writers thought that kids listening to this record would want some more character development before the final battle scene, so the track begins by telling the story of a young Yar warrior who flies home to visit his parents before going off to war. It is oddly serious and dark, with multiple mentions made of the young soldier’s slim chances for returning home safely. It’s like the first act of a World War II movie, where all the soldiers go out for one last night of fun before being shipped off to a warzone. I don’t know if the Yars story really deserved this much pathos and heavy-handedness, but it sure does mix things up.
Even when the actual space battle begins, things are still handled with a level of maturity and seriousness that is rather shocking. Yars die in this story, a lot. They get vaporized, blown to bits, destroyed, and annihilated repeatedly by the evil Qotile and their deadly weapons. The narrator doesn’t go into graphic detail or anything like that, of course, but he makes no bones about it, these little flies are dying horrible deaths at the hands of the Qotile, and they weren’t the first, nor will they be the last to do so. The whole thing has a happy ending, but damn, for a bit it’s like the opening to Saving Private Ryan, with the fly soldiers dropping like…well…you know.
The two original songs on Yars’ Revenge are hit and miss. The title track is AMAZING, and probably my favorite out of any track on any of the Atari albums that Kid Stuff put out. It’s all vocoder all the time, hard to go wrong there. If someone could isolate those rad vocoded vocals and remove the Casio background beeps, they would make for excellent vocal samples to the most epic trance tune ever. On the flipside, “Fly, Yar Warriors” is the worst of the bunch, with a lame bouncy beat, repetitive vocals and almost no vocoder!
In case you didn’t figure it out, I equate song quality with the amount of vocoder; Peter Frampton songs not included.
As a whole, this is probably the best of the Atari records. The story, while silly and nonsensical, is the most complicated of the bunch, and actually shows that some sort of effort was put forth in the album’s creation, and the “Yars Revenge” track is so awesome that it alone made the inflated eBay price I paid totally worth it.
I wish I knew more about all three of these albums. I did some digging on Kids Stuff records, and from what I could find out, nearly all the music and production work on them was done by John Braden, a failed singer-songwriter who put out one album of original material in the 1969 before going into children’s music in the early 80s. Sadly, he passed away some time ago. Every other trail I’ve tried to dig up on Kid Stuff has gone cold. So if anyone out there has any information on anyone who worked on these records, please let me know, I’d love to hear their stories.