(Review archived from January 22, 2015)
Many of the hidden gems on the NES have gone on to gain notoriety in such a way as to call their ‘hidden’ status into question. Some of these games, like River City Ransom for instance, have transitioned from being hidden gems to well-known, bona-fide classics. For the most part Rygar has remained a hidden gem for the NES, although it hasn’t exactly languished completely in obscurity either. It’s one of those classics that sits just on the cusp of popular consciousness.
All that being said, Rygar really is quite a good game with some noteworthy flaws that hold it back from achieving legendary status. Rygar was slightly ahead of its time in many ways. It was one of the early platformers on the NES to combine overhead segments with standard side scrolling. Furthermore, being that it released within months of the first Metroid game, it was also one of the first games to employ a Metroidvania style gear-gating mechanic (and it managed to do it with only minimal backtracking which is a bonus).
The controls here are nice, sharp, and responsive, and I really like applying a bit of turbo to the diskarmor weapon which effectively turns it into a WOMD, although not to a game breaking degree. Part of this is due to the fact that the enemies here spawn suddenly and in droves, which can lead to some cheap hits at times. So long as you keep on your toes you can generally lay waste to the hordes put before you without too much trouble. So while Rygar has a lot of good things going for it in terms of combat, some of the gameplay design elements are extremely indicative of it age. Among other things, you cannot jump off of (or onto) ropes, meaning that you must climb up or down the full length before you’re able to take any other action. The game will occasionally put you in situations that exploit this element in which enemies will swarm you while you’re just trying to get your slow ass up (or down) a rope. The other element that stands out as being antiquated (and which the game is slightly notorious for) is the wind pulley. This is a tool that you use as a zip line pulley in the game to cross over chasms. In overhead segments this tool is absolutely maddening. I’ve played through Rygar a few different times at this point and I still have no idea where to stand or what direction to push to get the wind pulley to link up with ropes. It’s basically witchcraft. You just kind of … wiggle around until you hear the characteristic ‘clink’ indicating that you’ve made a positive connection. But … that’s if you haven’t already walked off the chasm to your inevitable death (several times) before making that connection. So that part sucks.
Thankfully though that’s where my Rygar rant ends. Everything else in the game is pretty much on point. The music in particular is a high point here. Although there are a couple of weak tracks to be found, most of the audio is absolute solid gold. If one were to apply properly tremolo picked guitars and a blast beat, the track that rolls in the final castle is basically an early progenitor of second-wave ambient black metal. The other aspect of Rygar that really shines is the setting of the game itself. Quite honestly I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like it in gaming, save for certain elements of God of War, and even that comparison is only valid by virtue of having a loose thematic connection to Greek mythology, and a protagonist who uses a unique chain-based weapon. I’d have loved to have seen the world of Rygar fleshed out, fully realized, and expanded upon. In short I feel like there’s a lot of untapped potential in the mythology. I do plan on playing through Rygar: The Legendary Adventure on the PS2 later this year though, so maybe that wish will be fulfilled.
At any rate, if you’ve got an appetite for a lesser known action platformer on the NES you could do a lot worse that Rygar.