I hate to admit it, but I’m one of those A Song of Ice and Fire fanatics who picked up the books after being enthralled by the HBO series. I wish I could say I was of the first breed of devoted fans, who read the books years ago and had their own vision of Ned Stark before Sean Bean depicted him as a Boromir meme come to life. Anyway, I ran off on that tangent because the first thought I had when I picked up this game was that it sounded like it could be the exciting 8-bit story of a forgotten character from it: RYGAR TARGARYEN THE MIGHTY, THE FIRST OF HIS NAME. Imagine firing this sucker up and hearing the Game of Thrones theme in all it’s retro glory? Oh, I forgot about the Internet. Of course that exists already.
But it’s not. Back to business. I never owned this game; it belonged to a cousin of mine. Eventually he got to that age where he outgrew Nintendo games, whether it was because he obtained a cooler new system or didn’t care anymore. My memories of this one are pretty vivid. I remember thinking it had to be the only copy ever made. I knew no one else who owned it. I knew no one else who ever played it. I don’t believe there were any Game Genie codes for it. I don’t remember reading about it in Nintendo Power, and my theory had been that his parents just found it somewhere, like on the side of the road or something.
The experience I got when I started it up fell right in line with this memory. The title screen slaps you right in the face: RYGAR. It doesn’t fade in, it isn’t prefaced with an image or cinematic, no text or music or sound effect entices you to start. The feeling you get is that it wasn’t meant to be played, but you found it so, here we go.
Hit start and it’s the same deal. No story or introduction. You’re just a dude standing on the left side of the screen, waiting to walk to the right side of the screen. You have no idea what you adventure holds, why you’re on it, or what you should even do, but the (literally) blank expression on the main character’s face (most likely Rygar himself, but there sure isn’t any confirmation of this) suggests he doesn’t either. So together, you set out to find your mutual destiny.
Taking into consideration the game’s limited capabilities, I couldn’t help but be impressed by how well it achieves the epic and grandiose feel it strives for. The Rygar anthem in the background sets a mood preparing you for adventure, exploration and danger. All of the music in the game is great, but the Stage 2 theme really kicks ass. A cool sunset effect is achieved with a stagnant yellow circle against an orange background and a second background layer of mountains in front of it that scroll by as you walk. You smash enemies with your strange spinning orb weapon that propels in front of you, jump over obstacles and climb trees. Starting out, I thought, hell yeah! Control is tight, killing dudes is satisfying, music is solid… Looks like all I gotta do is get from one end of the game to the other, without any of the ‘wtf?’ factor! Let’s do this!
Yeah, not so much. After the first screen, the confusion and randomness that I felt birthed this game to begin with returned in abundance. Your presented with doors all along the way, not just at the end of a stage. The amount of paths you’re permitted to take makes you feel lost very quickly. Some lead to an empty room with a fat, shirtless, bearded man who always rambles off an important-sounding message with zero context. Sometimes they’re foreboding warnings, other times he’s trying to steer you onto the correct path if you’re lost. “YOU NEED THE GRAPPLING TO CONTINUE”. Sweet, thanks dude, but WHERE THE HELL IS IT? I turned around after seeing that message because I was pretty sure I didn’t possess THE GRAPPLING. Eventually I wandered through a door that changed the entire perspective of the game (sort of). What was before a 2D side-scroller became a top-down, Legend of Zelda-esque game… At least when walking north or south. Those directions showed Rygar from above, with a view of the top of his head. When walking east to west, however, he returned to the same full profile view as before. I tried to wrap my head around this optical illusion, but failed. This area provided even more doors and paths to explore. I quickly lost track of where I had been and where I hadn’t. It was time to wander around aimlessly until something stuck.
So, that’s what I did. The side-scrolling stages have a lot of variety – forests, swamps, mountains, the goddamn sky. The one constant was a multitude of doors leading to the same room with the same Rob Reiner-esque fellow blurting words at me, a new message each time. One said, “IT’S 2 AM AND TIME FOR THE MONSTERS TO AWAKEN.” That one I read in Rob Thomas’ voice from Matchbox 20. A lot of them also ramble about GARLOZ, which
after some detetive work, I determined was the name of the top-down section of the world, or the overworld. From here, I was able to piece together their tips and find THE GRAPPLING, as well as some other unknown tool. Unfortunately with this game though, one answer leads to only more questions. I used the grappling (hook?) to access the rest of a stage, to find yet another fat dude who said “DO YOU HAVE THE GOD’S COAT OF ARMS YET?” Really? A question? Somehow that piece of information made me feel even more baffled than before I got there. When this happens, your best bet is to kill yourself back to the beginning.
Let me explain. When you die, you restart at the beginning of the screen you’re currently exploring. You have an unlimited supply of lives (as far as I can tell), so if you’ve reached the end of a stage and can’t progress, you save more time by just dying and back-tracking through the last door, rather than walking all the way back.
I definitely didn’t see an RPG element coming into play in this action/adventure game, but sure enough, as you progress, you grow stronger. Eventually, and at what seems to be purely random times, your life bar increases, and enemies who may have taken 4 hits to kill, will fall after 2. One of the biggest setbacks the game suffers from is slowdown… Once a few enemies are on screen, a serious lag sets in. All the images begin blinking, the music slows down and you can barely control where you’re going.
Unfortunately for me, Rygar does not contain a save or password feature. Both Nemo and Monster Party had codes that allowed me to skip to any stage (used only to resume the game from the last level I reached), but no such code exists here. This is a shame, because it appears to be a pretty lengthy experience, but without these options, it requires you to complete it in a single sitting. Here I found yet another difference between my 20-something self playing Nintendo and my 8 year old self – a lack of that kind of availability. Jobs, friends and other responsibilities require real life to take precedence over Nintendo these days, a crying shame for sure. Because of this, Rygar is getting put back on the shelf for now. I’ve seen more of this game than I ever have before, and a plethora of notes to get me back on track when time permits… But for now, it’s onto something new.
**UPDATE 8/25/13** Found a day with plenty of time on my hands and decided I had to go back and finish this game. That’s mostly the point here, to conquer these old games that I’ve never fully explored. It took a few hours but I made it happen and have to say… This was a pretty great game. Dark caves, tall towers and sprawling castles were some of the new locales I visited but had never seen before. Giant spiders and multi-headed fire-spewing mutants guarded the remaining treasures I had to find. The biggest hassle in the game by far was using the wind-pulley item. Wandering around Garloz, Rygar comes across wide rivers with a stump on either end and a rope linking them together. With the wind pulley, you can ride across the rope, but how you actually achieve this is anything but clear. You have to stumble around the stump until you hear a *clink* noise before you know you’re safely attached. It can take a lot of random movements before it happens and if frustration is to set in first, you’ll fall off the cliff. Besides this minor hiccup, the rest of the adventure that confused me so much actually begins to come together. A “coat of arms” and “suit of armor” or two of the items you find, which further increase your defense. Once you have them, returning to the rooms that confused me so much (DO YOU HAVE THE COAT OF ARMS YET?) yield a reward (a potion that can refill your life bar). My method of “dying back to the beginning” soon became useless. Once you’ve defeated a significant amount of enemies, your life bar increases substantially .. I had somewhere up to 10 slots. When you die, however, you are only restored three… And life replenishments are very hard to come by. In certain rooms, the fat man refills it for you, and these will be locations you quickly memorize.
Another aspect of the game that had completely passed me by was the magic system. The star pickups I would randomly receive from fallen enemies acted as magic power, and the three random phrases in the start menu (“POWER UP”, “ATTACK AND ASSAIL” and “RECOVER”) are the spells left to your disposal. I didn’t realize this until near the end of the game, and barely used them anyway… I think I had just about powered up Rygar as much as the game would allow, as many enemies would die pretty quickly from the standard attack.
On I pressed until I found myself face to face with Rygar’s final boss… Ligar. The lion themed boss who yields severed dragon heads for weapons actually sort of resembles Napoleon Dynamite’s favorite creature.
What the game clearly lacks in creative naming it makes up for in experience. The adventure sprawls across a multitude of brightly colored environments to explore with an assortment of powerups to use, bosses to conquer and treasures to discover. A tight, diverse soundtrack accompanies the experience, which is always a big factor for me. The awkward final screen wrapped up the adventure by stating that through Rygar’s slaying of the Ligar, the:
“PEOPLE REGAINED THEIR SMILING FACES”
Rygar gave me the same gift by the game’s end. This cartridge will make the list of those definitely worth a revisit.