RetRose Tinted is a regular feature of my Cblog, in which I re-examine games that we have fond memories of and see if they still hold up. If you have suggestions for titles to be featured in the future or ideas on how I can improve the column, please let me know. Rygar, 1987 by Tecmo
The first incarnation of this week's fuzzy retro memory came to the arcades in 1986. Like so many other games of the period, it was sure to be ported to a slew of home consoles and computers (the Spectrum had a particularly horrid version). None would live up to the pedigree save one, but that game retained as much of its predecessor as it threw away.
As I did not have an NES until 1996, most of my memories of playing one as a child come from spending time with friends. Rygar on NES was played in a living room on a sixteen-inch screen with rabbit ears and R.O.B. sitting in the corner, daring us to try and actually play Gyromite with his buggy ass. It was a frequent choice for my friend and I to play, simply because we were terrible at it and would die very quickly. This meant controllers changed hands often enough that nobody had a chance to get bored. The running of the Hyokings.
It also stood out by the way it controlled. I always felt completely in control of the way in which the character moved. It was totally cool the way Rygar would jump, not bounce (a la Mario Bros), off the backs of his enemies, and moving in air had a fluidity to it that just felt right. This didn't seem to help me perform better while playing, but I was more willing to accept defeat at it's hands because it was obvious that the game was not hampering my movement in any way. None of this particularly seems like a shining endorsement, but when I think about playing NES games in the 80's, Rygar invariably comes to mind and not in a negative context. Is that still true?
In the arcade version, you play a warrior armed with a weapon called a "Diskarmor". It's basically a shield with spiky bits coming out of the sides that he hurls forward. It's never actually used as a shield, just a weapon. The game consists of 27 side-scrolling levels with hidden power-ups and tons of enemies to kill.
I'd like to make this my new summer home.
Instead of the simplistic, run-and-gun gameplay of the arcade hit, the NES version introduced some RPG elements. The game is made up of a combination of side-view and top-down levels connected by a top-down overworld. As you kill enemies, you gain experience points which eventually translate into an increased amount of health. Occasionally, enemies will leave behind stars that are used to power Rygar's three magic spells: a damage and range boost, a "smart-bomb" that kills all enemies on screen and a full-heal.
There are also items acquired by killing the game's bosses that confer new abilities, though these are largely used to allow you to access new areas. A grappling hook gives you access to higher ground in the side-view levels while the pulley takes you across ropes and the crossbow lets Rygar make new rope paths between tree trunks. I'll never understand the fascination of putting robots in fantasy settings.
The enemies are pretty standard affairs without a whole lot of variety. Vicious-looking turtles run around the ground along with some kind of strange shell ... thing (in the arcade, you can plainly see that it's a curled-up worm) that just rolls about. There's your standard assortment of flying critters, but very few of the monsters fire projectiles (save for a really annoying caterpillar that fires from its tail) so everything is pretty avoidable throughout much of the game. There is, however, a strange obsession where the bosses are concerned. Almost half of them have multiple heads that shoot fire. A little weird.
I wasn't kidding about those multi-headed bosses.
The most notable thing about the enemies has to do with the graphics. Rygar is a little unusual as a game in that what you expect to see graphically is turned a bit on its head. Typically, you expect the protagonist to be rather detailed with less attention paid to the creatures and backgrounds. The opposite is true, however, with Rygar looking pretty bland but the enemies show that some real love was placed into their design. The game looks pretty good but Rygar himself just looks terrible by comparison.
Okay, it's a shoop but I'm not far off the mark here.
As you wander through the levels, you'll encounter more than a few doors. These will lead to one of three things: A new area to explore, a boss fight, or meditating guys with enormous heads who impart "wisdom" and the occasional item. Sometimes they'll give you information about what item you'll need to progress through a level. Usually, they'll spout off some nonsense like the name of a region you'll travel to (but rarely directions to get there) or just useless drivel. And how the hell did they manage to get on to those columns they're sitting on?
As a result of simply not getting good information on where to go, you're likely to find yourself wandering aimlessly and repeatedly encountering areas you can't access because you don't have the right equipment. This has, in the past, been frustrating enough for me to just put down the controller and walk away and is the greatest impediment to finishing the game since the infinite continues and short levels that respawn you at the start of the last area you were in removes much of the urgency associated with death.
The pulley in action.
The control is as good as I remember. Rygar moves fluidly, if barely animated, and he's quite responsive to input. The environment is the real killer. It's difficult where land ends and deadly water begins in some of the top-down areas. Getting Rygar to connect his pulley to the various ropes in these levels can often be an exercise in persistence. In the side-scrolling regions, once you have the grappling hook, you'll often find yourself lowering yourself down and taking unnecessary hits when all you wanted to do was duck and attack because he's able to do so and there's no unequipping of items.
If there's a one thing that really takes me back to my ill-spent youth in this game, it's the music. It creates an epic atmosphere that fits in perfectly with the often sparse landscape, giving the impression of a ruined wasteland in which you're the only savior. OCRemix has some pretty good remixes
that I'll often play in my car when I'm driving around clients (because it amuses me to make middle-aged people listen to video game music unawares). You should go check them out.
Rygar will return on Wii, now with white hair!
Rygar returned to the home console for the PS2 a few years ago with Rygar: The Legendary Adventures. The game was fun, but it was really just capitalizing on the success of games like Devil May Cry and every time I play it, I wind up just wanting to put a DMC game in instead. The PS2 version is currently being re-made for Wii (under the title Rygar: Battle for Argus) and, as much as I enjoy ports with tacked on Wii controls, I'm almost certainly going to skip it. For those of you interested in the original, arcade experience of Rygar, that was released for the XBox in a collection called Tecmo Arcade Classics, along with, well, not much else worth playing.
Rygar for NES is an entertaining diversion, and fun for an hour or so. Past that, it becomes an endurance trial, since the enemies themselves never really get any more difficult and the bosses merely require patience and some decent reflexes. While I feel that the addition of RPG elements is an improvement over the arcade title, it's still not that great of a game. I'll keep my memories of this one and probably never play it again.
Not a horrible game by any stretch of the imagination, but far from good.