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Rygar (NES) artwork

Rygar (NES) review

"The fine (if somewhat barren) land of Argool had seen better days. The horrid and demonic Ligar, hidden within a floating castle, had sent his army of beasts and monsters throughout the land to steal hope from the general populace. Their only hope — the reanimated body of a valiant warrior. "

The fine (if somewhat barren) land of Argool had seen better days. The horrid and demonic Ligar, hidden within a floating castle, had sent his army of beasts and monsters throughout the land to steal hope from the general populace. Their only hope -- the reanimated body of a valiant warrior.

And there you have it -- the entire plot of Tecmo’s NES adaptation of the arcade game called Rygar. But such trifling details such as “plot” or “character development” aren’t why players such as myself still fondly pick this game up nearly two decades after its original home release in 1987.

Nope, we aren’t concerned with minor questions, such as why Rygar is so intent on protecting a drab land that only seems to be populated by an unlimited number of monsters and several clones of the god Indora, or why his choice of weapon appears to be a bizarre hybrid of a flail and a yo-yo. With a game such as Rygar, the only thing that truly matters is the play value and Tecmo (a company on the verge of releasing mega-hit Ninja Gaiden) was definitely well-equipped to deliver on that front.

While a few aspects of Rygar's console adventure remained true to the arcade game, Tecmo made the decision to add elements of exploration. The end result was that instead of simply being a pure arcade action-platformer, Rygar also delivers some light role-playing elements (like a simpler version of Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest or The Adventure of Link), leaving players with a bit more well-rounded of an experience than could be gained by playing, say, Contra.

By switching to the game’s status screen, you’ll see numbers labeled “Tone” and “Last” which increase as you kill monsters. As Rygar’s “Tone” increases, it will take fewer and fewer hits to kill monsters. Add enough “Last” points and your hero’s life meter will go up. While Rygar can only take a handful of hits at the beginning of a game, by the time he’s ready to challenge Ligar, he’ll be able to take any foe’s best shot and still be standing.

It takes over 4,000 points to max out Rygar’s “Tone” and “Last”, though, meaning that you’ll have plenty of work ahead of you to make him the all-powerful being he’ll need to be in order to end Ligar’s reign of evil. Fortunately, like the average big-shot villain, Ligar has his own little posse of subordinates scattered throughout Argool, just waiting to be slaughtered by a brave hero.

You’ll begin the game by going through a couple of side-scrolling regions, killing and dodging the many monsters that erupt from the ground in a vain attempt to prevent you from even putting the slightest of dents in Ligar’s tyrannical rule. Only moments into the game, you’ll find yourself climbing and descending ropes in a cliff-like area. While you’ll find that a good chunk of this region is off-limits to you at this time, with a little bit of searching, a door leading to a new area will be found.

Pass through the portal and you’ll now get to experience things from an overhead perspective. This new land is the most important area of the game, as it is the hub connecting all the regions of Argool. Careful exploration leads you to the grotesque caverns of a gigantic spider, the castle of a demon, floating islands in the sky and the infernal flying castle of Ligar, himself. Some of these regions will be of the side-scrolling variety, while others will remind you (somewhat) of the Legend of Zelda and its overhead view.

It’ll be some time before you get to Ligar’s castle, though. While Rygar has many abilities, flight is not one of them and Ligar isn’t simply going to drop a ladder from his castle to give you a helping hand. That’s where the five generals of Ligar come into play. In each of Argool's main regions, one of these beasts awaits. Kill them to get rewards that will not only be of benefit in reaching Ligar, but also in simply making it to the next of his subordinates.

Many of these items allow you to get past obstacles in your path. Use the pulley to cross ropes leading to previously inaccessible places. If there’s a tree stump with no rope attached to it, the crossbow should serve to create a makeshift bridge. If there is a ledge above or below you that simple jumping fails to access, the grappling hook may be just what you need. Other items allow you to obtain medicine from some of the Indora clones scattered throughout the land, reduce the amount of damage you take and (most importantly) open the portal to Ligar’s castle.

Your hero also can collect icons left by deceased enemies in order to power up his weapon, temporarily use a projectile attack or completely recharge his life. Rygar will end his game with a diverse number of items and powers -- not bad for a reanimated corpse.

And that brings us to this game’s biggest (and only true) failing. Rygar can be quite challenging in the early going, with your feeble hero needing to connect with multiple blows to kill anything, while only being able to take four hits himself. Get him bulked up, though, and things get a lot different. Max out Rygar’s “Tone” and “Last” and watch even Ligar fall to a brief, but potent, onslaught of pure physical force. Considering that the game’s best source of easy experience is encountered slightly over halfway through the adventure (thanks to the very out-of-place robots in the floating island region), it’s possible that veteran players will cruise through the final three or four regions without even breaking a sweat. Sure, there still is the possibility of killing Rygar off by letting him fall down one of the many bottomless pits present in Argool, but it’s unlikely any enemy will be able to get the job done unless you put the controller down in unfriendly territory to fix yourself a sandwich. This creates an odd, unbalanced degree of challenge -- where the first boss fight is more stressful than that against Ligar and where the weak enemies of the first few screens will evoke more dread from players than the far more imposing beasts littering the final realms.

Look past that flaw and Rygar is a truly enjoyable game. While the graphics and sound aren’t particularly special, even by the relatively low standards of the 8-bit NES, there are a few areas where they can impress. The cave of Sagila the spider stands out as an aesthetic high-point. First, you must approach the actual cave while avoiding the usual ground enemies and a number of egg-dropping dragons. Once inside, with the game’s single best tune blaring in the background, you must find a door leading to the overworld at dusk. This short sunset level will soon lead back to the cave and a battle with the frantically moving spider. While not an overly long region, the atmosphere here is more than enough to make up for the game’s visual and audio shortcomings -- even the horrid attempt at a roar emitted by bosses as you launch repeated brutal assaults upon them.

Like many NES games of its time period, Rygar has no password and/or battery system, meaning that you’ll have to get through the game in one sitting. A daunting task for the novice player, veterans will find it easy to accomplish in only a couple of hours -- something which adds to the replay value of this title. After all, what could be better than a fun game that can be beaten in less than an afternoon?

Considering that this game does a fine job of combining arcade action with a touch of exploration, only suffering a few setbacks in the process (it does get a bit tricky to affix your character to ropes in the overhead view areas of the game after picking up the pulley), Rygar has to be considered one of those games of yesteryear that did a fine job of withstanding the test of time. The action can be fast and the enemies will be plentiful. However, the rewards will be great, making even the most powerful enemy a helpless victim of Rygar’s might in the end. While Tecmo’s underrated arcade port may be a bit on the easy side after its hero starts to gain some power, it’s still a great way to pass time on a rainy afternoon.

overdrive's avatar
Community review by overdrive (June 02, 2004)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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