Rays Reprisal is a clone of Yars Revenge (At first I didn't know what Rays and Yars had in common but I worked it out eventually!), an old Atari 2600 title that was big in the early Eighties. It came out a little bit before my time but from all the positive feedback the author, Luca Bordoni, has garnered, Rays Reprisal is a brilliant conversion. It has just been released by Monument Microgames in the usual splendid packaging but it's actually been kicking around the Spectrum sites for a few years now, named Yars Revenge ZX. Apart from the new name and a nice new loading screen, there's no difference between the two games.
From the menacing humming on the title page, through the painfully bugged 'define your own keys' routine to the painfully laborious, fiddly, frustrating game mechanics, I hated every last second I spent with this game. I mean, I really hate it. Really. Hate. It. It is, by far, the worst thing Monument has ever given a physical release to; the equivalent of wrapping up a plate of vomit in Christmas paper. And what's worse, it's been delivered at the exact moment when a fair few people have decided my reviews of homebrew Spectrum games are far too harsh. 'They' say I should keep my hands well away from a computer keyboard lest I dissuade budding authors from persevering in their efforts with the ferocity of my criticism. What's a poor reviewer to do in such a predicament?
Let's start with the original game, Yars Revenge. The premise is a very simple one. The whole screen serves as the playing area and, on the left, there's you (the 'Yar'), a blocky little spaceship that can move up, down, left and right. On the far right of the screen there's the 'Qotile', a menacing-looking collection of triangles that bobs up and down the screen. Between the Yar and the Qotile, there's a strip of flashing lights (the 'Neutral Zone') in which you cannot fire, and an open area in which you can. The Qotile is protected by a wall, which you can blast away one brick at a time, and an Energy Missile which is a dot that homes in on you. Every few seconds the Qotile mutates into a deadly swirl and flings itself at you. You get an advance warning of when this is about to happen with a 'ziiiiiiiiip' flurry of notes.
It's not at all clear how you waste the Qotile without reading the instructions but what you have to do is mosey over to the right of the playing area and drive your ship into one of the wall's bricks. This will activate a cannon on the very far-left of the screen which will then track your progress vertically. Once the cannon is activated, line it up with the Qotile and fire. Get yourself out of the way of the cannon's blast because it will just as easily you out if you don't.
It's a very simple game which, for the old Atari 2600, is to be expected. There's probably lots of people slightly older than me who grew up with this, River Raid and Q*Bert and see it through rose-tinted spectacles. It might be simple, you see, but it's also very hard. It's hard because it's hard to keep out of the way of that Energy Missile, a dot which keeps relentlessly coming for you like Baron Von Blubba. It's hard because when the Qotile transforms into a swirl, staying still is suicide and so you need to move somewhere - anywhere - when it launches, and it's hard in such a panic not to run slap bang into the Energy Missile. And it's hard because when you've readied the cannon to fire, you need to make sure you don't collide with the Energy Missile as you line up the shot.
Rays Reprisal is hard for these reasons, and more. The first is that the Energy Missile doesn't have to actually touch you to kill you; it's enough that it gets reasonably near to you. The second is that it's hard to align your craft with the wall tiles so that your bullets take out only the tiles directly in its path. Bullets seem to connect with the tiles either side of any hole you burrow into the wall, making it very hard to clear a path through. The cannon blast has the same problem. You can congratulate yourself too early on lining up a perfect shot that will sail right through the path you've burrowed - when you release it, it doesn't sail through at all but just takes out a single one of the tiles either to the left or right of where you wanted it to go.
All these frustrations combine to give a playing experience which led to me screaming out "F*** you, you c***!" every 40 seconds or so. I can't honestly understand how anyone could enjoy playing this. It's crap. And yes, the original's crap too. So I suppose it really is a brilliant conversion. If it had been an entry for the annual Crap Spectrum Games contest, I'd say fair enough. In fact, I'd say it was taking itself too seriously because, you know, at least everything behaves as you would expect and the little spacecraft doesn't go up when you press the down key, or whatever.
Now it seems from the reception that Rays Reprisal has received that I'm firmly in the minority. Everyone else loves it, or is pretending to love it. I played it for about half an hour. But that was half an hour too long. After this, I could not take any more of it. Yes, I suppose technically it is a game, and completing a level takes a tremendous amount of skill. But I genuinely do not see any appeal in the format whatsoever. And I suspect I'm not alone. Yars Revenge may have been from the same era as River Raid and Q*Bert but it's nowhere near as famous. If no-one thought to remake this museum piece until 2015 then my guess is that everyone up to that point had taken one look at the original and passed it by.
Overall, if you liked the original, then by all means give Rays Reprisal a go. If you can still tolerate games with teletext style graphics then likewise. If you like to see Spectrum homebrew that pushes the machine to its limits and/or does something new and original, then there's nothing to see here.