In 2021, a guy named Brian Riggsbee wrote a book called The Legend Of Argus: The Complete History Of Rygar. Not only did I buy the book, but I read the whole thing in one night. And I think any gamer who's a fan of niche gaming history should read it. I also think any gamer who's interested in writing about games should read it. Not because Rygar is an immensely interesting topic, and not because Rygar is even an especially good game. But because it's awesome when a writer has such an intense passion for a specific topic that they can write this much about that topic and make it interesting to a reader who kind of doesn't even care about said topic.
I had heard about Rygar before reading the book, sure. Gosh, I remember that game from way back in the late 80's. I remember the NES game existing. I just never had an inclination to play the game myself. Not until reading this book. And again, it's not that the book made the game sound all that good to me. But I just loved that someone had found so much to love in what looked like mediocre game to me. I felt like I owed it – not to Rygar – but to Riggsbee to play this game.
Around the same time, I discovered Antstream Arcade. This is a gaming service where you pay a subscription service to have access to a library of streaming games. While that might sound a bit like Xbox Game Pass, the selection is immensely different. Anstream is a European company who has filled up their Netflix-of-games service with a huge archive of old arcade and console games. But with a decidedly European lean. Which is to say that there's a lot of ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 and Amiga games on there. And there's also a whole slew of arcade games from respectable publishers well known to Americans like me such as Taito, Data East, Namco and so on. It's also incredibly fitting for my tablet, as basically any device with an internet connection (and preferably an Xbox controller) makes it a viable gaming machine. In my mind, it's kind of a hidden gem of a service.
Digging through the Antstream library, guess what I found? Rygar!
Rygar was released to arcades in 1986. And I'm not sure how it was initially received. It's a side scrolling hack-n-slash kind of deal. You play as a sort of barbarian dude with a bladed shield on a chain. It's... Pretty weird, honestly. But it's also pretty unique, at least in its presentation.
The enemies are all kinds of weird organic... Things. I don't really know how to describe them. They're not monsters exactly. They kind of resemble bugs or lizards. If anything, it reminds me of a very exaggerated takes on mythological creatures or something. I'll be honest, I don't know a ton about this kind of stuff. But I'm reminded of things like Conan mixed with Clash Of The Titans or other various fantasy things.
There's also a very earthy tone to everything. There's not a lot of projectiles, but the ones that exist are mostly just fire. The color palette is generally lots of browns and greens, except for the sky which is often a striking orange or red. The visuals of the game have a serious character of their own.
The music is sparse, though triumphant.
The game itself is brutally hard. Playing through Anstream means I have infinite credits, which I'm not proud to brag about but they'd be needed. I doubt I could even pass the first level or two without a quarter. From my understanding, there are 23 levels in total and I made it to Stage 21 after an immense amount of credit feeding, only to realize that you can't continue from stage 21 on. Drag.
This game throws an immense number of foes at you. And if you dilly dally, then you'll be chased by a huge red mass. And if you're too hasty, then you'll be sure to misjudge a leap or find yourself overwhelmed by baddies. It's a no-win situation unless you've got endless time (and credits) to memorize the levels. At least the checkpoints and generous!
I have no real ambition to continue Rygar. I don't care to get good at it. I don't think it's a great game. I don't connect with the setting or even the vibe of the game in general. But I can see why it's a cult game. It's unique. It looks great. It plays well. The challenge is immense. And outside of the NES version and a weird 3D remake, it never really made itself into a franchise proper. And yet, there's some subset of gamers who still to this day continue to try and master it, which sounds daunting to me, but hey – good for them.
I'm glad I got to see what all the fuss is about, even if I have no intentions of sticking with Rygar. That said, I still think that book is great. I love a good video game history book that sheds light on a new subject for me.