This weekly column looks at classic video games both in how they looked back in the day and how they stand up today. Though scores will be assigned, our tough review standards will be relaxed a bit for these games to give a general overview instead.
All retro games come courtesy of Retro Games Plus, located at 1761 Post Road East in Westport, CT. If you’re in the northeastern part of the United States, please give them a look.
One of the challenges of writing about retro games with a critical eye is that I love retro games. It’s one thing to pick up a game from 1989 that I’ve never played and tear it to shreds, but what do I do with a game I’ve loved dearly since I was a child? Such is the case now as I apply scepticism to Rygar, easily one of my favourite games of all time. I fell in love with it as a child and still enjoy playing it even now in my 30s, despite the fact that I’ve practically memorized the game.
The issue with columns like this is being able to look past the rose-coloured glasses and look at a game like this objectively, against 21st-century standards, and to see the flaws within. Let’s see if I’m good enough to do that with an underappreciated NES title that blew away the pedestrian arcade version.
HOW WAS IT THEN: The iconic image of Argool’s setting sun in the very first area set the stage for an immersive, innovative platformer. Rygar was one of the first games to combine a standard action game with the RPG level-up system, and it threw in a mostly non-linear quest for good measure. Combining a standard side-scrolling platform game with top-down adventuring, Rygar emphasized exploration and searching for clues from the Indigo Gods to further the quest.
While the game had some linearity due to requiring specific items to get past a certain area, that’s no different than what any of the Zelda games require, and Zelda didn’t even have an expereince point system where the player could level up by beating more enemies. It was rudimentary and a little unbalanced, but it was there before even Dragon Warrior saw American shores.
Though it was a bit obtuse at times, and some of the bosses were cheap, Rygar was an underappreciated classic from the company that brought the world Ninja Gaiden.
HOW IS IT NOW: Rygar still has things going for it in 2012. It may not be as immersive as God of War is, but it still sets the tone beautifully with a gorgeous soundtrack that still plays well today. Though the balance is a little off, that’s nothing that some grinding, or a savestate for the less patient, can’t address. And though there are some control issues in the overhead stages, a player can adjust to them.
The real problem for Rygar in 2012 is that it’s a little bit too obtuse. Even when I was young, I used the assistance of the Official Nintendo Player’s Strategy Guide to help me get through the game. FAQs can help now, but the fact is that some sort of guide is a virtual requirement to beat Rygar in a timely fashion, which is a necessity because there’s absolutely no way to save the game at all. No battery, not even a password; if the game is shut off—or worse, the game cuts out like they did so often on those old NES consoles—all of that progress is gone, even if the player is in the middle of a fight against the final boss. Rygar did allow infinite continues, but they usually started the player off in the beginning of an area.
With all of that said, Rygar does a lot of things right. The control is tight, and there are a lot of items that can be found to liven up the gameplay. The difficulty curve can be a little wobbly, but it builds to a nice crescendo. Finding how to reach the next area can be like a puzzle; once you figure it out, the feelings of satisfaction and relief are notable even for a game this old. There’s also a nice power-up system based around capsules that can make an impressive difference in how the game is played, giving a last resort for those in trouble. Rygar was a well-designed game, and a lot of that is still relevant in 2012.
The key question is, is Rygar viable enough for someone who has never played it to play through in 2012? Although the cartridge is affordable—it can be had for $5—I recommend this be played on an emulator. At least there, savestates are an option. No matter what, Rygar is a worthwhile game to play and experience. It’s not a game-changing moment by any stretch, but despite some of its flaws, it’s enjoyable enough.