Way back in 1987, Tecmo released an action-adventure video game called Rygar on the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) console that was actually an arcade port. Starring a mythical hero seeking to restore peace to his land by vanquishing countless gruesome creatures and utilizing legendary artifacts, was Rygar a bloated mess or a truly epic quest?
Most of Rygar’s gameplay takes place as a two-dimensional side-scrolling plaftormer title, as masculine protagonist Rygar uses his disk-on-a-string (think: giant bladed yo-yo) called a “diskarmor” to kill enemies at close range using the B button. The A button jumps, there is a crouch feature enabled with the down direction and a pause function with the Select button as well.
Pressing Start brings up a status screen that, in short, displays Rygar’s current health (also visible during gameplay), attack power (shown as “Tone”), magic points, spells they can be used on (such as “attack & assail,” available for ten uses and deals damage to all enemies on-screen), and which items Rygar is currently in possession of. Killing monsters gains experience points that will eventually, inevitably, boost Rygar’s attack and defensive stats, along with possibly picking up items that enhance magic points or heal hit points.
As Rygar advances across the stages, he can encounter doors. Most of the doors bring him to a room with one of the War Gods sitting on an elevated platform, who then provides a helpful message as to what item is needed to progress, where to go, how to get to the next area, etc. However, there is one door in each different realm that leads to a common middle area called Garloz.
Gameplay in Garloz takes place in more of an overhead top-down view, enabling Rygar to move in four directions, jump in eight different directions, and encounter a different set of enemies. Mastering the terrain of Garloz will allow Rygar to discover the gates to the different realms, or even directly gain new items in special War God rooms. There are about a half-dozen different lands to progress through, each ending in a boss fight, and at many points requiring an item such as the crossbow or Wind Pulley to advance.
The doors to single-screen rooms, along with differing types of gameplay, make this game very much feel like an early cross between NES titles Blaster Master and Wizard & Warriors II: Ironsword. It definitely has more of a high-fantasy feel, closer to Ironsword, despite the appearances of robots in later stages; but, like Blaster Master, this game has no password or battery-save feature, despite offering a meaty, chunky adventure. If the player knows where he or she is going, where to get each necessary item in the right order, and which lands to explore in the correct sequence, the game can be completed in under an hour. It is the hours needed to discover this mastery and grow accustomed to the gameplay, though, that will be the more grueling test.
Rygar definitely offers a worthy retro-gaming challenge, a fantastical mythos, action-oriented gameplay, and a deep system mechanic, but does have its share of flaws as well. For example, the game has an odd relationship with the up button on the directional pad. Pressing it while performing other actions, like running forward, causes Rygar to continue running forward even if left or right are not pressed any longer. This can lead to an accidental death in certain precision-jumping portions of the game. Also, once Rygar has the grappling hook, he is able to descend from certain types of platforms via a rope by pressing down and B. The problem is that pressing down and B is also how to attack while crouching; this creates an issue when the player is on those sorts of platforms, wishes to crouch and attack an oncoming enemy, but instead finds himself hanging helplessly off a rope and taking damage instead. Although these “lovable quirks” can definitely be gotten used to, by principle, a player should not have to deal with such a shortsighted control scheme.
This game looks grand, from the multi-colored environments that take Rygar through areas of sandy deserts, snowcapped mountain peaks, and even lush woods, to the varied monstrous enemies he encounters, to the detailed backgrounds that put a finishing touch on enhancing the setting. Gameplay itself proceeds at a smooth clip, despite some definite flickering issues, even with just a couple or a few enemies on the screen. Rygar looks like the rugged hero he should, and one can hardly find complaint with the original canon at work here.
The sound effects are solid, from the constant “whoosh” of Rygar swinging his weapon, to the delightful tone of picking up an item, it is all fine and very serviceable. The majestic background tracks are the true auditory highlight of Rygar, though, as soaring horn-like notes ascend above staccato beats and a healthy bass line, truly serving to convey a grand, encompassing adventure.
Much like the aforementioned Blaster Master, Rygar is a rather distinctive experience that remains a sentimental favorite for some NES fans. Although each of its elements, on their own, might be found in other titles, Rygar is a one-of-a-kind combination of those characteristics, and truly perhaps a remarkable gaming feat for its era, even as an arcade port.
Its control scheme issues, occasional odd glitches, and overall lack of polish do hurt it, overall. While this is a fun, challenging, beefy 8-bit video game, it is also perhaps not as accessible as it could have been; debate can rage as to whether that is a fair contention in the field of reviews, but the fact is that even without addressing its issues of who would want to sit down and play such a game without a password or save state, even the overall quality is still not on par with the all-time great Nintendo titles. Not quite overwhelming spectacular, not quite bad, either, resting somewhere above the average game but outside the greats: Rygar snags three and a half stars out of five.
Eric Bailey is a retro gamer on a crazy quest to write a quality review for every single American-released NES video game over at NintendoLegend.com.