Yars Rising is equal parts Metroidvania and love letter to 51 years of Atari history, and a boss fight against a supervillain named Missile Commander sold me

Yars Rising
(Image credit: Atari/WayForward)

I understood exactly what Yars Rising was the instant I saw that the save points were authentic recreations of the sleek, yellow curves of the 1971 arcade game, Computer Space. This is an anime-influenced Metroidvania from WayForward, the studio behind the likes of the excellent Shantae and River City Girls, so it has plenty of pedigree in that space. But it's also a love letter to Atari history, those foundational bits of gaming lore that sadly don't get the same modern play that the iconography of Nintendo and Sega does.

I got to play about 30 minutes of Yars Rising as part of Summer Game Fest, which was just enough time to get a feel for how the game blends its nostalgic view of Atari history with the format of a modern side-scrolling Metroidvania. This game's namesake, Yars' Revenge, is almost inexplicable if you haven't played it before – a sort of proto-shmup about crossing a barrier to defeat a creature called a Qotile on the other side. Here, that gameplay mechanic becomes a pixelated hacking game. At its most basic level, an allied cannon follows your position as you point it toward the enemy you need to destroy. Fire the cannon, quickly get out of the way, and complete the objective. Other hacks I saw added Centipede-style enemy formations to the mix, or barriers you need to shoot with your ship's gun before firing the cannon.

During my demo, the devs were quick to note that they don't consider these sequences hacking "minigames." Instead, those mechanics are integrated into the larger Metroidvania structure. So the ship's shooting mechanic eventually becomes your basic weapon, letting you blast at enemies. And, naturally, the more abilities you unlock, the further you'll be able to explore the game.


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Yars Rising

(Image credit: Atari/WayForward)

I was impressed by how the additional abilities all seem to have multiple uses. A powerful shot that drains energy – basically equivalent to missiles in Metroid – lets you hover in mid-air as you fire, giving you an opportunity to deal big damage to flying enemies when they appear in the right location. A spark that you can control from the ground, not unlike Ness's PK Thunder in Smash Bros., lets you attack enemies, deflect certain projectiles, and activate specific platforms in the environment. That kind of multiuse design goes a long way toward making a game like this feel cohesive, and I'm excited to see how the rest of the abilities work together.

Another fun detail is that you equip various upgrades and buffs through a Tetris-style inventory screen. Every upgrade is attached to a certain piece shape, and naturally, more powerful upgrades will only be available in larger and more unwieldy shapes, forcing you to carefully consider how you literally build your loadout. Slot in a big new effect for one of your abilities, for example, and you might be able to squeeze a tiny health upgrade in on the corner.

If I have any concern about Yars Rising, it's that the environments might be a little too same-y. I only saw a very small chunk of what it has to offer, but both the early and late-game areas had a clean, sleek futuristic facility feel that was maybe a little too antiseptic. I'm also not fully sold on the characters. First impressions suggest that they lean heavily into anime tropes and internet memes, and I couldn't help but feel that the dialog was at times a bit much.

Yars Rising - Gameplay Trailer - YouTube Yars Rising - Gameplay Trailer - YouTube
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But the boss fight that closed my demo made me forget about all that. It was a one-on-one battle against a guy called Missile Commander, and it did a fantastic job of making every element of the game coalesce. He fires big projectiles at you that destroy the platforms you're standing on, so you have to use that spark ability to take them down before they hit you or the ground: just as in the boss's namesake game. He's constantly flying, so to deal meaningful damage, you need to use that missile-firing hover to load up the attacks.

It wasn't the most challenging Metroidvania boss I've ever faced, but using all those abilities together felt satisfying, and the Missile Command-inspired battle got me very intrigued about how other old games might influence other big fights. 30 minutes with Yars Rising was enough to sell me on it, and I'm looking forward to how the rest of the game turns out when it hits all major platforms later this year.

Check out all the best Metroidvania games if you can't get enough of this genre.

Dustin Bailey
Staff Writer

Dustin Bailey joined the GamesRadar team as a Staff Writer in May 2022, and is currently based in Missouri. He's been covering games (with occasional dalliances in the worlds of anime and pro wrestling) since 2015, first as a freelancer, then as a news writer at PCGamesN for nearly five years. His love for games was sparked somewhere between Metal Gear Solid 2 and Knights of the Old Republic, and these days you can usually find him splitting his entertainment time between retro gaming, the latest big action-adventure title, or a long haul in American Truck Simulator.